Yesterday, I had an appointment with my therapist after working night shift and not sleeping since the day before. I joked with one of my coworkers before I left work that this could go one of two ways…either I would fall asleep in the comfy chair in her office and say just about nothing or all filters would be off and I would ramble on for 50ish minutes about whatever crossed my mind. Neither of those things happened. Instead, we had a good conversation that joined a string of good conversations we have had in the past year or so. I am still processing most of what we talked about (I do a lot of post-therapy processing and even have named the days after my appointments my Deep Introspective Post-Therapy Days), and I don’t usually bring that process to such a public forum as my blog (even if my readership is relatively low, Google means that anyone could find at any time), but at the very end of our session, she mentioned to me the name of someone whose work she thought I should look into. And that person is Brené Brown. Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston’s Graduate College of Social Work. For the past ten years, she has been studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. She is the author of three books, and she also spoke twice at TED events, after which her speeches went “viral” on the internet and were viewed by millions (Her website is www.brenebrown.com, and there you can find information on her books, links to both talks, and her blog). My therapist suggested I watch what she had to say about shame, and I did so this morning. And I look forward to seeing her other speech and reading her books and listening to what she has to say.
When you have disordered eating patterns, shame is often at the forefront of your thoughts. After having a bad day and eating a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, the internal dialogue you find yourself with is never, “Wow, I just did a really good job of taking care of myself after a really hard day.” Instead, your thoughts are consumed with thoughts like this: “I am so stupid. I can’t believe I ate that ice cream. I am so worthless. I should just keep eating. I am never going to be thin. I am never going to be happy. I am never going to feel any better than I do right now, and I don’t deserve to anyway.” And the part of you that leads you to the ice cream freezer in the first place is born of shame. Many people, both women and men, have it in their mind that they are not worthy of good things and that there is something wrong with them which means that they have to live a very small life. I have spent some time on Tumblr this past year, basically looking for and reblogging inspirational messages to keep me going as I struggle to find my new normal and learn to embrace the opportunity that I have been given to change what my story is going to be. And Tumblr is full of blogs written by people (mostly teenage and young adult girls, I believe, at least among those blogs that I am following) who are in the throes of eating disorders and self-harm and suicidal ideation, and they are trying to remind themselves and their followers that it is okay not to be okay and that they are more than the number on a scale and that suicide is not the answer and that they are enough, just as they are, right in this moment.
Disordered eating is a kind of armor. It keeps your shame on the inside. It does not allow you to be vulnerable. When need or feelings threaten to bubble up to the surface, you react by pushing them back down with whatever behavior it is you engage in. For me, that is eating. For someone else, that might be restricting. For someone else, that might be cutting or bingeing and purging or extreme exercise or any of a bunch of other behaviors that don’t get to the root of the problem but lead us to think that we are “dealing with it.” It would be so nice to be able to do more than just deal with it. I don’t have any answers, but I do have some books I am looking forward to reading and more work that I am looking forward to doing in that comfy chair in my therapist’s office. I have to keep thinking that there will be a day when ice cream will not equal a binge to me, and I really will feel like more than just the number I see on the scale.