The Silver Lining of Shame

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.

AND THEN…

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.

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16 thoughts on “The Silver Lining of Shame

  1. Just finished up therapy session #81 this morning. It’s more clear than ever the same I’ve felt over the years revolving around my mom have shaped me in both good and bad ways. I learn my lessons, but boy does that learning curve seem to go slowly at times!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ohhh I SO feel you there. It’s so easy to intellectualise and then a TOTALLY different ball game to make it work in real and change how we behave and feel about things. Bravo for working on it though. That’s a huge deal.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Shame is that dark shadow that follows you, chasing you, keeping you on the run, never giving you a chance to catch your breath and think things through carefully. It’s right up there with fear as a dangerous motivator. I’m glad that you can recognize it and articulate these things so well so that others who lack your talent for words can see themselves in it and know they are not alone. Hugs.

    Liked by 1 person

    • *hugs* it’s a bloody nightmare. I wonder if it’s one of those things which is ever present on some level, for those of us who have been caught by it, and we either learn to push it far into the background, or we get dragged under.
      If my words help anyone who struggles with this, I will be so pleased. The more of us who know we’re not alone, the better.

      Like

  3. Lately I’ve been doing quite a lot of introspection, most especially where my childhood is concerned. I am, sadly, beginning to see and, even worse, understand situations and moments where certain thoughts I’ve had are now beginning to make sense. And it’s changing everything, and I am not sure I can handle that change because it involves someone I love, or at least someone I am “supposed to love”.
    Shame is quite an old friend and one who has been and is my jailer and judge in many cases. I’ve learned how to live with it but it is an effective weapon, whether being wielded by someone else, or ourselves.

    I think you have come such a long way, Sweetness. You are not the same woman I “met” online a few years ago, though you are still the same person I loved when we met for real. I enjoy seeing the person you are still becoming and I relish in those moments when you sparkle and shine the way you are supposed to. And I cry and feel helpless when you get mired down in the swamp of misery we all too often seem to find ourselves in. The best thing about knowing you is that you make me understand that I’m not alone. I still have problems reaching out to you and others, but I am beginning to put my hand out there for someone to take. And a lot of that courage is due to you and how you put yourself out here in ways like this. ❤

    Liked by 2 people

    • Pinky…you have no idea how honoured I feel by this. One of the things which, back in the mists of time, was a key reason I wrote so openly was because it might be useful to someone who read it to know they weren’t the only one who was going through [whatever it was]. I am so proud of you for getting stuck in and doing the thinking and back-tracking and analysis to see where feelings and behaviours arise.
      It’s so hard, and often so painful to acknowledge where our problems have begun, and the ways they’ve crawled through our lives and wreaked havoc. BUT…it’s worth it in the end because we end up more capable and stronger once we’ve found the cracks and poured gold into them.
      I do love you dearly and I am so glad you’re starting to deal with things which are problematic. I hope that in dealing with them, you find you are able to move forward constructively.
      P.S. ‘supposed to’ sounds a lot like one of those bullying ‘should’s 😘
      P.P.S. I will always take your hand 💝💝💝

      Liked by 1 person

      • “Supposed to” is what a narcissist says to guilt/shame you into loving them. It’s a control phrase like “look what you made me do”. Mine is not so much backtracking as it is simply admitting what I’ve always suspected but didn’t want to believe. Because why would someone who says they love you lie to you? In my own reasoning I tell myself it’s because they do love me in their own way, the only way they can. But frankly, if that were true then their actions would have always supported their claim. And they do not.
        Realizations are hard but maybe this one is for the best. I can’t keep feeling shamed and guilty for a burden that was never mine to bear.
        You are a love. And I’m glad you are here. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yeeesss. That’s a terrifically hard one to get around especially when we can supply all the explanation and rationale for WHY someone isn’t treating us as lovingly as we might have hoped. We talk ourselves into accepting their poor treatment of us not because we don’t wish for better but perhaps because we accept and understand them as they are, and perhaps cross the line between acceptance and endorsement. I hesitate (as ever) to say that ‘d’ word but we don’t put ourselves first when we do this, usually to our detriment, as I think the people we give all the leeway to then feel even less inclined to buck their ideas up and value us as highly as others might. I am no longer sure I’m making sense. This taps into big stuff for me.
          My darling, I am here for you, I hope always. You matter huge to me, even though my behaviour probably doesn’t back that up very well. I can explain but not excuse it. I am sorry for that. 💝💝

          Liked by 1 person

          • You are “here” for me, dear heart. Whenever I message you, you always respond. Physicality is not exactly the “here” I’m usually looking for from people who truly cannot be present for hugs. I’m not sure what exact “d” word you are thinking of but if its the one I’m thinking of that is not the person I am dealing with. The situation itself is simply something that has occurred to me in the last few weeks that I am working out in my brain and heart. But even so, everything you have said is true and helpful. And understanding. And that means everything. 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

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