Shame and Starvation {PART THREE}

Summer 2009. Unemployed. Graduated from university. Alone in my flat. I was arrested by a voice in my head. It told me to walk down the hall to the bathroom...and make myself throw up.

I’d never felt insecure about what I ate before. I was an athletic teenager. Awkwardly tall for my age and fairly shy. But I had somehow bypassed the usual ‘oh I couldn’t possibly eat anything’ phase of teenage girlhood. I prided myself on eating lots, in fact.

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But now this.

I was never able to make myself be sick, so instead? Starvation. I would make excuses to people that I’d already eaten. All the while hunger pains would rip through my body. I couldn’t feel my fingertips or toes much of the time. I was exhausted. My clothes hung off of me. But I couldn’t see it. All I saw was imperfection. Failure. Shame.

The internal dialogue I had went something like this…. ‘Stupid. You’re so stupid. Why did you say that? Why did you do that? Why did you eat that? Stupid stupid stupid stupid.’ I realise now that this was a voice that had defined my whole life.

This shame didn’t just physically starve me, though.

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It starved me of community. I stopped eating around people….one of the most beautiful and important parts of Christian community. Something Jesus always did and commands us to do. Going to Community Group made me so anxious. An inability to think about anything other than ‘what would I eat’, and ‘what would people see me eating?’ The same thing kept me awake at night. That year I began to suffer from insomnia. Unable to fall asleep because I was so anxious about what I would allow myself to eat the next day. I hid in shame and fear. Controlling every single aspect of my waking days. Isolated and alone.

It starved me of grace. I would walk down the street and in every reflection I would look at myself and judge. But here’s the thing, I wouldn’t just judge myself. I would start to compare myself to every other woman walking down the street. Thinking, ‘Oh, well at least I’m not as fat as her.’ And make myself feel better. Or, ‘I’m never going to look like that’, and feel condemned. Shame can be something you either heap on yourself, or on others. Or both simultaneously.

It starved me of love. I was unable to see or receive any love. I started dating Gordon six months after this began….it took me the longest time (I’m talking years) to actually believe him when he said ‘I love you’.

I remember one night, Ailsa finally asked me (I recognise now how much courage this took - thanks babe) if I’d ever thought of counselling. I was like, ‘But I haven’t had anything traumatic happen to me…I’m normal. So I shouldn’t need counseling, right?’ Oh what a fool.

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I started to realise how starving my body was a physical outworking of starving myself. My fear of getting fat was an outworking of my fear of the future: I had grown up with such high expectations placed on me, and that I had of myself, to be this intelligent and mature woman who was not going to waste her life. I recognised this was rooted in my fear of losing control, of shame in not being perfect, or accepted, of being unlovely, of failure.

I believed the lies of shame and fear….that I was unknown (not understood, not seen), unprotected (my future out of control), and unloved (the people who saw me didn’t REALLY see me and wouldn’t truly love me). I believed I was shameful. And even more, I believed that God was not good, not loving, and not strong enough to heal me.

The single fact that changed me and is continuing to root its way deeper and deeper into my soul?

That the Father of all space and time who has called into being all we see and know, is the same Father who whispers an unshakable love into my ear and shouts His grace from the mountaintops. Being rooted in my identity as His daughter. In the irreversible and unquenchable Perfect Love that drives out fear. I love how our children’s Bible (The Jesus Storybook Bible) puts this covenant love. ‘God’s Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love’. It started with recognising the lies that I’d believed. Repenting. And choosing to replace them with the truth of His love and grace.

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Since all of this, I have gotten fatter than I ever thought possible. In pregnancy. And I realised in a deeper way, that my sin of believing these lies had a direct affect on my son. I had to eat well. His growth and development, his life, depended on my nourishment. And isn’t it the same for us all? As Christians, we are a body. And lies that we believe, affect our brothers and sisters deeply. When we aren’t walking in freedom, the rest of the body suffers.

In all honesty, this isn’t over for me. Some days are still a real, deep, and bloody battle for the truth of God’s love. But the more I choose to replace those whispers of shame, with the lie-obliterating glory of His love and grace, the more I am able to walk in freedom.

For now, I’ll finish. But come prepared. Tomorrow we are going to do something different in this space. All you need is paper, a pen, and some time.

{Grace} 

 

 

 

 

 

How NOT to Announce you are Pregnant. SHAME {Part Two}

I said ‘I am pregnant.’ Then I burst into tears. Not happy tears. Big fat ugly shame tears.

