Long before I ever started therapy, I struggled with an overwhelming sense of shame. On the surface, I was ashamed that I had to resort to purging to handle my issues with food, and that sometimes I had to hit or hurt myself to feel better. I felt terrible and weak that I did these things, so much so that I only told one person about my self-harm, a then-BF I dated in college. He later figured out the purging when we went to a mexican restaurant and I came back from the bathroom with a flushed face. Ironically, he was angry that I had “wasted” the food (I didn’t – it was delicious, which is why I ate it and then purged it) and never expressed concern about my purging, or even how I’d been lying to him the entire time. In a weird way, it was a sign that he and I were definitely not to be.
I think when I started dating my now-husband that I told him about my eating disorder, but maybe not. I’m not entirely sure. When I started therapy for the first time, I told him about my purging and he was shocked – but that was the first time I really acknowledged that I was bulimic. At that point we’d been married for five years and lived together for six. Telling him was frightening but I felt a pinch of relief when I did. In this latest bout, I’ve never really came out and said, “Darling, just to let you know, I’m purging again and restricting, and those bug bites on my arms and legs are really cuts and burns. What would you like for dinner?” I hinted and talked around it – “having issues with food again,” “think I need some help,” etc. When I’ve shared more with him – like the panic attack I had recently over food – I do feel better. It feels easier to let the secret out. It took away a little tiny piece of the shame I’ve laid on myself.
But my shame goes far deeper than the side-effect of my disorders. At my core, I feel I am inherently flawed, a failure, defective, unworthy, pathetic. Shame is the voice I hear that says “fat girls don’t get to eat ____” and “your thighs are jiggling, you are so fat.” It is the turn in my stomach when I’m facing a plate full of food and a knowing husband who is trying not to watch me eat. Shame carries a megaphone and shouts in my ear FAT-LAZY-STUPID-WEAK-PATHETIC-LOSER 24 hours a day. Shame haunts me – screams at me – hits me – watches me. It is far worse than any teasing teenaged girl, than any boy who didn’t want me, than my parents calling me “thunder thighs.” It makes me want to just shrivel and wisp away, to hide from everyone and everything because I don’t belong. I’ve never belonged. I’m not sure I ever will belong.
So the solution I came up with to my inner shame was to pick a coping mechanism (or in my case, three) that feeds my guilt and shame. Every time I kneel in front of the toilet and pull back my hair, every time I take out my razor blade kit, every time I chug glasses of water so I can eat less food, I am feeding the shame and destroying myself bit by bit. It’s not my behavior that scares me. It’s my complete disregard for the part of me that is hiding in the corner with her hands over her ears, trying to drown out the megaphone voice of shame. It’s my hatred and loathing of who I am that keeps me awake at night.
But just as I’ve let that megaphoned voice pull me down, I can tell it to shut up. I can think about what I’d say to my kids – what I wished my mother had said to me – when I’m feeling down. I can tell myself that I am good enough, that I am loved, and that just trying is what matters most. I’m trying to break this cycle and stop taking my body hostage as part of this battle. I really want to crawl under my sheets and hide, to zone out for hours on end, to feel numb and empty and clean. But I know that if I choose to hide from my shame, I’m making it worse. And there is a small but growing part of me that is sick and tired of the shame and blame game. Now I just have to figure out how to feed her – literally and figuratively.