Welcome to the show, I’m your host Maria Natapov, Stepparenting Coach and Strategist. I am very excited to bring you this special episode that is near and dear to my heart.
I had the sheer pleasure to again interview my incredible stepdaughter for this week’s episode. But I have to warn you that there will be some details shared and discussed that will be uncomfortable if not straight up stomach-turning.
So please remember that this episode is not for the faint of heart and if you have children around, please put on some headphones or wait until you’re alone to listen.
This way you give yourself space to decide whether and if it’s the right time to introduce this subject matter to them and to discuss these issues with them.
This week Lilah dove into more of the background of her story of abuse, what that was like for her, how she learned to heal and what that has looked like and continues to look like.
In spite of some unpleasant details, I’m so excited to share her powerful story and pearls of wisdom with you all – and despite her tender age, she has many.
This episode had so many incredible nuggets and such juicy conversation that it actually turned into a two parter. So this is part one. And please be sure to tune in next week for part two. Let’s dive in …
Hey, Lilah, it’s great to have you with us again. Thank you so much for joining us. We’re really excited. Last time that you were on, you mentioned abuse and neglect in the past. And I think for the audience, it might be interesting that you’re calling me mom, and then you referenced bio-mom. And it maybe confusing as to why I’m your stepmom, but you call me mom. Would you mind just talking a little bit about some of the background of this? Just to explain the story around that.
My Stepdaughter’s Story.
Yeah, my dad and birth-mom split up when I was six. And they both started dating several people. So my dad started dating you, and my birth-mom started dating this other guy. This other guy was already really sketchy and I didn’t like him. And the first … she randomly like told me we’re moving in, so we just moved in. And I already didn’t know what’s going on.
But he started treating me really badly. And he started hitting me every once in a while. And then a few years later, he ended up like wanting to play Truth or Dare with me. And things just started to like turn to the worst. He gave me alcohol and he cut my hair and he called me sexy while lying on top of me. And after that, it’s starting to get a lot worse because that…
Can you just reference how old you were?
Oh, yeah. So when you first started to hit me, I was seven. And when the whole game of Truth or Dare happened, I was about nine. And every single time that incident like this happened, I always told my birth-mom. Every single time. And he ended up, at one point, her husband ended up threatening me. Saying that if I said anything, then he would tell my birth-mom that it was all me. That everything that has happened was my fault and I begged him to do everything.
So after that I just never told anybody about what was going on. And lied. And it got really hard to eat, and stay calm, to sleep. And about like two, or three, maybe four years later, I ended up blurting out to my step-mom that he had given me alcohol.
Is that, is that me?
Okay, just wanted to make sure.
Why My Stepdaughter Calls Me “Mom.”
Mom … stepmom … and ended up blurting out that he gave me alcohol. And then I ended up opening up about everything else. And then we told my dad, and then we told my birth-mom. And after that they went into court and developed stuff so that I lived with them officially. And I ended up moving in completely and switching schools. And eventually, like I just didn’t see her anymore except for family therapy. And then we stopped doing that and I ended up recently sending her a letter saying to just not contact me.
The reason why I am I call step-mom mom and not my bio-mom is because my step-mom treated me more like a mother than my birth-mom ever did. She cared for me. And she treated me like I was her daughter and never neglected me, helped me with what I needed to be helped with. And she made me feel like I was actually part of her life. And so that’s why I call her my … my mom, instead of my step-mom.
Thank you so much for sharing so much of yourself so openly with us. And I’m sure whoever’s listening will greatly benefit from just hearing your story. There’s so much that you’ve already been through. That’s a lot for an adult, never mind a child. So I can imagine it might be overwhelming for a lot of people as they’re listening to this and listen to you talk about it so openly with so much courage. So I really commend you for that. And thank you for being willing to share this much of yourself with people in hopes that this story can also help them to navigate things on their end, if they’re noticing a loved one struggling with these things, possibly, or if they themselves are struggling with these things. That’s really amazing.
