We have all felt it. That familiar feeling in the pit of your stomach, along with that feeling of wanting to crawl into a hole and disappear—SHAME. Big, ugly, mean shame. I, like many of you have felt it too many times in my 40 years on this earth.
I read something recently about shame and what parts of our body it actually effects. In the spiritual world, shame has a HUGE effect on your third chakra. What is that you say? It is the part of your body (located in your solar plexus or lower abdomen) that is said to control our emotions and rule our feelings for gratification and pleasures. It is also said that when out of balance, it makes us want to eat, to feed it, to consume more than we need. This makes complete sense to me, because as someone who has yo-yo’d with their weight over the years, I can see the connection between shame and overeating. Let me give you a little raw and honest history of my life with shame.
At the age of 3, I had MAJOR surgery on my bladder. I was born with a birth defect and after many nights spent awake and crying on the toilet and doctors telling my parents I was just “being difficult”, my parents found a specialist that literally saved my life. Dr. Dutton. He was fantastic and corrected a life-threatening problem. But, with this affliction came my introduction to shame. How? Because at 3 years old you are taught that your “privates” are yours. No one but your parents are to look at them and even then ONLY if something is wrong. However, thanks to my birth defect, my “privates” were on display—in x-ray rooms, on lab tables and in front of a parade of specialists until my problem was corrected. I felt exposed, on display and shameful. I wanted to disappear. Like any child, though, I was resilient and overcame that feeling, thanks to crippling anxiety. But, that story is for another day.
Shame was gone for a while, but like anyone, once you are introduced to it, it will come back and haunt you many, many times.
I was 13, in the 8th grade and “finding myself”. I was a good Christian girl, but also had a fascination with overly sexual boys and in my school this meant the gorgeous, chocolate man who looked older than his age and was the star of the football team. Ronnie. Oh, Ronnie! We had been “talking” for a while and sharing notes and he knew that I liked him and he liked me. It was your typical middle school crush or so I thought.
One day, in History class, I asked for a hall pass to go to the bathroom. I didn’t really need to go. I was just bored and wanted to check my hair in the mirror and walk for a bit. I was given the pass and as I walked down the hall I saw him standing at his locker. He was wearing his football jersey and towered over me with his gorgeous face and that million dollar smile. I told him I was going to check my hair in the mirror and so he started walking with me. When we reached the bathrooms, he grabbed my arms from behind and instead of me going into the Girl’s bathroom, he shoved me into the Boy’s. I was shocked and tried to pull away but I couldn’t. He was too strong. He pulled me into the middle of the room and said horrible things about what he was going to do to me, as we danced in a circle of “stop that and I’ll do what I want”. His hands rushed down my pants, grabbing and exploring as I tried to push him away and off of me. His hands went up my shirt, hungrily grabbing whatever he wanted along the way. He kept telling me that I was a “tease” and had “wanted this” and to “stop being a bitch”. I felt like I was outside of my body. I was numb and shocked and shamed. Somehow, in this disconnection and fear I mustered up the courage to knee him right in the sweet spot and he finally let go of me. FINALLY. I quickly ran and locked myself into a stall in the Girl’s bathroom. But, as I ran, I heard him saying behind me things that haunted me for years. Ugly things. Things that don’t bear repeating, about my body, about my dignity. I sat in the stall, shocked and realized I had to get it together and go back to class otherwise people would start wondering why I was gone so long. I straightened my clothes and walked out into the open bathroom and saw my reflection in the big, stained mirror. Who was I? I didn’t look the same anymore. I was pale and my eyes looked funny. I looked down. I hated my reflection now. The very one that I, as a teenage girl, had obsessed over and spent hours gazing at while crimping my hair, teasing my bangs and covering up my freckles on a daily basis. I didn’t like who I saw anymore. She was ugly and a stranger and I hated her now. Shame had taken over and it was ugly.
