Shame And Eating Disorders: Readers Share Their Experience

Based on the recent poll, My Eating Disorder: One Word At A Time, "Shame" was the word most selected out of all the choices. Here, in an effort to help others better understand and/or relate, readers share their experience with shame in relation to their eating disorder:
I am too much
and not enough.

I feel conspicuous
as if everyone
can see
that there's
something inherently
wrong with me.

I am too much -
too much anger
flowing to the
too loud
and too raw
in my expression.
You lock me
in my room
and all I see
is a closed door
reflecting my anger
back toward me.

I am not enough.
I am not neat enough
I cannot compose
myself or
colour strictly
between the lines.

I am not loud enough
I cannot put myself
out there
I feel shame burning
my insides
as you all see
my pitiful core...
the wrong
parts of me.

I am too much
I don't deserve
to take up so much space...
I am selfish
or so you say,
so I learn to deny
my needs.
I learn to starve
my feelings away.

I am too much
but I am shrinking...
I am not enough
so endlessly
I pursue an ideal
hoping it will
transform...or destroy me.

~My Claim to Shame~

Shame. It's a word that trembles with negative feeling. It's a word that has a lot of power. It's a word that I used to associate with my eating disorder. I felt shame when I restricted, when I counted calories, when I fit into tiny clothes, when I threw away food that I couldn't bring myself to eat, when I worried my friends and family. But most of all, I felt shame when I cried. When I cried, I felt so weak and so helpless and so out of control that I was absolutely disgusted with myself. I couldn't fathom someone being as stupid as I was. I couldn't understand how a girl with a brain could hurt her entire family and all her dear friends by continuing on a path of self destruction. It wasn't rational. It was shameful. At least in the eyes of a girl struggling with anorexia. My shame when I cried overpowered me. I took to crying in private, waiting until doors were locked and my dorm room/apartment/bathroom where empty and I was the sole occupant. I cried in the shower. I cried in bed at night, in the dark, silently, when my room mate was but feet away in her own bed. But sometimes--when my life and my emotions and my pain became too much--I cried in front of someone. And that was when the shame flooded my face with heat and made me wish I were dead. If I cried in front of a friend, I would instantly apologize over and over again. I would shake my head and cover my face as though to say, "Don't look at me!" If I cried in front of my parents, it was worse still. I had to walk--no, run--away; the shame was just too great. Once, I cried in front of my eating disorder therapy group. All eyes were on me. I was explaining something or telling some weekly tale, and out came the tears in a torrential cascade. I was mortified. And the therapists and participants alike were stunned--because they'd never seen me cry before. I couldn't SPEAK for the rest of the group session; I was so overcome with shame. Shame had in me in a fierce and unyielding grasp. I'll never forget the time I cried in front of my former therapist. I had been going to her for about 2 years. One particular day, she was prodding me about something that was a tender point. I was getting angry. I was getting upset. I was getting... overwrought. I was becoming a mess. I let go. I cried. I bawled. I couldn't stop and I couldn't speak for a moment or two. I played my old game of covering my tear-sodden face with my hands and apologizing. When I looked at my therapist again, she was smiling. No, grinning. I was dumbstruck. But I'll never forget what she said to me: "I can finally see YOU. The real you." I questioned her with my disbelieving eyes and she said, "Finally you are giving me something. You're not closing off or holding it in. You're crying. Sometimes you need to cry." It had a real effect on me. I've since transformed her words to mean: "Sometimes you need to cry in order to get better." I've learned that being ashamed of something real serves no purpose and will only keep you from gaining ground. I've also learned that by crying, you can get out some of the bad that's inside and make room for the good. I apply this whole concept and attitude to my eating disorder in general. So much shame enveloped me that I couldn't get past what was going on inside me. I had to come to terms with the shameful behaviors and feelings in order to move forward. Shame is a dirty word. An anagram for shame is: has me. And have me it did. I think of that when I feel shame about something. I don't want to be had by anything. I want to turn it around. If eating disorder = shame, then it stands to reason that if you get rid of the shame, you are that much closer to getting rid of the eating disorder. It certainly was an important step for me.
~Arielle, 24

~A Leap Of Faith~

Another early morning, and the battle between my mind and my body begins. Again. I have every intention of giving up some of the behaviors that just fuel my downward spiral. I am too ashamed to even say what those behaviors are, and I'm definitely not proud of the things that I have done in order to hide from myself.
I spent almost my entire life with the secret shame of being raped. When I let go of that secret, I almost felt as if I were mourning the loss of something that I held very dear. I felt so exposed that I began to find other secrets that I could keep. A way to keep something for just myself, and a way to distance myself from the very people that I trusted enough to tell. Who will be there to catch me when I fall? I want to believe and trust that I won't be abandoned, but I haven't been able to take that leap of faith. The secrets must end if I am to survive, and I do believe that I can let go of them.
I am going to be honest in saying that right now I am actively restricting my food intake, and I just don't feel safe in letting go of that. I did promise my nutritionist that if I couldn't get back on track in a few days, then I would reach out for more help and support. I'm not even sure what that would be at this point, so I will have to figure that out. I just want to try to find my way back on my own first.
~Angie, 42

When I was six years old my best friend caught the stomach flu. For a week, the virus made her existence miserable and kept me from being able to see her. At the end of that week, she had lost almost ten pounds and was suddenly much smaller than me. I had put on some weight recently and could no longer wear some of the clothes that I had before. My mother and I bagged those clothes up to give away. She didn't specify to who until I had already helped her carry them downstairs. Then she told me that we were giving them to my best friend, that same friend who had just had the flu for a week. She said, "when she got sick, she lost weight. Granted that's not the best way to do it, but you could do to lose some." I was six years old and it was the first time that anyone had ever made me feel that I was fat and disgusting. It had to be my own mother and I had to watch those clothes on my skinny, beautiful best friend for almost another year before she moved away.
~Female, 17

*I'd like to thank these women for their amazing contributions and for sharing their experiences so openly and so eloquently. I feel honored to be able to share them here. Thank You.

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