You mentioned that it was hard to eat and sleep. And this had a tremendous impact on you. Can you tell us a little bit more about what that was like, as far as the day to day what it felt like? And also, I know that disordered eating or eating disorders, I think it’s a little tricky for me to distinguish between them. But I know that that can be a really difficult thing to navigate. Can you talk a little bit about that as well, and how that played into things and what that looks like.
The Day-to-Day and Disordered Eating.
So I am not good at lying or things like that. And for the longest time, like things that gave me a lot of anxiety or stress had made me throw up and not feel good. So having to keep something for so long, was eating me alive. I wasn’t able to sleep because I was felt like I was gonna be sick. And it’s hard for me to eat a lot of food. Like, I ate barely anything because just the pain of my stomach, it just felt like everything was twisting and stabbing.
And it just hurt every single day. And everything was just in pain. And it became a big struggle, even after I moved out. Because I already had started like, throwing up and like going to the bathroom a lot, I was losing a lot of weight, because I just wasn’t talking. So all of that kind of played into after I moved, it got a lot worse.
Can you explain a little bit the not talking?
So because he had threatened me, if I said anything else, he’d blame me for everything. I usually told people, if they saw anything weird with me happening, I would say it was nothing, or I’d give an excuse, or I’d lie about everything. And that happened for years, probably about five years. So all of that was really just taking a toll on you mentally and physically.
So it sounds like you’re saying that you didn’t really feel that you had anybody to turn to to actually share what was really happening, and didn’t feel that you had anybody to process it with?
Yeah. It felt like, especially when I was out, if we’d have like a family gathering and something, and people told me to eat. They didn’t understand what was going on, because I never spoke about it with anybody, not even like my therapist or anything or school people. Like nobody knew about it. So I struggled a lot. And usually if I ate too much, I got really sick. And I wouldn’t be able to move a lot of the time.
I wasn’t really thinking. I was always so tired. Like, even too when I got in trouble sometimes, my birth-mom wouldn’t feed me. So that also got really bad too, having that happening. And the only thing that I’d be able to like really eat was little snacks, like fruit snacks and like granola bars and stuff. So it all really just took a toll on me.
I can definitely imagine all of those things combined, how stressful that was. How did you navigate that? I mean, that must have been so challenging. How did you work through that?
What Empowered My Stepdaughter.
It took a lot. I’m still working through it now. Because my eating kind of goes back and forth. But throughout time I would try to eat as much as I could, without feeling like I’ll throw up. And just try to get as much food in me as I possibly could. I would write, and I would go outside, and run. I would hang out with people that would make me feel happy. I would try to get as many hugs as I could.
And after I moved out, I would try to talk about it as much as I could. Because that fear was eating me alive. The more I talked about it, the more that fear would disappear. And the stronger I felt while talking about it. So having having to write it out, explain it to my teachers and explain it to therapists or doctors or even even friends and family too. Just having like that strength to be able to not cower in fear to all of this. And not say, “Those things didn’t happened to me.” But actually say, “Yes, this did happen to me. This was what’s going on. This is how I’m dealing with it,” made me feel so much stronger.
That’s incredible. You’re so brave. I mean, I can even feel the power in your words, as you were talking about how sharing more and more of this experience empowered you. And that’s so amazing. What did you notice would help along the way? And what made things worse? Was there anything that stands out in your mind around that?
What helped would getting hugs from people and talking to different people. One thing that really, really made it hard, was people asking me if I was okay, people telling you to eat. Those are the hardest things because I knew they didn’t understand what was going on. And they weren’t going to unless I said something about it. But the struggle was real. People use that as a as like a fun term.
But no, it was really hard. I was struggling a lot. And I talked to people about this. And people have told me that like I’m being dramatic, all these different things. And I made myself feel this way. And it was all on me. Which I can see like how people can think like that. But really, it’s like when you when you put a bunch of stress and emotional decay on a child and try to pretend that it’s not happening, that’s going to take a big toll on the child. Having to tell a kid to be quiet every day or having to tell the kid that she’s not worth it. Or she’s too fat, or too tall, or all these different things.
