Of what are you most ashamed? That part of your past that makes you say, Oh if only I could erase that one thing I’d be______. Fill in the blank. Perfect…happy…satisfied…proud? Of what harrowing, “Shit Creek” experience are you a survivor?
My Shit Creek was anorexia. And boyyyyy was I down that creek! I was down it, jammed in the mud, and stuck under a rock. But I fought out. Out from under the rock, clawed out of the sticky mud, swam backwards up the creek.
Swimming backwards up the creek can prove to be some of the ugliest, most ungraceful, traumatic parts of the whole Shit Creek experience.
My swimming backward involved denial, trying to un-shrink slyly before everyone’s eyes, followed by hiding from food, followed by drowning my deep fear and distress in bingeing, followed by hatred and distrust of my body, followed by a couple years of ED yoyo-ing, followed by two years of healing. The last two years of the swim were more like wading upstream, that last little leg before I climbed back on shore. Before I came back to myself.
I stand here now, from the shore, looking down that stream. I remember thinking, in the throes of my battle, how can I trust it will never happen again? That I’ll never fall victim to this again?
I know how. Standing and peering downstream is how. Seeing the shit that I painstakingly drug, clawed and swam myself through…that’s how.
But does that make me proud of it? Does the solid, stable, comforting feeling of being back to myself, of being confident and rooted in my Self make me proud of what I went through? Does it take away the feeling of shame?
No. It doesn’t. I’m deeply and profoundly grateful to have survived it, I’m proud that I survived it. But that’s different from being proud that it happened. I’m not proud that it happened. I know I’d be neither who I am nor where I am today if not for it having happened; so, seeing as this beautiful life I’ve built is the gift I reaped in the process, I’d not change a thing. But I’m still ashamed. I still have to take a gulp before I write about it. I still shudder on the inside when I talk so openly about it. There’s shame involved. There’s guilt involved. There’s stigma involved. With each article I write and each casual conversation I have about my battle with anorexia, I get stronger. The shame is a little tiny fraction quieter. It’s a little less powerful. But it’s there. It likely always will be. And that’s okay, because it was all worth it. The survival is well worth the shame.
You may not have fought anorexia, or bulimia or any eating disorder; you may not have ever had any disordered relationship with food at all (though I doubt it, as we all seem to have a slightly funked up relationship with food and body image in our crazy, media-driven society). You have something, though. A divorce; an arrest; a betrayal; something. We all have something.
But you know what? Your something is a gift. If you’re sitting here reading this right now nodding, saying, Yes I have something…God it’s so shameful…then congratulations. It means you’ve survived.
I’d much rather be a survivor than the alternative. I’d much rather be a bit more cautious and a helluva lot wiser than the alternative. I’ll stomach the shame gladly, shudder at the memories gratefully, write about my anorexia ad nauseum (borrowing Jen Pastiloff’s phrase). Because tales of perseverance help others to persevere. Far better to take a shot of shame if it means glassfuls of empathy and encouragement for the world. We must remember we’re all in this together.
So screw the shame. Tell your story. Embrace that shameful shadow in your past. Stand tall. You’re not alone.
We’re all Shit Creek Survivors.
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