Tuesday, May 5, 2009

shame on you

Now that we've established I'm neurotic, we might as well jump right in.
There are common threads that run through all of our lives, weaving the fibers of each individual story together in one large textile. As I look back over the fabric that represents my life to this point, there is a dark, thick thread that stands out throughout most of the piece. It starts somewhere around elementary school gym class and winds over and under nearly every memory since, overshadowing the colors with its dark, foreboding presence. It tangles around friendships, around stage costumes and prom dresses, around family holidays, around playing on the playground with my children, around sex with my husband, around looking in the mirror on a daily basis. It both holds together and tears apart the entirety of my life's story. That thread is called shame.

From the first time Donald Houchins said to me, in his puny, nasty voice, "Boy, your legs look big," it began. I wasn't just embarrassed. I was ashamed. When my costume didn't fit for the spring musical, I wasn't just embarrassed, I was ashamed. When my wedding dress had be let out a size, I wasn't just embarrassed, I was ashamed. When years of depression and two pregnancies launched my weight to over two hundred pounds, I wasn't just embarrassed, I was ashamed. And now, when a change in seasons has created a change in my waistline, my response it not just embarrassment. It is shame.

I wear it everywhere I go. It is most evident in the large, loose clothing that falls away from my frame to cover the way my midsection oozes out over my pants. But if you look closely enough, you can see it in my face as well. The tentativeness in my smile, the sad, fearful look in my eyes. If you're perceptive, you may notice they way I avoid your gaze or the way I constantly fold my arms across my middle, as if to protect myself from your appraisal. You may recognize the way I constantly pull my shirt down farther or pull my waist band up higher or hide behind the nearest thing to hide behind. But then again, you may not. Because hiding behind other things is something I do well.

Whether I've managed to hide it from you or not, it is there, though I've yet to fully figure out why. Much has been written about glorifying thinness and vilifying fatness—I'm sure there are judgments I've made along the line, both of myself and others. I'm also sure our culture deserves a lion's share of the blame that is to be taken. After all, if I lived in the Elizabethan era, I'd likely be the subject of an oil painting. But I don't, and I'm not, and I digress.

When I lost weight, for the fourth time, I was proud of myself. When I kept it off for four years, I was proud of myself. When I finally fit into a size ten, I was proud of myself. Now, I am gaining weight, and I am ashamed. I want to cover my body with a multitude of layers and hide in my house until it's gone. I want to cry every morning as I attempt to get dressed and still can't fit into most of my clothes. I want to eat chocolate ice cream and Kettle Brand potato chips to numb the despair and depression throbbing in my chest. I want to run-run-run as fast as I can from myself, from my hunger, from my emptiness. Oh, and I want all my friends to get fat, too.
But above all else, I don't want to tell you this. Because probably more than anything else, I am ashamed that I am ashamed. I know better. I am a fairly smart woman. I have two masters degrees. I graduated with a 3.99. I'm writing a book. I speak to groups about weight loss and a healthy attitude about weight and food. I help other people find freedom. I thought I'd found it, too. But losing weight, and even keeping it off, is not the same as finding freedom, as it turns out. And I still, apparently, have a long, long way to go.

Perhaps there will be a day when I will finally rip out all the dark, heavy threads that overshadow my life's story--but then again, without them there, what will hold those scraps and pieces together? Perhaps, instead, I must focus on putting down the entangling strings of shame and pick up instead the golden, gossamer threads of grace. They are thinner and more delicate, and much harder for my clumsy fingers to handle. But they shimmer softly when they catch the light, causing me to smile for a moment, despite myself. If I don't put them down, perhaps, in time, I will learn to weave something of value with them.


  1. I knew this about you. I knew shame was at the core. We all have something. Not to be all cliche' with the Christian-ese, but confession is good for the soul and someone once told me, you have to say hello to your pain before you can say good-bye. You must shake hands with it.

    Mine started with a couple of boys out on the marching band field. They were arguing nearby about how the one had a crush on "hippo hips Jackson". They didn't think I could hear. But hear I could and if I could hear..others could too. I was mortified and devastated. I was in high school. My sophomore year.

  2. I wonder if Paul's thorn could have been something like this. That thought came to me before I read in your last paragraph "I must focus on putting down the entangling strings of shame and pick up instead the golden, gossamer threads of grace." Nice wording.

  3. Um, Cindy? Next time, feel free to TELL ME when you have an insight I'm clearly missing, okay? And shame on those stupid boys. Why is it always boys?

    That's an interesting thought, Lisa. I'll have to think on that one for a while... and thank you for the compliment. (:))

  4. Oh it's not only boys with the rude comments. I overheard two women saying how "huge" I was, and these two are no small ones themselves. That one comment is what pushed me to lose 100 lbs.In the beginning what is it that gives you that passion and drive to lose the weight? Why is it 14 years later you want more than anything to keep the weight off but that same discipline and passion for eating right and exercise doesn't seem to be there? It is replaced with fear,shame, and worry of gaining a few pounds back. Why does the original drive not stay with us? I too wear my clothes different and even feel shame and embarrassed when I gain 5 lbs. I more than anything want to lose the 5 lbs. Why was it easier to lose 100lbs than to keep it off?

  5. I may have, without exactly saying it. I might have tried to wrap it in a nice tiny bow...and sometimes we need to wait..for the revelation to surface within ourselves. That is when we truly begin to understand the truth that sets us free.

    Love you.