Ugh, we all hate discussing shame, I’m ashamed of shame! Be a man, be a woman– get over it!
But it’s not quite that easy. Here is a fascinating article about contestants on the reality show, “The Biggest Loser.” Perhaps you can’t relate to the amount of weight they’re talking about, but your body works in similar ways to theirs, and it’s worth discovering that it’s not necessarily about your lack of willpower but something your body’s engaging in without your knowledge or will.
The contestants’ experiences are reflected in issues that we all know: you spend a few weeks/months/even years at the gym, dieting and saying no to things you think of as treats like pasta, chocolate and beer—it’s your list, you can fill it out—and then you lose some weight. Friends say you look great, you know you look a little better, and perhaps you feel healthier and even younger. And then you can’t keep it up: you change jobs, you move house, your cat dies, you get the flu—something makes you throw in the towel. During or after the break you are still busy, still eating in a pretty healthy way, but sometimes it doesn’t seem worth it and you relax, eat a bag of chips, or a semi-loaded baked potato, or you just mowed the lawn and reward yourself with a cold beer or a favorite soda. No big deal. But those few pounds start creeping back. Then you look at yourself naked and you don’t like what you see. This is not the real you—the you you remember. Now what? Now you’re dressing in black and wearing loose shirts—your legs still look good.
Okay, but it’s not only post-menopausal weight gain and the general slowing of your metabolism. Maybe instead you’re looking at your bank account and wondering if plastic surgery is an investment or a money pit or something ridiculously out of your reach. There’s shame there too. I’m wrinkled, I’m saggy, my lips look thin and unfriendly, my face looks doughy, and even though I’m not searching for anyone new I’d like to look attractive, perhaps even a teeny bit sexy?
And speaking of sex—your partner still wants it but it’s too painful, and the creams and other treatments which seem to be working for some people don’t work for you. You love this person and you’d be thrilled to be jumping their bones, but you just can’t. And there may be shame here too—certainly people have told me they feel it, and you can read more about that in the Sanity Papers archive.
I’m not saying you think any of this, but I think some of it, though thankfully not all. But then, being ashamed of falling short of my own ideal—it’s all mine and I should be able to control it—I have shame about that. And I take it with me into a mini-depression. I don’t care. I’m old. We all go there, don’t we? If we’re lucky, that is: old and wrinkly and saggy. I’m lucky! Get over it and watch Dr. Strangelove again—learn to love the Age Bomb. And while I am embracing something I loathe and despise, I’ll take that extra taco, a piece of dark chocolate and a Negra Modelo. Maybe I won’t floss afterwards either. To hell with everything.
I’d love to say, “Don’t do this!” but who am I talking to? Myself of course. If I had real advice to offer, I’d act and look and feel completely different and not be ashamed of anything.
The best book I have read that touches on all this is Geneen Roth’s Women, Food and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything. It’s a quick read and you can get it used on Amazon for one penny, plus shipping. It’s a very healing book in terms of whatever behaviors you may be addicted to and feeling negative about. It doesn’t put an end to them, but you won’t feel quite so wounded and isolated, and it might inspire a shift in your perceptions.
The Dalai Lama says that he initially found the idea of self-hatred completely alien and confusing, but now he tries to address it in order to help his Western audiences. So, just to go there, self-hatred and shame and all that go with them are not necessarily universal to the human condition. I don’t know if you can change it in yourself, but it’s a start to understand that it doesn’t always have to be there. I’d love to tell you that I am over my own negativity, but of course I’m not– I’m just forever working on it. There’s a spark of light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s not just the dental floss on fire.
“If you floss, the Tooth Fairy is going to give the money to someone else…” Anon