This interview took place last year in Badalona Spain. Few months later I flew to Turkey but this interview remained with me. I know this great person is doing so much better. They’ve moved from Spain. I wish them many happy times in their new country of resident.
I FLEW AROUND SPAIN – Survivor of Conflict and ED
Can you believe one day everything is fine, you wake up, sun is shining, life is good and there’s abundance of everything around you.
In fact, you feel arrogant, because life is so good. Your only concern is how you look in the mirror or making and breaking one of the millions of resolutions on weight.
This is how I felt when I was 14. Life was just too good. I lived in a house divided in 4 sections with extended relatives. The big house belonged to my grandfather and he converted the big mansion into four apartments for his four off-springs. One apartment with three bedrooms was occupied by my family. I have two elder brothers. In the second apartment, my dad’s youngest brother lived. Third apartment was empty. My uncle was in Spain with his family. The fourth apartment belonged to my aunty and it was occupied by her eldest son. My aunty lived between Syria and Germany. When I turned 15, my main concern was weight loss and looking my best. Being the only daughter, I was spoilt rotten by my parents.
My grandparents lived in gorund floor of our house. This was the largest section of the house with hallways, large rooms and dining area.
We were all slightly above average in size. We really loved our food. Not a day went by when you couldn’t smell the beautiful aromas coming from our kitchen. We cooked very generously and we also ate quiet well.
I started becoming obsessed with my weiht when I was 16. I really felt I needed to lose weight. But I couldn’t. I remember being on 5 different diets in one year and I also remembered having 4-5 cheat days in a week where I just ate and ate.
At night times, I would raid the pantry and all of a sudden I just couldn’t seem to have enough with the food.
I finished my undergraduation and took a year to go to Spain. I wanted to learn Spanish and come back to Syria and work in foreign services. I was also intrigued by the Spanish culture.
I was in Spain when things in my country changed. All of a sudden family of many people became reduced to a handful of people and I still consider myself lucky that they didn’t experience the horror Syrians are experiencing now. I feel guilty, I don’t know why, I feel guilty that I wasn’t in Syria when things changed so drastically. I should have gone back, I could have gone back, but I didn’t.
I was instructed to stay put in Spain. With a numb mind I watched and waited for the horror to stop. Money stopped and from modest living conditions, I ended up in slums you could say.
I was also binging a lot. I would go and buy 50cent bread and bag of pasta and would simply binge on this food. Some night were extreme. I felt I could even eat the dirt on road. Some days I lay there after gorging on so much food with swollen stomach staring at computer screen.
Please God, let the horror stop. Please stop the war. I want to go back home. I never thought I’ll miss home as much as I missed it in Spain.
I’ll never forget those long agonizing years nothing to calm my mind but food and food. My part time job in restaurant didn’t help the matters either. I could just binge freely on bread, fish and sweets. I scraped by the language course.
Finally in 2013, my mother and brother joined me in Spain. By that time, I was working two jobs. I had managed to get an apartment in a reasonable price in Barcelona.
We kept on hoping against hope that these conditions will remain temporary and soon we’ll return to Syria to our large house. It never happened. Our house was demolished in war, looted and set on fire. Nothing remained except the debris.
As this hope of returning diminished, my world became even more darker. My mother became very quiet and my brother was out nearly all the time. Both of them didn’t speak the language and my mother was always on phone to so and so relative.
They relied on me to get them around Spain. None of us could make peace with our circumstances. Isolation, foreign country, shortage of money, insane working hours, expenses. Everything started to catch up with us.
My mother was also getting sicker and sicker by the day. You can tell when someone has given up the hope and she had given up hope of everything.
We grew even more isolated, when my brother married a Canadian woman 10 years older than him. To this day, I don’t understand how that happened.
And with all this my binging did get worst. If I binged here and there before, now I simply binged on anything that was cheap and available. Some days I was so insanely hungry that words can never be used to describe that mad hunger.
I can never forget the day, when I waited in the back of a restaurant in Raval area so I could get some food from the trash can.
With my brother gone, we became even more strapped for cash. Moving into an apartment where 10 more people lived didn’t help. Though they were all women, they were women with professions that were deemed unacceptable in our faith. It was also unclean and the stench of alcohol dominated the air.
