I’m reading The Gift of Imperfections by Brene Brown. She writes, “Shame is that warm feeling that washes over us, making us feel small, flawed and never good enough.”
As I write this, I’m not warm with shame, I’m burning up.
I used to weigh almost 190 pounds (I’m 5’1”). After a lot of life changes and hard work, I dropped to 135. My workout schedule is a 45-minute personal strength training session Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Monday and Wednesday private Pilates. Most days I get some true cardio. Dammit, that should be enough.
I should not have to watch every morsel or deny myself coffee creamer (I will never give up coffee creamer!). Life isn’t fair. Other people can eat like disgusting pigs and sit on their asses all day and never put on an ounce. Life isn’t fair. (I hear my father saying, “Whoever said life was fair was a damn liar.”)
At my gym, Fitness Together, every six weeks they do this awful body scan thing. And when I say awful, I mean awful. You stand, mostly undressed, on this cold platform. It spins slowly around and wah-lah, a 3-d image of your body appears on a 60” screen.
It was time for my torture, and I wasn’t really dreading it. Because, dammit, I do enough! When I exercise, I exercise. I don’t sit on a recumbent bike and barely push the pedals. I sweat, my heart pounds, I breath hard and I cuss the trainer. Dammit, I do enough! The 3-d image should be “fine”.
Apparently, I don’t do enough. My weight went up. All of my measurements went up (well, not my upper arms – but who cares about upper arms!?). To make it worse – yes, it could get worse – the trainer is this gorgeous, perfectly proportioned young woman who takes pole dancing classes. Can you imagine me (see lumps and bumps below) dancing on a pole!?
“You can’t exercise away a bad diet,” my too young, too cute, too peppy personal trainer said.
I was ashamed because my eating habits – my disordered eating – was right there in a disgusting 3-d image. All my lumps and bumps and pockets of fat on a giant screen. I had been pretending I had this all under control. The thing about pretending is that the pretender knows it’s all fake and is just waiting on the world to catch on. My world has caught on.
“It’s important to know our personal symptoms so we can get deliberate in our response to shame.”
This is what I did yesterday: My throat clogged because I refused to cry when I desperately wanted to crawl in a hole and wail. I wouldn’t make eye contact. But the most prominent physical response was the panicked need to leave, to race to my car, to drive in circles with the heat on and a book playing until the wave ended, the tears dried, and I could pretend it never happened. I had one foot out the door, but my trainer (God bless her) wouldn’t let me leave. She talked me down. She helped me – or forced me – to be honest about my habits. Then, she made me finish my workout. I did not leave ready to face my shame, but I did leave no longer desperate to run away from life and a little proud that I’d done a workout.
I can’t forget the image – I don’t want to forget the image. I need to work through this, to understand myself and the story that supports this shame and this need/desire to use food as a weapon.
I’ve been coping with poor decisions, broken boundaries, unrealized dreams and fear of failure underneath ice cream and cake. I have two choices – dig and deal or hide and suffer. But I don’t know how, exactly, to deal. I’ve done enough therapy to have a Ph.D. I know how to eat. I know how not to eat. I know an Oreo is fine. I know a box of Oreos is a delicious problem.
“According to Dr. Hartling, in order to deal with shame, some of us move away by withdrawing, hiding, silencing ourselves, and keeping secrets. Some of us move toward by seeking to appease and please. And some of us move against by trying to gain power over others by being aggressive, and by using same to fight shame.”
In this case, I’m clearly moving away. But I’m a master at moving toward and moving against too. Just ask bosses who I’ve tried to appease and friends who I have tried to shame. I want to stop moving. I want to stand still and listen, learn and grow.
“…most of my anxiety grows out the expectations I put on myself.”
Forty-eight hours ago, my yearly blood work showed perfect numbers in all areas. Read that again – I am healthy. My cardio risk score was “very low” (my entire family has had or died from heart issues). I was proud of that. Dammit, I had earned that. But within 24 hours I had forgotten that achievement and could only focus on “the expectations I put on myself” – to be thin, to eat right, to stop when I’m full, to behave and control food. I expected my disordered eating to be under control.
I have returned to the point where I’m unhappy with how my body looks, how my clothes fit, how I think people see me. I’m unhappy that I’ve lost the coping methods I’d developed around my disordered eating. I am shoulding and shaming and starting to set unrealistic and ridiculous rules for myself (drink green, disgusting juice every meal – ha). I am treating myself like a disappointing failure. My brain is telling my heart, “Just get used to it, this is an area you will always fail at. Be fat and eat on.” I am wallowing in shame and disrespect.
“Practicing self-love means learning how to trust ourselves, to treat ourselves with respect, and to be kind and affectionate towards ourselves.”
What could self-love look like? I truly don’t know right now. And that’s okay. What I do know is that I’ve stopped hiding from myself. I’m holding the problem – okay, maybe I’m holding the problem in one hand and a cookie in the other – still, yesterday it was a cookie in both hands.
Brown gives four elements for shame resilience: 1) recognizing shame; 2) reality check the internal messages; 3) reach out and share; 4) use the word ‘shame’ when telling the story.
I found it interesting that one of the aspects of shame resilience is the willingness to use the word ‘shame’. It was almost as if we are supposed to claim the shame. Does using the word diminish its power? Does saying out loud, ‘I have an eating disorder’ or ‘I was abused’ or ‘I feel unloved, unworthy, unwanted’ make the pain less? I don’t know the answer but I’m willing to trust Dr. Brown and speak this truth: I feel shame around my food behavior.
I’ve recognized the shame. The other three will follow – with time and patience. I am worthy just as I am. I am worthy enough to dig and deal. Right now, those are words on a page and not truths in my heart but that’s a start. Right?
“Worthiness does not have pre-requisites.”
Brene Brown states that shame is universal. In what areas of your life are you experiencing shame? How do you know? How does your body warn you of a shaming? Will you dig and deal or hide and suffer? If you’ve never read Brene Brown, I suggest you start with I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t).
All quotes are from The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown, Ph.D., LMSW.
Copyright 2021 June Converse, All Rights Reserved.