I never thought I’d want to talk about this…
You know how you have parts of your life that you find ways of glossing over when you’re around others? Areas where you try hard to not raise any eyebrows, to sneak under the radar, without anyone else picking up that something’s off here?
Well, for years, one of mine was my relationship with food, and with my body.
I don’t know what came first… the chicken or the egg. I was body image conscious from my early teens onward, and the hyper-focus on my body’s shape and size fueled food behaviors that were both destructive and dangerous.
Now, I could see, even then, that bingeing, purging, and starving myself wasn’t healthy. But what I couldn’t see, was the growing sense of shame that I was internalizing about who I was, on such a primal level.
Given my addictive tendencies, it’s a good thing that I had a distaste for drugs and alcohol. I never liked being that far out of control.
But food… (and body image focus) now that was a drug I ran with.
I stopped purging when I graduated from High School… I had a deep knowing that I would kill myself with that, if I didn’t.
But I couldn’t stop bingeing. My first year in college, I gained over 40lbs in 2 months!! I lived in sweats, because that was the only thing I had that I could squeeze into. It goes without saying, that I was miserable.
I wrestled constantly with shame, self loathing, and a gripping fear that I was caught in a deadlock, and there was nothing that could tip the scales for me.
“I am my only enemy. And I am exactly as strong as myself.”
And the hardest part of the whole thing, was that I never admitted to anyone… even myself, how frightened and full of self-loathing I was. The unrelenting shame about this, colored my choices, my decisions, and my relationships.
But it was this… this destructive dance that I was spinning in, that began my journey of healing and self-discovery.
This post isn’t about the ins and outs of that journey… though I’ll be sharing that too, along the way.
This post is about pulling back the veil on that shame.
Last Saturday, I was invited to speak at a women’s fundraising event, and I had only about 20 minutes to share.
The woman who asked me to speak, was familiar with my program, Real Women… Real Bodies… Real Health (where I help women heal their relationship with food and their bodies), and she wanted to me talk with the women there about this topic.
I was the last person to speak, after a long day, and I could feel the attention in the room wandering.
When it was my turn to get up, I took a deep breath, and gave myself permission to just be real.
I had a flashback to those early years, when I would have given anything to just be “normal” with food, and with my body. When I tried SO hard to pretend that there wasn’t anything wrong with me… that I wasn’t in the grip of these destructive patterns, and the ensuing shame. I would have sooner died than admitted openly what was going on.
And here, I had the gift of doing just that. Admitting openly that this was all a part of my story. And the beginning of my healing.
I didn’t have anything rehearsed. I just started sharing… about my own experience… about the shame that cloaks this dance… about the judgment and performance here… about the toxic inheritance around looks and body shape/size, that is passed down from our culture.
And as I shared, the women started leaning forward in their seats. I was talking about the unmentionable…
Their eyes met mine as I looked from face to face… there were nods, nervous laughter, voices of agreement.
I could feel both the tension, and the hope building in the room. “We’re not supposed to talk about this so unreservedly. And yet… in doing so, maybe there’s hope for me.”
I remember someone telling me years ago, that shame is healed in community. That when we pull back the covers on what we’re hiding… and find compassion, acceptance, support – shame’s grip begins to loosen.
It’s not something we can do alone. We need one another for that.
Healing the destructive patterns in our lives – whether they be with food, with substances, with people, with ourselves… begins by bringing compassion to those places inside of us. It begins by bringing love, and support… rather than the stern admonition to change.
It begins when we pull back the covers, admit what’s going on, hear that we’re not alone in this, and experience shame’s grip begin to loosen.
For years it was so important to me, to be perceived as ‘having it together’.
But as I looked around the room, and then afterwards, spoke individually with many of the women, I could see and feel the relief in them, that someone else was giving voice to their secret experience… and doing so in a way that honored them, and held them in love and compassion.
How ironic… that by sharing the darkness that lived within me for so long, others are able to see a path towards the light.
I’m so glad to have the chance to do this. For the women who are looking for healing… but also for myself. Deep inside of me, there’s the teenage girl, and the hurting young woman who were me, who are now able to reach through me to touch others… not because I have it together. But because I didn’t.
That’s the gift.