The body mind and spirit remembers trauma and it remembers shame. I wait for the day that I will no longer remember the shame of my youth and the convincing deception that I was inherently bad; carrying with me the visible wounds on my flesh and the unseen scars branded upon my soul as proof of my inadequacies.
Isaiah 54:4 “Fear not; you will no longer live in shame. Don’t be afraid; there is no more disgrace for you. You will no longer remember the shame of your youth…”Shame no longer swims freely through my blood. It lies dormant curled in upon itself, lifeless deep within my soul where it cannot thrive, but somehow it survives. It is like a lungfish curled beneath the surface of the sun-baked mud of the exposed bed of a dried up stream.
I often forget that shame is there as shrinks and shrivels like the fish just waiting for the right element of rain to free it from its temporary tomb. I neglect it as I fix my eyes on who God says I am and not who I am told I should be by the world, my parents and the eating disorder.
I don’t water it or feed it as it slumbers, conserving its energy waiting to be soaked in water and set free. I often forget that it has settled inside of me, as it is no longer massive and vigorous, but small and tranquil (Most of the time). Yet, it still has the potential of life and just a drop or two of rain can revive it, allowing it to swim freely once again.
I believe we all carry some form of shame deep within us, but those with eating disorders, addictions, or trauma battle on a daily basis to keep the shame that we are somehow responsible for our illness or our trauma dormant. We fight it because we know it lies closer to our surface than it may for others. Unfortunately, for us, it may take less “water” to allow it to rise to the surface, swimming freely, with reckless abandon once again.
Often it is my own engagement in restricting, purging, or self-harm that unearths the buried shame, but sometimes it is someone else standing over it, knowingly or unknowingly, pouring buckets of water on the surface of my soul, allowing the shame to emerge. It may wriggle its way out becoming a subtle annoyance, or it may erupt engulfing me like hot lava rendering me paralyzed with fear and disgrace.
This week shame was unleashed in me by a simple gesture of a wave and shush by a mental health professional leading a group I thought would be helpful for me. Who does this to a client and peer in what is supposed to be a safe place? I don’t even do this to my three-year-old granddaughter, or even my dogs.
I sat still, feeling white-hot heat of shame rising from my toes to the apples of my cheek as I allowed myself to be courageous and vulnerable in front of strangers. I have become accustomed of reminding myself in regards to my eating disorder, that the behavior is bad, but I am not bad.
My shame resilience in this area of my life has grown stronger as has my self-compassion. I am fighting a mental illness I never asked for, and doing a pretty good job at it. I have learned to circle back around and offer myself the same latitude of forgiveness that I would offer any other human being, but how do I deal with being shamed by a peer/professional in front of strangers whom I don’t know and they certainly don’t know me.
I sat in stunned silence fighting back the tears of shame trying to understand what I had said wrong as another woman essentially said a similar statement just a moment before I spoke. There are many times, as a child, or a woman that I have felt silenced. This time I didn’t feel silenced; I was silenced.
Note to professionals, psychologists, therapists, dieticians, and physicians dealing with adults with eating disorders: please don’t treat us as children, adolescents, or beneath you. We are mature and wise women and men who happen to have an eating disorder. Most of us are of above average intelligence, highly sensitive, and have a great wisdom from living and surviving with or through our illness. We also have vast wisdom from our life experiences that counts for something in addition to our higher levels of education. It is this type of debasing treatment/ behavior that causes the marginalized voices of middle-aged people with eating disorders to shy away from seeking treatment.
As Lily Tomlin said in the movie 9 to 5 we just want to be treated “with a little dignity and a little respect!” Which is a quote that you need to be at least 45 years old or older to even remember. However, it isn’t just the younger professionals that forget to treat us with dignity and respect, but often mature professionals that forget how much courage it takes to humble ourselves to ask for the help we need and deserve.
I was asked to be courageous and vulnerable and I was, but I was also shut down. I walked out of the group wondering what the fuck just happened here, and why was I singled out? Usually, if I know there is a right way or a wrong way to proceed, I chose the right way.
Drip, drip, drip, the shaming falls like drops of rain softening the façade, and calls it out. It brings it back to life flooding my soul with flashbacks of the shame of my youth. Silenced, singled out, eyes fixed boring through me. The rules…the rules seem fluid as they seem to apply to some, but not all of us. They apply some of the time, but not all of the time.
The shame surfaced from the walled off memories of my youth. A handful of thank you notes tossed at my chest by my mother. Her eyes piercing through me as her words leapt like flames off her tongue” You should know better, how could you be so stupid as to not formally address the recipient?” “How can you be so stupid, lazy, and etc.? Shut up! Don’t even try to explain yourself just do it and do it right!” The list could go on and on. The expectations for each of us, (my siblings), were also fluid. Just when I thought I figured the expectations, they would arbitrarily be changed. Damned if I do damned if I don’t.
Shamed for getting too thick; shamed for being too thin; and an embarrassment to our perfect family image. This is where I learned to, if I knew the right way, to do it correctly at all costs. This is also where I should have learned that sometimes “at all costs “ still would not be enough.
The Lord reminds me that I am more than enough as I have struggled to rebuild myself brick, by brick and piece by piece. I turn to his promise Isaiah 61:7 “Instead of shame you will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace you will rejoice in your inheritance. And so you will inherit a double portion in your land and everlasting joy will be yours.” (NIV).
I have spent the last few weeks weighed down, hanging my head in shame, “But you, LORD, are a shield around me, my glory, the one who lifts my head high.” Psalm 3:3 (NIV).