On Tuesday, we discussed three things I once struggled to say aloud. As I created this list, I realized that I was quickly listing almost every facet of my life. Reading between the lines, this means I used to feel shame about nearly everything. If that doesn't sound like a reason to drink, I don't know what does.
And yet: only in sobriety can we really make progress on our shame. Below are three more things that, through recovery, I am empowered to finally say aloud.
4. I don’t feel good in my body.
I’m not talking about how my body looks. (Although being shaped like a “ruler” - thanks, diet culture, for the visual - has also been a source of shame.) Rather, I’m talking about the way my body feels. I’m talking about the chronic digestive issues that in many ways dictate the course of my day and have largely dictated the course of my eating disorder, too. It used to be quite hard to tell boyfriends, particularly, that this was part of my experience. After all: Girls don’t poop. (And when they do, I'm sure they do it well.)
During my most recent share in a recovery meeting, I brought up my irritable bowel syndrome quite matter-of-factly. It is, after all, an important part of my story, providing an early incentive to restrict and escape. As I said this out loud, I noticed how good it felt; people smiled and nodded, and I realized yet again that words take a wrecking ball to shame.
5. I like (some) women, too.
By and large I have been attracted to men and only envious of women. I know for a fact that when I look at someone like Ashley Graham or Janelle Monae or Scarlett Johansson, it’s not that I want her. I just want to look like her.
That being said: I have also felt the type of attraction which is quite different from envy. When I have been attracted to a woman - twice, to my knowledge, but also recently to Abby Wambach after learning she married a sober female blogger - my attraction is more ethereal. More appreciative, instantly warm. I think: Yes. You.
In part, this attraction was hard to say aloud simply because same-sex relationships can strike people as a little weird, a little non-Biblical. (And many people I love in turn love the Bible.) However, it was also hard to say because the feeling - "liking women" - is still in some ways a mystery to me. Overcoming shame, then, is also about voicing ambiguity. It's about coming to the table with only a partial set of answers.
6. I'm a (particularly) emotional person.
For a long time, I fantasized that I was an Enneagram 1. If you're not familiar, 1s are rational to a fault, largely (even obsessively) concerned with right and wrong, and sometimes dismissive of feelings and nuance. They're driven to do the right thing, whether that means protesting the war or protesting the way their partner loads the dishwasher.
In a word: Nope. That's not me. I'm still very much experimenting with what I can put in the dishwasher. And I've never been accused of being rational "to a fault." I lead with my feels. Sometimes it makes me nervous, and sometimes it makes others nervous, too.
About two months ago, someone raised concerns about my emotional self. He told me that I was unpredictable, that my reactivity was worrisome. He bravely told me, however, that these were things he was “willing to accept.”
Reality check: Writing this down almost led me to scrap the post entirely. As I thought about the situation above, I again became angry. I wrote a scathing (and, I'll say it, funny) critique of the situation. But I stopped short of publishing it: If I'm still angry at him, I'm still in shame about me.
That being said: I accept my emotions more than I used to. And, when I'm surrounded by the right people, this becomes easier. When others love and even enjoy my full range of emotions, it becomes easier to extend that same loving kindness towards myself.
Shame does not emerge in a vacuum. Men and women alike have received distinct messaging that our way of being is simultaneously not enough and too much. I've found, however, that when I actively disagree, when I disarm my shame by speaking it aloud, the people who matter don't mind.
And, you guessed it: the people who mind don't matter.