It's All the Shame

Lately I've been reading on the subject of shame. It's not something we really talk about much but we all have it. When we think back to something stupid we said or did and think "God, what was I thinking? That was so stupid!" That is shame. When we look at our children sleeping and call ourselves bad parents for not just sitting down and playing legos with them (like they kept asking us to) instead of cleaning, or losing our cool when they were running around the house being too loud, that is shame. Ladies, when we can't relax and clear our mind enough to enjoy sex because we are too concerned about how we appear to our partner, that too is shame.

The tricky thing about shame is that the causes of it are actually based in reality. Something someone said to us, something humiliating that happened to us in the 8th grade that still haunts us 20 years later. Over time, these little doses of shame turn into black pits of shame that cripple us and make us unable to fully embrace ourselves. Why should we? We are so flawed and if people only knew....

Growing up, I was always the chubby girl. Kids are cruel and I suffered my fair share of bullying during my school years. As the chubby girl, you never know when the next fat comment will come and ruin your day. On top of being chubby, I was weird. Dramatic, often inside my own head, and a non-conformist which may sound cool but, when you're a kid, it's about as far from cool as you can get. I could fill many, many blogs with these frequent, tiny shaming experiences that led up to my desire to hide from the rest of the world by the time I reached adulthood.

I spent my 20's doing just that. Hiding. And getting bigger. My world was safe. I made sure to fill it with people who loved and embraced me regardless of my size and I began to heal from that shame (although my lifestyle caused new and equally screwed up afflictions...but that's another blog post).

When I finally started to embrace the idea of changing my life, I stepped out into the world 45 pounds lighter than my heaviest post-pregnancy weight of 275. I was tired of hiding. Where had it gotten me? I was ready to live my life and to hell with the bullies I had been hiding from. Besides, I was a grown up now, things would be different.
I met my first boyfriend I'd had since my marriage ended when I was tipping the scales at just under 220. In retrospect, it is obvious to me that I was still obese. But, having lost 55 pounds, I felt pretty and even a little confident. However, during my two year relationship with him, I felt constant shame in the form of small comments, rejection and even, at the very least, emotional infidelity.

I used to blame all of my physical insecurities on what I experienced in that relationship but now I realize it was much more than that. When I was overweight, I could always pretend there was a perfect body, perfect person, lurking underneath all that weight and that one day I would shed it and that perfect person would be revealed. Now that I've basically shed it all, I am left with this normal, flawed person and it's hard to accept after a lifetime of fantasies about what this moment would feel like.
Between this growing awareness of all these imperfections that I was being left with (both mentally and physically) as the weight disappeared, combined with the many shortcomings that I was made aware of by this person I allowed in my life, I began to stifle so much of who I was, even things I had previously been proud of (like my musical taste or my ability to bear my heart to others and discuss my feelings openly) for fear of rejection. Not just from him, but from society as a whole.

By the time I became single again, I should have been on top of the world. There I was at 145 pounds, size 8. Not perfect but better than I'd ever looked. But I was broken. I still am. I used to have fantasies when I was fat about being the thin girl in the cute dress & heels that turns the guys heads and, when I go out, I am that girl now. But they don't know what I know. I often feel like I'm somehow tricking people. The attention from men that I thought I always wanted, now makes me unconfortable because, when they're staring, they're more likely to see what's wrong with me. For this reason, there are times when I wish to be, once again, "invisible".

I've fixed many of the mental short-comings I once felt, but the physical ones are harder. Why? Because I own a mirror. And I see my body for what it is. Imperfect. I feel shame when I look at it. I feel shame admitting that I feel shame over it.

How do I heal? Well, I've started. Partly because of the time and energy I've invested in myself and partly because of an amazing man in my life that makes me feel beautiful every day. Each day I embrace more what I see in the mirror.

