Whatever else you might say about it, fear is a powerful motivator.
Shame – that combination of guilt, humiliation, and fear – so easy to internalise and apply in a plethora of situations, is something which can effect stunning behavioural changes in otherwise (perhaps) quite rational human beings.
It has a terrible habit of sneaking into a person’s brain and taking over their neural pathways, slowly altering them until the modified behaviours and ways of thinking seem cast in iron. I’ve known it. I’ve been in its thrall. It crouched on my shoulder and sank crooked fingers into my brain, stirring until everything was as twisted as teenagers on a weekend bender. At first I let it, then slowly, as my mind gave way, I welcomed it.
I wanted it for its power.
Power to resist this delicious treat; that snack; this little bit extra; that entire meal; this crumb; most of that day’s food.
Power to spur me on up this flight of steps; along that extra mile; to this exercise class after that exercise class after that exercise class; to spur my heels further and further…
Power to turn me into who I wanted to be; who I needed to be, if I was going to be acceptable. Power to enable me to achieve the shape I knew was required if I wanted to show my face, go clothes shopping without people laughing at my size, to live life NOT as a blob, but as someone worthy – someone slender.
Loved ones (I call them that, for I loved them, and they said they loved me, but how could they, really, when I was so disgusting?) tried to tell me I was brainwashed by societal ideals. They tried to tell me I was caught in a trap of wrong-thinking. They suggested I was holding myself up to impossible ideals, but that surely couldn’t be the case…after all, some women did look the way I hoped to, and they weren’t told they were ill! Shame and I laughed to ourselves, quietly, about my poor befuddled friends and relatives, who thought they knew better than us and our reality.
Those ideals WERE attainable, Shame confirmed to me, if only I wasn’t such a piece of crap, I could achieve them too, and enter the realms of the beautiful (well, maybe, because changing shape was science, not magic, and there was still my face).
In the meantime, my immune system weakened and I began to catch every cold going. I was constantly freezing, shivering my way through the days even when the air was warm. I grew an ugly layer of fluffy hair to counteract the cold. I could (and did) fall asleep inside two minutes to conserve as much energy as possible. I turned yellow, right to the whites of my eyes, with the amount of carrots I was consuming for bulk without calories, to the point where an emergency department nurse wanted to test me for jaundice.
In spite of all the side effects, I carried on. Shame told me those afflictions were evidence I was doing well; that along with every rumble of my famished stomach, they were signs I was on the right track; moving towards my goal.
The problem was, as Shame commented every time I looked in the mirror, it just wasn’t enough. My breasts had shrunk to sad little triangles. My lower arms were almost acceptable, and the generous pinch of fat at my midriff might be generously attributed to ‘loose skin’. My upper arms, my thighs, my wobbly butt, could be worked on for sure, but in the meantime I had finally managed to shift my double chin, and even had a hint of cheekbone.
My friends and relations, who said they loved me anyway, were kind and generous in their affection but I couldn’t bring myself to do it – couldn’t stomach the idea of loving that thing I saw in the mirror. Photographs of it made me shudder with revulsion. The Me in my head was a separate entity to that foul blob, and I couldn’t get the two to match up, though occasionally, as more and more weight slowly sloughed away, I began to see a hint of who I could be one day, if I tried hard enough, and I liked that.
I went to see a doctor who knew about these things, and suggested I had a restrictive eating disorder (“Not even good enough for a proper label,” Shame commented) and needed to work through my anxieties around food. She made me do terrible things, like eating more and exercising less. She made me watch as the scale went up; turned me into a spectator as my ideals flew further and further from my grasp; as I began to get weighed down again.
I can only describe it as magical. Full-on smoke-and-mirrors (without the mirrors, thanks) and all of the heat of something incredible. Sparkling bright days hidden in night and shrouded in a haze of mystery you might go a million miles to find. A time outside of time I cherished every moment of. That wonderous combination of not only being loved for your person, but wanted for your body, and of having both delighted in. My first ever experience of this, and it was heady, addictive, and transforming.
Shame had no place in this new world and was swept far beyond the furthest reaches of my mind as brand new feelings and sensations flooded through my entire being. For the first time I understood what people meant when they said they saw life in HD with surround sound, as the result of such a…could I call it a relationship? No. It was a fling, which somehow flung me out of despondency and self-loathing into the realisation that an existence where self-hate had no place was possible.
Shame took a solid hit to its foundations and the iron pathways it had carved in my brain melted before the incandescent intensity of new experiences.
Everything wasn’t fixed, but everything had changed. I got lucky (double entendre fully intended) and against all the odds, love won…or at least scored the goal which turned the game around.
What about that silver lining, though? I haven’t forgotten it.
I am a huge believer in a stepping-stone approach to looking at my life, and though I don’t always enjoy the circumstances I’ve found myself in, or the Me’s I’ve been leading up to who I am now, I do appreciate them for the lessons I’ve learned along the way. I think if Shame hadn’t been a part of my world, and changed me so much, I wouldn’t have made the connections and relationships I did while I was still in its clutches, and ultimately probably wouldn’t have ended up who and how I am today.
I am now intensely aware of Shame and its destructive nature, not to mention my susceptibility to it. I can empathise with people who are similarly susceptible, or caught in its clutches. I am learning to conquer it, one bite and one step at a time. I have recommitted my energies to health rather than shape (though I still really, really want the shape…it’s just not ruling me). I have had my mind and heart opened to so much more than I knew was possible, and now have a hope to follow into my future; that this phenomenon can reoccur with someone I can build something wonderful with – a ‘Next’ I could never have imagined in my wildest dreams.
Whatever the opposite of ‘once upon a time…’is, this was it, is it, will be it – on many occasions, subsequently, sometime. When? No idea, but I can’t WAIT for it to happen.