Shame: a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety.
Everyone feels embarrassed or ashamed at some point in their lives, they may have said something embarrassing, told a lie, broke something and tried to hide it, or did something that they knew was wrong. It is an absolutely normal response to normal circumstances, most of the time.
When I was very sick I was ashamed of my illness and didn’t want anyone to know, I did my best to hide it from everyone (especially the fact that I purged). I felt ashamed to eat food that I felt I didn’t deserve, I was ashamed of causing my friends and family so much pain.
Through recovery I was ashamed of my body and often couldn’t leave the house for fear of someone having to see me, I was ashamed of my weight and my body – the fact that I had to start existing in other people’s space mortified me. I was ashamed of my body spilling over the passenger seat in the car, of the constant parade of clothes that didn’t fit, of the way my arms stuck out into space my body had never occupied before. I was ashamed of my thighs when they started touching for the first time in 10 years, of the feet attached to my legs that no longer looked like mine and of my too-tight wedding rings that clung to my finger. These have started to get easier with time though they still rear their ugly heads when I’m having a bad day.
My biggest struggle with shame lately is how I feel about eating. I was talking to my dietician a few weeks ago and told her that I felt as if people are judging me for eating. I know that I need to eat regularly and that food is my medicine because I am recovering from an eating disorder, but the rest of the world doesn’t know that. I see a girl who is overcoming a terrible sickness struggling for her life, they only see the girl I am now; healthy and round. They have no idea that this food isn’t an indulgence to me, it is my life-line, my chemotherapy, my radiation treatments, my blood transfusion.
When I am eating a snack in the morning at work or on Monday evenings at choir practice I feel deeply embarrassed. “No wonder she’s so fat” the imaginary voices of the people around me say, “if she could just stop eating for 3 hours at a time she might lose some weight!” – I know these voices aren’t real, I know that people are much too involved in their own lives for them to be worried about my body and the food that I eat but that doesn’t dull the shame in my heart.
There is another voice from inside my mind that whispers “stop doing that! You don’t have the body to look ok doing that anymore”, it reminds me of my “reality” when I forget that I am too big to dance, run, laugh, cuddle up with a blanket or be silly in public. I thank this voice for saving me from the embarrassment of behaving like I have a thinner body and solemnly return to what someone with my body “should” be doing.
I feel as if I have no right to complain about my body shape because others are saying “what do you expect when you eat pop or cookies?”. I hear myself tell people how much weight I have gained and their imaginary voices spit at me “you can stop now, I think you’ve gained enough!”.
I want to spit right back and tell them that I am in recovery; that I used to be very ill, that I need to eat in order to be healthy and yes that includes pop and cookies sometimes! I want to scream that gaining this weight is practically killing me and I would love to stop if only my body would let me. I plead for their understanding and beg forgiveness for taking up so much space in their lives and their world, for existing physically at all. I secretly apologize every time my physiotherapist or massage therapist have to touch my skin, I ask forgiveness for the fat covering my muscles and bones obscuring their view and making their jobs harder. I ask for understanding from the strangers on the street as they have to be subjected to this monstrosity of this body I’m trapped in.
I want to cry, hide, scream and disappear completely but I know in my heart none of that would do any good. I have to face this crippling shame and share it with those who can help me frame it in another light, my psychologist and my dietician. I have to realize that I am not hearing external voices but internal ones stemming from my own insecurities. I have to heal those parts of myself that feel as if I have no right to exist, no right to impose myself on other people, no right to breathe too deeply for fear of disturbing the delicate balance of the world around me.
Shame is an emotion stemming from a perceived purposeful wrong doing and the truth is, I have done NOTHING wrong. I have the right to exist as much as the guys in my office, the man at the store, the people at the beach or the woman on the street.
I have done nothing wrong. There is nothing to be ashamed of.
It’s going to take a lot of repetition but this is my new mantra.
I have done nothing wrong. I have nothing to be ashamed of.
You have done nothing wrong. You have nothing to be ashamed of.