Shame

Winter is creeping up on us here in northern California, and my thoughts are turning to business clothes. While my office tends to be here in my home, I have been spending a fair amount of time in client workplaces the last few months. While normal ratio is 80% of my hours from home, 20% meeting with clients at their offices or elsewhere, I kind of need something other than jeans and gym clothes for such events. Summer I’m all about dresses and skirts – so much cooler than slacks – but winter, I’d like to have a couple of pairs of slacks. For variety. And in a couple of cases, extra warmth.

Friend K has been down this slack-searching road many times before, and she hates to shop. I hate to shop when I’m on a mission to find something appropriate, but I am also fine with ordering several of the same things in different sizes and then returning what doesn’t work. Such is the case with a recent (read: this morning) Banana Republic online shopping spree. Several pairs of slacks and a couple of jackets in various styles and sizes. Hopefully something works out for me from this lot.

I have never shopped at Banana Republic, and the mere idea of setting foot in their store filled me with apprehension and free-floating anxiety. Because up until recently, I felt they did not have clothes that fit me. Not because body was oddly shaped or proportioned (although that may still be the case), but because I was simply too big, or more accurately, too fat. I am, or was, too fat to fit into BR-size range of clothes. The mere thought of going into a store like that and their largest size 16 (if they even carry size 16 – I honestly never bothered to check and do not need it now) not buttoning around my waist filled me with shame.

Shame, my old friend. If there was ever a destructive and near-death like emotion, it has to be shame.

I have written entire volumes on what my gym crazy is like, i.e., the intimidation of entering and using the gym at first. The big machines. The weights. The row after row of cardio equipment. The sleek and fit women. The buff and muscled men. If you have no idea what the machines are supposed to do, how to safely use the free weights, and you are overweight and everyone else seems to be normal-weight slender, of course you feel intimidated and as if you do not belong.

Even if he majority of that is all in my head, and rarely does the vision within my head match the reality of what I see within my club. But in my fear and anxiety, I was just sure those who were heavier knew precisely what to do, how to do it, and I would quickly be exposed as the imposter that was trying to fake it until I made it. As for asking for help – it felt humiliating that I did not know and could not just figure it out on my own. Hiring J to help me – truth is I was amazed I stuck it out long enough to get comfortable. I liked training days, but I was still intimidated when I went by myself. I would not even say hello to J in passing during those first few months, because even in uniform, he was part of those who belonged in the gym versus those of us who were just pretending.

Crazy. Normal, common, regular non-athlete type feelings that I can completely understand, but even recalling that range of emotions, I cringe thinking about my own brand and level of crazy and feel grateful to have overcome it for the most part. I still have issues when the club is very busy and crowded. I tend to retreat to a single piece of real estate and do whatever List that lets me stay there with a pair of dumbbells for company and then get out as quickly as possible. But I can and will stand my ground if pushed by the crowd, something I would have quickly surrendered and scurried away in the beginning.

Shame fuels that. Shame is what makes me feel some other member has more rights to the space I’m utilizing than I do. Shame is what fuels my excuse factory as to why I am not pursuing my better health quest more consistently. Shame will bury me if I let it.

I am still overweight, still feel fat. But far less so. And my attitude – oh well. The fat burning, muscle building, leaning out will happen when it happens. Key for me is to stay the course, keep my nose to the consistency grindstone on healthy eating and regular exercise. The battle of the bulge is never going to end for me, although I expect to reach a truce plateau at some point where my weight is normal and I feel like I have arrived at whatever balance point I am chasing. Trainer J departed on a 23 lb. weight loss journey this summer and yesterday arrived at his 165 lb. goal (with a 164 lb. weigh-in). Yay! I happy for him achieving this milestone and proud t be on the sidelines with his effort and marvel at both his discipline and focus in this pursuit. M too has been chasing weight loss as well and broke through into 150s yesterday at 159.5. At 5’11” I’m hoping he does not drop too much further, but again, his long-distance running pursuits seem to demand a lighter load.

I am genuinely happy for both of them. I want them to be happy and successful in pursuit of their personal goals and objectives with regard to what it takes for their overall health.

Not that long ago, my own reduced sense of self-worth would have tainted those feelings. Shame again. My own efforts would shrink and wither in comparison to them achieving their goals so much more efficiently. I must be not working at hard, slacking in my exercise, overeating in my supposed eating discipline, just an abject failure because it has taken more than 2 years for me to get to 183 and J went from 187 to 164 in 2 or 3 months and M has dropped from 195 to 159.5 in about 6 months. I should just throw in the towel and grab my junk food and sit here waiting to die. If only I were as disciplined and dedicated I too could be more successful in my health pursuits, and my latent jealousy for their success and my real or imagined ongoing failures made me feel even worse and more ashamed. A vicious cycle.

Yep, such is the mindset of negative girl. Shame is a big tool in her arsenal. Unfortunately I think I’m not alone in this quagmire. The paradigm of behavior for obesity is all too familiar.

