My Year of Blogging Shamelessly: Part Five of Six
One woman’s journey from her body to her soul letting her relationship with food show the way.
In my mid-twenties I came across the books Fat is a Feminist Issue by Susie Orbach and When Food is Love by Geneen Roth. They were part of my discovery of feminism and the proposition ‘the personal is political.’ Through them I realized that I wasn’t alone in my struggles with my body, and they weren’t all my fault. I began to understand that the challenges people, especially women, have with food are substitutes or masks for other struggles that we don’t have the emotional space or safety in our lives to confront. We don’t have the social will in our culture to take on. Intellectually, I connected many dots within myself. Academically, I did a master’s degree on why women use food and their relationship to their bodies to have autonomy and give meaning to their lives. Physically, emotionally and spiritually, I am still finding my way.
I have wrestled much with my relationship to the intuitive eating principles, following them better some times more than others. I now regularly go to eating retreats led by Geneen Roth. They have changed my life. I am making great strides in understanding and improving my emotional relationship to food. I appreciate that it has been a long time since I felt safe enough to let myself to get truly and regularly hungry. As a result I have not been at the size I feel to be my natural size for any length of time. Through deep and sustained reflection, I’ve come to see that being hungry for me is the palpable, lived expression of my emotional vulnerability: it is the wholehearted opening of myself to others, it is the allowing of myself to have needs that require others to fill. That is a leap that still feels daunting.
Such allowing is hard for me, a person with a history of not being able to trust anyone or have boundaries, and who uses food as her rock. Add to that, the tenaciousness of those grooves in my head that years of self-soothing by eating and self-protecting with fat have entrenched.
How do we get out from under the grip of shame back to vulnerability, worthiness and connection? It is not through “shame resistance” according to Brené Brown but through “shame resilience.” It is in understanding that shame grows exponentially in judgment, secrecy and silence. It is in practicing antidotes to each of them.
To begin, we need to understand that shame operates as the voice of judgment. It is destructive through self-criticism and self-doubt. Its tapes start to play as we put our hand on the door of the arena. You need to get wise to the personal ones you run in your head. The basic tune is “you are not ‘good’ enough—thin enough, attractive enough, smart enough, talented enough, educated enough, important enough, unique enough—” for what you want. If you persevere it will shift to the advanced version: “Who do you think you are?” We must quiet down the inner critic if we want to walk into the arena. If you can recognize the judgmental voice, you can disengage from it. Brown dares us to imagine what we’d do and who we’d be as a result if that voice had no power over us.
Then, shame would have us keep secrets and stay silent. Of course it would! Who would want the information on our (supposed) unworthiness broadcast out to the world? But keeping silent fires back on us. For example, Brown cites research that shows that when rape and incest survivors kept their experience to themselves, it was often more damaging than the event itself. Shame though cannot survive having words wrapped around it. She recommends expressive writing as a way to diminish its force. In fact, she shares that when the word “courage” first entered the English language, taken from the Latin cuer or heart, it meant to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart. Even more, Brown maintains that when you own your story you get to write the ending and choose who and what you become.
Last, shame is a social wound. So a social cure is best to heal it. Telling our shame stories provides the possibility of empathy, and empathy is the greatest antidote to shame. Through thousands of interviews, Brown has observed that there is nothing like the liberating feeling of someone we value saying “Me too! You’re not alone.” She calls on us to speak our shame, to say: these are my secrets and my fears, here’s how they brought me to my knees, and here’s how I learned to stand in my worthiness again. Vulnerably and vulnerability are the way.
I remember the moment in the interview when I realized that my interviewer had read my blog. I looked at her, and I told her how profoundly touched I was. I then expressed that I write for my own healing, to put my internal experience out there in order to enable and push myself to work through the shame I carry (over things I know there is no need to feel ashamed) because I won’t give in to the shame. To continue to carry it is an injustice to myself. But I do live in hope that in the process it might also touch people.
That what I have been through and learned about could make it easier for just one person? That what I have experienced and share could make someone feel a little less crazy, little less alone? The fact that this young woman found me through what I had written and felt compelled to contact me? When that happens, it all feels worth it. It makes what I have been through feel like it wasn’t for nothing. Or as the French say with that lovely way that captures both the pain and the effort, and as I told my young interviewer: ça en vaut la peine.
Still, as wonderful as that moment was, it took writing this part on shame for me to realize that making my experience significant by reaching someone else was not the most important thing the interview gave me. Rather, it was the empathy I got from my student journalist. It was in my not feeling alone with my pain and my struggles. It was in being understood. Through her interest and in her eyes, I saw my own beauty and I felt my own worth.
I have been opening and humbling myself to what my relationship to food has to teach me. It is a path I am still on although I feel about 80% there. My stints of hunger eating last longer, my desire for sugary foods and nighttime eating continue to wane, and my courage to reach out when I feel love or in need of support is nothing short of breathtaking. I live from a place of growing compassion, understanding and kindness with myself and others. I speak truth to power. I teach what I learn and show myself in all my vulnerability while doing so. I live more powerfully, courageously and wholeheartedly than I ever have.
When it’s over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
Or full of argument
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.
I heard from the August man several years after the incident. He said he contacted me because he wanted me to know that he had always loved me.
Thank-you to TJ Dawe for walking the path ahead of me and to Kelley Abercrombie for walking beside.