Those are the things you heard?
Yeah, I was I was told a lot of the time that “You’re too tall. You’re too fat for these clothes. I don’t know why you trying to wear these.” Like, “You’re eating too much. You can’t grow your hair, you look like a mess. Why do you dress like that? You need to have your nails done. You need to have your hair done.” Like, “All of these things need to happen. You look so tired it’s disgusting.”
And so over time, with everything going on it really just hurt. And like, one thing that I would say is don’t become numb. Do not become numb with emotion. Because becoming numb with emotion and then feeling it again, can be such a stressful time. It makes you feel like everything is falling apart. You don’t want that. And I definitely recommend to not do that. And to really talk about what’s going on. And even if somebody’s asking if you are okay, tell them what’s going on. Don’t say nothing. Actually explain. Tell them, because getting it off your chest will feel so much better. I guarantee that.
Thank you. Yeah, that’s such powerful and important advice. And it just feels so weighty as you say it coming from the mouth of a young lady. And you’re saying these incredibly powerful words, that honestly as adults, many of us struggle with. I want to unpack a little bit of what you’ve just shared.
What My Stepdaughter Did to Combat Judgmental Voices.
First of all, I know from personal experience, and many people I’ve spoken with that sometimes when we hear those messages of unkind words and harsh judgmental statements, over time, it can easily become the voice in our head … in my head. And it can be really challenging to escape that. Does that resonate for you? And if so, how have you been working through that?
Yes, it most definitely resonates with me, because over time the more you hear it , the more it takes a toll on you, the more it gets engrained inside of you. Like the neural pathways just are engraved, so deep inside of you that you’re just kind of used to it. For so long, I was told that I was useless. And if I got something wrong, it would just be like, “Oh my God, it’s the end of the world. You’re going to die because you just did something wrong.”
And I had gotten to the point where I was physically hit myself every single time I got something wrong, and it hurt. But it felt like the only way that I would actually be able to cope with it and understand it. Which is completely false. Because the more you do that, the more you’re hurting yourself the more I feel like you can’t trust yourself. So, the way I’m dealing with it is taking it in slowly. 1) learning things in a new way trying to figure out new ways for me to learn something. So that it’s not just, “Oh yeah, like hitting yourself in the arms or the legs or punching yourself is going to fix everything,” it’s not. You might think that, but it’s really just taking a toll on your body.
Like for school … school is something that I struggled with for a long, long time. I’m learning new ways to study and understand the information. Like permit tests learning -taking notes while reading, and making flashcards, so information … going through reviewing them, doing tests online to see what you’re missing, and doing all these things. Like I’m … I’m still going to high school. I’m still missing a lot of things in life, but I’ve learned a lot of things as well.
This may be coming from what a lot of people think is a child, but this child has experienced a lot more than I could actually even wrap my mind around. I’m just trying to go with the waves, and just try to live my life and learn as I go. But the main thing that’s really helped me is, don’t let what other people say, crowd up your mind so much.
Look at yourself in the mirror. And look, look right at your face. Even if it’s close up or far away, look at your face. Say, “I have beautiful eyes. Look at my beautiful nose.” Think of the thing that you’re most insecure about. And compliment yourself for it. And MEAN it! Don’t just say it because you think, “Oh, this person wants me to say it, so I’m just going to say it.” No, do it because you want to. Do it because you want to feel better with the way that you look, or the way that you’ve dress, and the way the sound, or the things that you like. Do it to make yourself really understand yourself more and feel appreciated BY yourself.
How Not to Numb Out the Painful Feelings.
Wow, that is such excellent advice. Like that just totally resonated with me through the core. Wow. That’s amazing. So a second thing I’d love to unpack that you shared a little bit ago was you mentioned – “Don’t allow yourself to get numb.” I think that is such a critically important point. I think many of us are guilty of this, myself included sometimes.