I will speed this along and spare you the details of the teacher who noticed something was wrong and took me outside and, as we say, “lost her shit” about what happened. I will spare you the details of having been sent to the Guidance office, of having to write a letter about what happened and about having to call my parents to come and see me and read the letter with me sitting there. About going downtown and having to file a report with an African American detective who was sarcastic and rude and didn’t like me one bit. I’ll skip the details about it becoming a “race thing” in the school and me being forced to leave because he was the star football player and I was a “racist while girl”. All of those things happened. All of them progressively damaging me and heaping more shame on top of me. I became a ghost of myself. I wouldn’t look in the mirror. I cried, slept and cried some more. I wrote letters to “him” telling him I was sorry and that it must’ve been my fault. I must have caused it. I was the bad one, not him. These letters, written out of guilt and SHAME, eventually made my parents dismiss the case because OF COURSE they would be used against me in court.
That day, I changed FOREVER. I had unknowingly cloaked myself in SHAME. I wanted to be invisible. I didn’t want anyone to see me anymore, after all, if “he” hadn’t seen me, then none of this would have happened. It was MY fault for having big boobs at my age, for having curves, for trying to look pretty at 13. It was my fault and the only way to fix it was to punish my overdeveloped body and make sure it never stuck out again. So, I barely ate. AT ALL. I never ate during the day, if rarely. I changed schools, melted into the background, as much as possible, and kept my distance from men. ALL men. I dove headfirst in to youth group and believed God would save me, only to be told by older men in the church that they were “attracted to me” and that I had “a spirit of Jezebel” and could bewitch men and needed to be exorcised. Yes, because at 14 and 15, it was again MY fault that I was overdeveloped and “sexy” to someone else. More shame.
I didn’t want attention anymore. I didn’t want to stick out, so I began to eat. I ate whatever I wanted. I stopped exercising and pretty soon, the pounds began to cover me and also to make me less visible or “sexy” to the opposite sex. In my attempt to be less shameful, I became less of me. Food comforted me. Food completed me. Food never said horrible things to me or blamed me for being too “hour glass” or “sensual”. And so began my Shame/Food cycle.
So many of us have this cycle in our lives. Maybe you didn’t know it until now. Maybe you’ve know it all along. We try to shut our shame up with food, alcohol or worse yet, drugs. We attempt to quiet the voice in our heads that haunts us from past traumas, only hurting ourselves worse in the long run. Shame is sneaky like that. It makes you believe that by feeding it, you will get rid of it, but it just grows and grows with each bite, each drink, each pill. It is unquenchable, insatiable and a monster. If left unaddressed, it can ruin marriages, friendships, families and ultimately you. BUT, you don’t have to live with it anymore.
Shame is reversible. Say that with me! “SHAME IS REVERSIBLE”. The beauty of it is, once you recognize it and the things you do to feed it, you can get rid of it and those unhealthy behaviors. For good. Will it try to come back? Yes. Will you probably battle with it from time to time? Absolutely. But, like an ex-friend, spouse or lover, you don’t have to cohabitate with it anymore. You don’t have to hold a place for it in your life. Not ANYMORE! It is time to uncloak from the heavy burden of shame and start living. Throw it off! Literally throw it off. You are not defined anymore by those traumas, those hurtful words, those lies, rumors or “fuck ups” in your life. It was a mirage. Shame was hiding you, covering you, hurting you. It’s time to take your life back and I am doing just that.
I now recognize why I have a Shame/Food cycle. I now recognize that I cannot live like this anymore. I don’t want to cover up the body I was born with. I don’t want to hate my big butt or boobs or curves. It is no longer MY fault if someone else is attracted to it or “sins” thinking about it. It’s NOT MY FAULT. My body no longer needs to be punished. It is not my BODY’S fault either. It truly never was.
I am no longer “feeding” my shame. No more overindulging with food or wine or sex. ALL of those things just cause MORE shame. The truth is that no amount of indulging will ever take it away. ONLY you and I reversing it and fighting it will work. And I promise, IT IS POSSIBLE. One day, one moment at a time.
*Acknowledge and recognize any times in your life (big or small) that you connected with shame
*Write them down and record the things that you have used to feed SHAME
*Now, say out loud or in your head, “I am sorry, body, for allowing shame to damage you. I recognize my SHAME/FOOD (ALCOHOL/DRUG OR WHATEVER) and I will no longer allow it to control my life.”
*Lastly, in your own words, either written or out loud, tell yourself how beautiful you are. How fantastic and unique you are. Tell yourself how much you love yourself (whether you feel it or not). Hug yourself. You deserve and are worthy of all the love.