I would not say I have broken out of it so much as learned to control it. I have had success in my efforts on my own terms and in my own way, and I think finally accepting that patience and flexibility are required had made it happen for me.

Hiring a personal trainer only gets me so far. I still have to be in the gym, practicing what I am learning, trying to improve to make any sort of forward progress. There are so many quick, easy, important and reasonable reasons to not go to the gym and/or to not get any exercise. It seems like I can make myself physically ill, or at least manifesting the symptoms of illness that make exercise seem like a poor choice in the moment.

Having an obesity doctor to walk me through what a healthy diet for weight loss looks like is another luxury I enjoy. But I still have to prepare my meals, and I still have to make myself do that rather than stopping at the nearest drive through when I am hungry or think I am hungry. I still have to find something else to distract myself when stress or boredom creates thoughts and plans to acquire donuts or salty snack foods with sugary soda in my head.

It occurred to me this weekend that I am not so much a lazy slug (although I really am, just to a lesser degree than for what I typically take credit) as overwhelmed with shame at letting myself get into a configuration that made me fat and less capable. Before I can shed fat, I have had to find a way to let go of shame.

I did not want to be fat, and I do not know anyone who wants to be overweight. But once in that configuration, there was this huge, overwhelming feeling of shame that kept me (and others who share this issue) in hiding. I used to talk about this all the time, about my desire and imaginings of an invisibility cloak between me and the rest of the members in the gym, so no one saw me trying and faltering in my exercise efforts. Because it seemed like all I did was falter. J would say 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps, and I’d be dying on the floor in the first set of barely making it to 8 reps. Even now I struggle mightily with some of my current Lists, and I know my pacing is not how J envisions it when writing the program or teaches it when we are in session.

But oh well. I will get there.

This is not that I don’t care, but I also recognize that I am only so capable at any given time. I typically try my best, but my mind gets in my way. And building strength and skills with the exercise takes time. Especially for those of us who do are not athletically gifted, lack confidence, and are always learning. I don’t care how bright I might be; mind-body connection are frequently sometime in conflict with each other.

I feverently wish for a simple, sure-fire way to overcome shame, something I could bottle and sell to those who need it. From personal experience, I know all about overcoming shame. And until as individuals until we are ready to face our demons and slay our dragons, progress will be slow at best. Shame is not an easy emotion to escape. From a lifetime of coping with it in one form or another, shame is not easy to escape. While intellectually I have understood that my insecurities will not be completely alleviated with shrinking myself to ideal weight, behind all the negative noise was a tiny ray of hope that the shame would fade along with the fat.

Nothing is so easy as all that, though. It’s especially difficult when I see the same process occurring with others I care about. Unhappiness, depression, anxiety from being overweight is real; we all see it or deal with it directly. Fat shaming is a thing, and it’s truly awful. So much worse than that is the awful negativity and self-loathing that happens in our own heads.

It’s a complicated problem and takes trained professionals far more skilled than I to unravel the knots that keep us tied down and in place. I know, because without my therapist, TM, I would have likely given up yet again and still be stuck with negative girl in the rut we had dug together. So I don’t have real answers to others suffering from the complications and burdens of not only the excess weight but the expectations from society and those around us, many of who mean well and only want the best for and to help us.

The internet is full of helpful ideas, diets, programs to help us lose weight. I feel the pain, and despite where I am right now in my own journey, I know how impossible it feels to climb out of the deep, dark hole we have created for ourselves.

I have a long list of former close friends that I have released back into the wild as I have moseied along on my journey. Their tendency was to reinforce my old feelings of shame and misery and negative girl then does her best to bulldoze me back into my dark hole and bury me there. It is not my fault, or really, my former friends. Our relationship was built on me being under the influence of negative girl and their liking that version of me. I have always been pretty low-key and unobtrusive within the boundaries of close relationships, yet I am unflinchingly supportive of those I adopt within my tribe. It was very hard for them to accept the changes I am implementing. The cynical side of me says it was a power dynamic, that for my former buddies needed me fat and insecure about my life and times so they can somehow feel better about themselves?

Shame keeps us isolated within ourselves. Shame taught me how to be supremely organized about compartmentalizing my life and emotions and doing my best to keep the darkness from touching my day-to-day life and times. Hiding it, running away from it has made me more driven to work harder at my profession, at my marriage to M, to be a decent parent, to be a caring and supportive friend.

So there is some upside to being fearful and ashamed.

On good days, I like to believe that I would still be driven to succeed professionally, to be a good mom and a caring friend. On really good days, I like to believe I would be even more successful in these endeavors.

On the bad days, I wish I had never been born.

Shame kills. Of that I have no doubt. My better health quest, I am saving myself. For myself, first and foremost. I’m not special in this regard; everyone deserves a normal life. I had tough breaks early in life and have had to work harder my whole life to put it behind me.

And there is no shame in that. I could do well with a lot more of this feeling, and learning how to share it with others.