So, here I am, 35 years old and back to playing the shame game. What I healed in my 20s came right back when I allowed myself to be bullied into believing I was not good enough. But now I realize bullies are everywhere and most of them aren't even bad people, they just have their own issues. Almost always, when someone takes great issue with a certain subject (such as overweight people, homosexuality, race, etc) it is often because they are hiding some sort of shame within themselves that directly relates to that topic. Their hatred for others actually stems from their hatred for themselves. When we begin to perceive people's actions this way, this can also be healing. People generally are not born mean spirited. Nor are people usually completely mean spirited. We never know what kind of shame they are pushing deep down within themselves. Besides, these are not the types of bullies we should fear the most because, when we feel worthy, we do not allow these bullies to penetrate our lives in such a way. Instead, the biggest bully we will ever face in our lives is ourselves. That's why we have to learn to acknowledge and accept our imperfections as part of who we are and not shamefully hide them away. That is when shame becomes the cancer.

Another word for shame is guilt. Wayne Dyer recently posted something on his Facebook page about guilt that I saved to my computer because it moved me so much:

"Releasing guilt is like removing a huge weight from your shoulders. Guilt is released through the empowering thought of love and respect for yourself. Let go of standards of perfection and refuse to use up the precious currency of your life, the now, with thoughts that continue to frustrate and weaken you. Instead, vow to be better than you used to be, which is the true test of nobility."

This message really speaks to me because I find myself constantly holding myself to certain "ideal" standards. I have become aware of the effect this has on me because when I compare myself to others, it's as if I can actually feel my energy drain from my body. Or, if I do feel good or superior because I feel that I come out on top in that certain comparison, it's so superficial and short lived because it is not energy that can be sustained. When I remember to stop doing this and compare myself to MYSELF, I often feel good so deep down inside and am nearly always instantly energized.

I can't be the best mom. Or the most successful. Or the thinnest. Or (more and more as time passes) the youngest. I can only be the me that remains true to myself and, really, to everyone. One of the scariest things we can do is let down our guard and just be vulnerable. Because, the truth is, someone WILL, at some point, judge us, laugh at us or try to take advantage of us when we do. But, what we receive in exchange is soul-changing.

Not only do we live our lives in a way that is authentic and true to ourselves (the job we love vs. the house everyone else loves; the occasional head-tilting, eye-closing indulgence in gooey deliciousness or glass of wine that gives you the warm cozies vs. the head-turning rock hard six pack...although I'm still working on how to have both!!) , but we also allow others to relax their guard and be their more authentic selves because, when we make ourselves vulnerable, it is nearly impossible to judge others and people just inherently sense this in other people.

And we need to talk about our shame! Because, in doing so, we not only take away the power it has over us but it also lets others know that the shameful things they try so desperately to hide are, in fact, common, even normal.

We are taught about divine love and acceptance but how do we even begin to accomplish this? Well, I think the best place to start is with ourselves.

I will never be perfect. I will probably never be the girl who walks around naked with confidence. BUT I am becoming the girl who looks at her body lovingly and tenderly and doesn't shame herself for the body that she has worked so, so unbelievably hard to have. The body that gave birth to her son. The body that will carry her through this great adventure called life.
If you'd like to learn more about shame, I recommend these resources. They have helped me immensely.
"I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn't)" by Brene Brown (book)
"The Gifts of Imperfection" by Brene Brown (book)
"The Shadow Effect" (movie)

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My Christmas Gift To....Me!

I'm about to work out...on Christmas. Why? Not because I'm compulsive. It's, instead, the same reason I didn't wake up to a Christmas breakfast of ham biscuits and cookies (like I used to every year). I love myself so much that I want to give myself the best Christmas gift possible. The gift of health, energy and happiness.

In the past, I would arrive into Christmas evening feeling absolutely miserable after eating horrible and sitting around all day. This year I feel so inspired, motivated and full of energy.

In the past, I would muddle through the last week of the year feeling even worse and waiting until January 1st to make the infamous New Year's resolutions. This year, I keep thinking "I still have one week left in 2012. Wonder what I can accomplish by 2013".
It's amazing how little shifts can make huge change over time. When you love and value yourself, you don't find excuses to abuse yourself. You, instead, find every excuse to do great things for yourself because you are worth it. And you ARE worth it. We ALL are worth it.

I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas full of love and happiness.