And I think it’s easy to almost not notice how we numb because it could be through going to food or going to substances, it could also be through like binging Netflix, all these things in a way are kind of a numbing agent. And there’s just so many options – scrolling through social media – I mean, the possibilities are endless. Can you talk a little bit more as you give that advice, what you suggest? What have you learned to use as alternatives that have been helpful? And how have you been even able to stay mindful of navigating that and not going to that numbing place?
My main things that I recommend, go outside. Find something to do outside, whether that’s taking like a 5-minute walk, or going to the beach, or if you don’t have a car like trying to kick a ball outside or draw. Or, like, one thing that I’ve gotten into recently, which has actually helped me out with a lot of stress is making bracelets, like friendship bracelets. That’s that’s been helping me a lot. Because, 1, it’s helping me learn a skill, but also keep my focus on one thing at a time. So it helps with memory. And with just really skills. I recommend trying to learn something new that doesn’t have to do with computers or technology.
Sing around, sing without any music, dance around, have fun. Just read a book, read a comic book, play with toys. Even if you’re a teenager, playing with toys isn’t something that’s bad. Do something that you’ve enjoyed for the longest time. Clean if you need to, organize, write a letter to somebody that you really care about, write a letter and then burn it. Take a picture that you hate, burn it. Like do something, don’t go right into something that’ll make you feel upset – like don’t sleep, don’t eat, I mean well eat, but like, don’t emotionally eat. Don’t emotionally not eat either.
Don’t try to take it out on other people. Figure out ways for yourself. Try these different ways that I’m talking about. Try journaling. I don’t journal that often. But when I do, I feel so much better because I do what is called a brain dump. Where I set a specific amount of time and write a lot of the things that come into my head on that piece of paper. Whether they’re good or bad, just write it all out. And you will actually feel so much better. I highly recommend it. Or just write about your day. Do a checklist, do ANYTHING that doesn’t have to do with electronics – highly recommend. Highly recommend running as well, especially when you’re upset.
I can relate to all of those things that you’ve just shared. And they definitely make an enormous difference. And I agree. They’ve been extremely beneficial and useful. And it’s amazing how quickly you run out of energy when you’re running through your anger or trying to do like a power walking excursion because you quickly you just calm down. BecaUse you just let it all out on on that walk or during that run.
This concludes Part 1 of our interview with Lilah about her story of abuse, please be sure to tune in next week where we have even more incredible insights and nuggets for you. I can’t wait for you to get the rest of this amazing, powerful story. Until next time, be well.
For all of the listeners out there, please remember that there are things you can do and places you can turn to and people you can turn to for help. If you are struggling with anything like this, please reach out to me at Maria@nullSynergisticStepparenting.com. I’m happy to share resources and point you in the right direction for whatever your needs might be. If you are also going through anything similar or notice that your child or stepchild is going through anything similar, or if you realize that this is something that you have struggled with, even as an adult. Again, there are definitely resources and places you can turn to for help.
And we are going to continue this conversation, we are actually soon going to have Dr. Dara Bushman on the show who is an eating disorder specialist. She’s going to talk about this issue from a clinical perspective and from her expertise of her extensive clinical knowledge and clinical experience. So stay tuned. Thank you so much.
Thank you so much, Lila, again, for coming on to talk about this. And for really being willing to open up that’s really the key, I think is just the connection and being willing to have the conversations that feel uncomfortable or that we have felt just like you said that we need to silence for whatever reason which is not true. And actually, it’s the silence, as you’ve noted, that often leads to even more pain that is totally avoidable.
So let’s go ahead and break the silence. We’d love to hear your stories. If you can relate to this, please go ahead and email us if you’re a step parent or if you’re a stepchild. I’d love to hear from you. Thank you so much, and tune in next week.
Until next time, be well!
Confessions of a Stepdaughter – Broken Silence: Part 2
Deconstructing Eating Disorders with Dr. Dara Bushman: Part 1
What is Rapid Resolution Therapy?
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