| This is the 521st story of Our Life Logs |
Born in May of 1992, I was raised in the suburbs of Long Island, New York. From a very young age, I had a sensitive heart and big emotions that were reflected in my actions. I could be drawn to tears and fall into the lowest of the lows. Back when I was a child, I found it impossible to be soothed. I just wanted to be loved and held constantly. Yet no matter how much love was given, I always held an achy longing feeling in my chest for someone to pay special attention to me. I would have done anything for someone to think I was the most special person in the world.
When I was about eight years old, that someone came into my life. His name was Michael—a family friend. What I thought was a healthy uncle-niece-type relationship was not so black and white. For years, he showered me with attention, always providing safety and comfort through persuasive words and carefully-calculated hugs.
As a young, vulnerable child, I was under his trance. I was finally getting the attention and love I had been dreaming of for so long. It felt like the black hole in the center of my existence was being filled. The crying wasn’t constant anymore, and I had a reason to wake up in the morning. But the sweet feeling went away one night when I was 13.
It’s a night that has haunted me all my life.
Michael and his son were visiting one evening—which was nothing out of the ordinary. But that night, when I was the only child awake, Michael reached over to me. I froze as I felt his touch. In that moment, my body was no longer mine; I couldn’t move or speak. He didn’t speak either. The only sound was his heavy breathing which still reverberates through my ears at night. I don’t even know how to describe how I felt. Fear, confusion, betrayal, and desperation were all boiling over, and they were stuck inside me. When he stopped, I was still frozen. I did not sleep that night. This started a long three years of sexual abuse.
One might think it was a simple switch, that everything changed and I no longer felt love, but rather fear and hatred for him. It was more complicated than that. The manipulation continued. He continued to be sweet to me. He took me to cooking classes, gave me big hugs and gifts, and I still felt special. My heart was so conflicted. I knew somewhere deep down that something was wrong, but I was in denial. Yet at night, the cycle began, and I only felt fearful and hurt. I began to believe that I had to be abused if I were to earn love.
I never told anyone about the abuse for years, but eventually, it intensified and turned violent. I began to fear for my life. Right before my 16th birthday, I found the courage to finally tell someone. I was shaken with fear that I would get pregnant because I had gotten my period and the abuse hadn’t let up. Thankfully, my parents convinced me to go to the police and, within hours, I was at the station telling my story.
Michael was arrested, but I had to endure the excruciating pain and stress of the court case. I was too scared to tell the police the whole truth, so I minimized what was happening. We ended doing a plea bargain because I couldn’t stand to continue. Michael ended up fleeing to China, so I did not get the justice I deserved—but at least he was gone. Even so, I still felt unsafe, even with him halfway around the world. I worried he’d come back for me.
Coming forward with my trauma should have made me feel better, but it only brought on major mental health issues. I had been diagnosed with depression at 10, but the court case caused it to skyrocket into uncertain territory.
To try to control some aspect of my life, I began to secretly restrict my food intake and sleep to avoid meals. I hated my body and what had been done to it. I thought that this was the only way to keep me from thinking about my past.
When I wasn’t sleeping, I was keeping busy with school and extracurricular activities so that I didn’t have time to eat. I checked my weight constantly and would occasionally purge if I didn’t make the weight I’d hoped for. An eating disorder is like an addiction, you feel like you couldn’t stop even if you wanted to.
I began losing weight so quickly that, by the time I was in college, my friends had noticed and became worried. It got so bad that my best friend and my a cappella group begged me to seek treatment. While I was a tad resistant, I mostly felt intense surrender. I knew I couldn’t go on with the way I was living. I knew I needed help, but I thought it was far more than anyone could fix. I could feel my inner being fall to the ground.
And so, I began my recovery journey. I found a treatment center called Timberline Knolls and decided that it was reliable after I learned that the singer Demi Lovato had gone there for her eating disorder. On top of that, they treated several diagnoses and it was located near a cousin of mine in Illinois. It seemed like a good fit.
When I arrived in late spring of 2013, I decided that if I was going to do this and change, I needed to start with a clean slate. I had been wanting to change my name, and now seemed like the right time. I chose Tali which translates to “dew” in Hebrew, a symbol of revival in Judaism.
That said, it takes more than going to residential treatment for a person to unlearn harmful habits from an eating disorder, especially when circumstances go awry.
After just two months, my insurance cut me off. At the time, I was still clinging to my eating disorder like a crutch and hadn’t even begun to make the kind of progress I needed. I was eating better, but as soon as I had to leave treatment, I began ignoring my needs once more. I went right back to college and overworked myself.
This is how it was for the next five years. I was in and out of treatment, feeling unseen and misunderstood. I went to different treatment centers, psych units in hospitals—I even tried electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) out of desperation to alleviate the overbearing pain, but it only brought memory loss and migraines. Whether it was malpractice or unhelpful therapy sessions, I was beginning to feel hopeless, like I would never get the help I needed. Twice, when the heaviest emptiness crawled into my heart, I took pills in an attempt to end the pain.
It wasn’t until the winter of 2018 that I finally saw a glimmer of hope. I decided to try Alsana in St Louis, Missouri. I’ll admit I was skeptical since so many other places hadn’t worked out, but I was greatly surprised by them. For the first time, I felt like I was treated as a person and not some burden. that I finally felt like I was being treated as an individual. Alsana was the first treatment center to determine I was struggling with Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) on top of anorexia. I never knew that my issues with textures and other sensory aspects of food were a symptom of a whole other eating disorder. I finally felt validated and understood by professionals. The relief and gratitude I felt were indescribable.
The longer I was there, the better I felt. I built such strong relationships with people there, especially my dietitian, Rachael Wolf-Mintz. One of my fondest memories of my time there was the time I sang “Happy Birthday” with them together in harmony to celebrate my birthday. Birthdays are difficult in treatment, but Alsana was the first place that helped me celebrate it in a healthy way while making me feel seen and loved.
It was the beginning of a different life for me. I took what I learned and applied it. Finally feeling like I could live in the world, I discovered what true recovery was. Who knew I could feel motivated and proud of myself? The little child who felt powerless would never have thought it could happen, but here I stand.
Since I’ve improved, I decided to move to St. Louis in 2019 where I had found a loving community. New York was where my trauma took place and I felt that it held too much toxicity and bad memories for me to return. Now that I’ve moved, I have a team who specializes in eating disorders and trauma, who use the type of therapies I’ve found effective. I began working for the first time since being on disability, which started in 2016. I’ve been a vocal instructor and a music recreation assistant, bringing music back into my life. I feel like my true self is slowly coming back to me. As one of my therapists wisely quoted from Carl Jung, “I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.”
This is the story of Tali Rainess
Tali resides in St Louis, Missouri, where they will begin teaching at Paraquad and continue freelance writing. Over half of Tali’s life was a battle against mental illness and trauma from molestation in their youth. They spent five grueling years going from center to center until they found one that could help them address their trauma properly and work toward overcoming it. Tali battles with two eating disorders, major depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder, but Tali has done their best to cope with them and live a life where they can be happy. Tali says that their recovery is still a work in progress, but they are far from the person they were years ago. Other than writing, Tali is passionate about music. Tali loves to write their own music, sing, and play the ukulele. They plan to join an a cappella group soon. These are huge steps of progress because a lack of confidence kept Tali from pursuing music for years—a passion once thought was gone has rekindled in their recovery.
Tali plans to continue receiving outpatient care including transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) which is an outpatient treatment for depression less invasive than ECT and has less side effects.
This story first touched our hearts on March 16, 2019.
| Writer: Tali Rainess | Editor: Colleen Walker |