Lucinda Hoffman stiffened in her chair when the therapist asked, “Have you ever been abused?”
It was a question no one ever thought to ask.
For 14 years she had suppressed painful childhood memories, numbing her pain by eating obsessively and shedding pounds.
But now the memories began to flood back.
From the age of four, Lucinda was sexually abused by a 16-year-old family friend just meters away from their parents during household get-togethers.
For three years, the teen volunteered every two weeks to teach her to play handball outside while the adults chatted nearby.
Lucinda Hoffman, 26, suffered from an eating disorder for nine years before realizing it was linked to the sexual abuse she suffered as a child
In reality, he would lure her into the car and lock her inside before subjecting the toddler to sickening sex acts she was too young to understand.
“The adults thought he was a really nice boy who taught me how to play ball,” Ms Hoffman, now 26, told Daily Mail Australia.
He would ask them for the keys to the car ‘to get the Gameboy’.
“I remember it was uncomfortable and I didn’t want to be there. And he told me to be quiet and “just do this so we can play football.”
Lucinda, unable to articulate what was happening, told no one about the attacks.
The years of abuse finally ended when Lucinda and her mother left Sydney for Perth when she was seven. But the torment was far from over.
The young girl, who struggled to understand the painful emotions she suffered after the sexual abuse, developed an eating disorder two years later.
It started with Lucinda eating too much, in one case hiding under the stairs to devour a whole loaf of bread.
Lucinda photographed the age of four, around the time the sexual abuse began
Just a little girl, she didn’t understand what was happening and couldn’t communicate what she was experiencing
‘It was my coping mechanism. I was so ashamed of what I had gone through,” she said.
“When you’re small, you just feel like the behavior is disgusting, so then you think you’re rude and there’s something wrong with you.
“All these emotions went through me, but I couldn’t understand them. So I started eating too much to numb the pain.’
Around the same time, as the nine-year-old girl struggled to understand the despicable acts committed against her, she was dealt another devastating blow when her father, Steven, was diagnosed with an HIV-related brain tumor.
Three years later, as his condition deteriorated rapidly, Lucinda and her mother flew to London – where he had lived since the end of the marriage – to see him in hospice.
The brain tumor had left her ‘energetic and fun’ father extremely ill, suffering from hallucinations and entering a ‘childlike’ state from being constantly cared for.
A few weeks later, after spending every moment by her beloved father’s side, reading books and feeding him, he sadly passed away.
“I was there at the last moment when he caught his breath,” Lucinda said.
Lucinda with her mom Megan and dad Steven around age nine – when her eating disorder started
In 2007 Lucinda tragically lost her father Steven (pictured together when she was six years old) to cancer
“His partner started to cry, then I realized he wasn’t moving. Then I fell to the ground crying.’
After her father’s death, Lucinda’s eating disorder ran rampant. She became anorexic and controlled her diet as a way to escape stress.
Despite her obsession with food and fluctuating weight, she continued to deny her problem. And because she was never extremely underweight, no one around her picked up on the disorder either.
My whole world revolved around food, my weight, my body image. It was all I was thinking about 24/7,” she said.
“But I thought, ‘I’m not a skeleton, so I’m not sick’. I’ve seen top psychologists. I went to the best private schools, but no one doubted that I had a disorder.
‘I was a walking advertisement for PTSD’ [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder].’
When Lucinda turned 18 and was in year 12, her anorexia became more severe after being sexually assaulted by a male student. In eerily similar circumstances, he locked her in a car and wouldn’t let her leave until she had oral sex.
Months later, she hit her lowest level as she struggled to cope with her freshman year in college. She started a series of eating rituals that included certain foods outside the limits, strictly planned meals, fear of any disruptions to her routine, and a ban on eating after 6 p.m.
At her lowest point, Lucinda would be consumed with thoughts of restricting her diet from the moment she woke up
She hid the illness from her friends and would become anxious if she didn’t eat on time
Within six months she lost six kilos to 49 kg.
“From the moment I woke up, I weighed myself and if I was 100 grams more than yesterday I would be upset all day,” Lucinda said.
“One time Mommy came home with a chicken and I threw it on the floor. The moment I did, I’d be mad at myself, but I couldn’t explain the fear.
“It’s a complete obsession, people think it’s narcissistic, but I found myself so disgusting and unworthy.”
In distress, Lucinda went to a psychiatrist who was eventually diagnosed with anorexia after a six-year secret battle with the disease.
But the diagnosis did little to stop the crippling effects of the disease, causing her to withdraw from social activities and struggle to enjoy normal activities.
She plunged into a deep depression, contemplated suicide and wrote a suicide note — but dropped the pen when she realized the impact it would have on her mother.
Instead, she decided to ask her mother for help, and after Lucinda revealed the extent of her fear, she was admitted to a rehabilitation center.
Lucinda pictured during time spent at Byron Bay Rehabilitation Center in 2014
She is now studying psychology and helping other young girls with eating disorders
In December 2014, Lucinda flew to Byron Bay for a seven-week rehabilitation program where she underwent various types of therapies to combat her anorexia.
Realizing that her childhood experiences with the family friend involved sexual assault, the 14-year-old secret finally came to light.
“The therapist asked me if I had been mistreated. It was as if the suppressed memories were a box clattering and waiting to be opened and with that one question the lid popped open and I couldn’t put my mind back,’ Lucinda said.
“I had all those memories that I didn’t want to look at. But when she asked me, it felt like I could breathe for the first time. It was the first time anyone saw me.’
Lucinda was diagnosed with complex PTSD and learned that her anorexia was a coping mechanism she used to protect herself from thoughts of the abuse.
Although rehab was a big step in her healing journey, she said the process of accepting what had happened to her was still “very slow.”
After the program, Lucinda and her mother moved to Byron Bay to continue her recovery with the therapist, where they stayed for several years before Lucinda recently returned to Sydney.
She said that recognizing the role the sexual abuse played in her anorexia was crucial in her recovery.
“With the memories came a tremendous amount of grief. It was like losing my father. I mourned all the things stolen from me. My first kiss. The fun moments from my childhood that were replaced by worry and stress.
Lucinda has written a memoir about her journey entitled Behind That Blue Eyes Eye
“But as I began to grieve for the abuse I had experienced, I found that minutes and hours went by without checking to see if I had gained weight or if I was planning meals.
“Then I started going days where I didn’t check my rib bones or if I had femur fissures, and then it started to go away.”
Lucinda, who now studies psychology and counsels young girls with eating disorders, said she hopes sharing her story will encourage others to speak out about sexual assault.
“People need to know, we need to keep talking about it. The more we talk about it, the less stigma around it, so we can have conversations to know that it doesn’t always happen in dark alleys or with strangers — it can happen right in front of your eyes,” she said.
“Being abused isn’t a death sentence, it’s something you can heal from. I live a great life, I have peace. The shame I have felt all my life is not mine to bear.
“No matter how scary or how dark it looks, there is always hope.”
Lucinda has written about her journey in a new memoir called Behind That Blue Eyes.
For confidential support, please contact:
LIFELINE (13 11 14) or BEYOND BLUE (1300 22 4636)
1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732)