I should clarify, this was my second pregnancy. I had worked out, by then, how babies are made. In fact, I had decided (as much as anyone has control over these things) to get pregnant. I was well aware of the love I would feel for this baby. I would have even said ‘I wanted to be pregnant.’

I also understood that a lot of people I loved dearly would have given vital organs to be pregnant like me. And here I was crying about it. Which honestly, makes this story harder to tell. I am not proud of my reaction or my feelings. Especially about something that would be pure joy for a lot of people.

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That afternoon, I had sat down with two of my best friends to get them to help me. Because I might have wanted to be pregnant but I knew there was something wrong with me.  I did not want to tell anyone I was pregnant. I was excruciatingly embarrassed that I was pregnant again. I felt like this pregnancy, as my second, required an extra explanation and justification to people that didn’t really have a right to that. I was humiliated. I just wanted to keep it a secret, if possible forever. But you know, this was my second kid, so I had worked out that would be pretty impossible.

Like all good friends, they called me on my shame and didn't let me live in it. They challenged me to identify the lies I was accepting in my life. There were a lot. Some were about my worth as a woman. I felt like being pregnant for the second time, when my first child was only 9 months old, exposed my identity and desire to be a mother. To me that made me look young, naive, and weak. It turned out a significant part of me had a problem with being identified as a mother. Now, you might imagine that having my first child might have highlighted that I was a mother but one child seemed like something you might try out, while two children imply you really like this motherhood thing. I was carrying shame for being a mother despite the facts I actually like being one and it was my dream to have children. 

For some of you reading this none of it will resonate. You might be thinking all I want is babies and 'how can she see being a mother as failing?' I should also add at no point in my life have I seen someone else as a failure when they become a mother, a stay at home mother, or decide to have more children. Rather, selfishly this shame was all about me. This was about how I defined my value and worth. And as with a lot of feelings and internal beliefs, they exist while contradicting themselves. My highest place of worth was in my career, a job where I felt I achieved something, and the ability to make money. I wanted to cry like my unborn baby at the thought of telling my boss that I was pregnant for the second time. She had witnessed me choose my first baby over a long-term contract and now she was going to watch me pick being a mother over my entire teaching career, as I would go on maternity leave and then move country. I cared because I respected my boss and I wanted her to think I was a good teacher. I love teaching. It would give me a high like a drug every time I stood in front of 30 hormonal teenagers and got them to progress in a skill. But how well I taught determined for me if I was a person of value or if I was a total failure. So the very act of choosing to be pregnant again felt like me throwing away my identity. 

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Now, this is not some weird twisted story of how God came along and liberated me from the feminist enslavement of career and that I discovered I was a born homemaker. I am not. Nor is this about a God who is a dream killer. Let's remember children was part of my dream too. This is about following a God who made sacrifices before me so that I can now make some too. This is about knowing where my worth sits. Not with a career. Or with motherhood. But in the one who became a sacrifice for me. This is about recognizing shame in our lives. Areas of our lives where we feel humiliated or like we are terrible failures. The areas that we try to keep away from people.  Because sometimes those can be areas where we have built our identity but we haven't measured up. Shame makes us hide and run away. But the act of exposing my feelings and lies to my friends and God freed me from the power of the shame. The light exposed the lies to their frailty and how they didn’t make sense. I was able to find joy in my pregnancy and I no longer felt humiliated by my own decision for my life. 

So here I am right now a stay at home mother in the city of careers. I am learning where my identity really sits. I see women with careers and I wonder if I'll get there one day. And I see women born to be 'stay at home' moms who are better at it than me. And honestly, right now both of those are okay. I like being a mother and one day I want to work again. Being a mum/mom and not having a career doesn't humiliate me or cause me anxiety. I can be open about my desires and limitations with other people. Shame is not winning in this area of my life anymore. 

Shame turns up differently for different people. I have met women, like me, who feel shame at being a mother with no career and mothers who feel shame that they work. Women who feel shame for not wanting children and others who feel shame because they cannot get their bodies to make a baby. Or people whose careers have just not been what they wanted them to be. Their dream of world domination by 30 hasn't happened. While it turns up differently in all of us, shame is designed to remove us from relationship. It makes us shrink away from people, God, and real relationships to hide this part of ourselves that make us feel humiliated and unworthy. But often when we let someone in the shame has less power. There is power in telling our story.

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Are there areas in your life where you feel humiliated and you shrink away from sharing these feelings with others? Where do you feel you are failing to measure up to your own desires and expectations? Where are the areas of shame in your life?

{Ailsa}