We had not much of a choice.
When the world doesn’t understand you just remember, Allah does! –
And as the days turned into weeks and weeks into months, the melancholy deepened.
I was doing odd jobs. I did jobs which I never thought I’ll do.
It was during times, something strange happened. One day I binged and I binged so much on wrong food. I was simply going through left over paila as there was no tomorrow and the pain a shooting pain siezied me.
My stomach was on fire. I never ever purged my meal but that day, I wanted to purge, just purge. I lay there agonizing in pain. My eyes burned. Tears streamed down my face. I was supposed to lock up and go home, but instead i lay there on floor, screaming and crying in pain. When I woke up, I was in hospital. I had a case of ruptured stomach.
After spending 13 days in hospital. I came home. There were many phone calls from concerned relatives. My mother had lost her voice from all the crying.
And that’s when I realised the reality. I wasn’t ready to face the reality. I never once engaged properly in conversation with my family. I avoided the long distance phone calls.
My thoughts always centred on food and I thought I had found my perfect escape. I didn’t even pay attention to my deteriorating physical health. I looked to be in my 40s than someone who was in her early 20s.
Hearing the concerned voices soothed something inside me. It was all too raw, all too painful.
We had lost so much in the war.
And that’s when things did change. When you take responsibility for yourself, faith steps in and makes pathways for you.
With my Spanish, Arabic and English language skills. I utilised all and managed to get myself into therapy. It takes years for trauma to heal.We moved to El Raval. The Moroccan community was particularly welcoming and so was the Pakistani community.
Though different in culture, the help did come. With all this fragile network I clinged to it. The new job was much easier to handle.
My binges decreased and my appetite started to vanish. Somehow I could no longer look at food as something to fill me. I could no longer see food as easing my pain. That extreme hunger vanished. Instead my stomach and the nerves in my gut always felt tight. It was like someone was seeing them.
Bad things in life open your eyes to those things you weren’t paying much attention to before. That’s a blessing from Allah too!
– Powerful Duas
It wasn’t that I could no longer afford to buy the binge food. When extreme hunger and urge to binge drives you, there’s no stopping you. Even bag of spinach and a plain pasta will be enough. Something else happened. Instead I started missing the food I had taken for granted in Syria. I started to miss the spices and the flavour of meat.
And I realised that both me and my mother were shrinking in size. Our physical strength was diminishing day by day.
We were growing very quiet by each passing day.
There was no news from Syria and day after day we hoped for miracle.
And it was then my brother called us, he was making arrangements for us to fly over to Canada to be with him.
He felt guilty for abandoning us. It was my 4th year here in Spain. I spoke enough Spanish to get by. I was making friends.
There were plans for us to move to France and I am grateful we remained here and didn’t go to France. One of my brother was in France.
I am no longer the person I was or I used to be. At times I even fail to recognise my self in the mirror. What happened to that girl who was so obsessed with her skin and her beauty?
What happened to someone who always started off new year as a resolution to go on diet?
What happened to that girl who ate and ate and broke every diet in the book?
What happened to the girl who ate late at night and would buy food and hide it in odd places in her room?
I’ve changed my diet drastically. It simply consists of food that will give me enough strength to get through the day.
Milk, Olive Oil, Bread, Fruit, Olives, Cheese, Vegetables, Eggs, sometimes fish and meat became my diet.
And then finally one day a news came, we were leaving Spain, moving to be with my brother and other family members in Canada.
Half of my family was there. Some are in Germany. Where ever we found shelter, became our home.
I’m packing things. Not much to take with me, but perhaps the greatest gift I’ll take with me is this mind where pain lives but the pain of Eating Disorder no longer exists.
I don’t know how life in Canada will be like. It’s very cold there. I do sometimes think of not going, but looking at my mother, I change my mind. She’s ill and needs to be close to her loved ones. Her sister is in Canada and my brother is there with his wife and children. My one brother is a martyr, my father is a martyr, what is left is weak pieces of an infrastructure..
Allah will hear when you call upon Him, and honor you with responding to your call!. He is As-Samee, The All-Hearing.
– Dua Quotes