A chronicle of shame is not a shame,
though culture and my ego disagree;
it’s easy finding self-bound faults to blame
and harder to relax against the tree.
It’s been a challenging few days in the unconditional-positive-regard department, at least in terms of practicing it towards myself. This is my response, then: to chronicle the shame, release some of those hot tears in “reality” and here in the “ether,” examine events and feelings with a good measure of integrity and kindness, and let go into the certainty of healing, no matter the pace.
I went running today. I haven’t gone running in at least a year. I had run out of excuses, now that Lily knows how to ride her bike. I don’t have to find someone to spend time with her while I go running (which feels like a significantly more arduous task than the running itself); instead, I can just chase her down the bike path. Today was a splendid, warm day; Lily was eager to ride; and I put on my clothes and shoes and out we went.
The good news is that I didn’t have a panic attack, we went further than I thought we might, Lily is a great companion for such an endeavor, and I think I pushed myself pretty hard but not so hard that I would wreck my chances of attempting it again anytime soon.
Harder were the parts about feeling intense body shame, the fear of being seen and judged, the dread of all the work ahead of me if I truly want to experience a shift in my physical sense of myself. It’s hard to hold it at bay while panting, sweating, getting a blister, and monitoring for signs of overwhelming anxiety.
Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea, after all that, to go clothes shopping at Savers. But we had planned the excursion ahead of time, with a friend. I’m not a fan of clothes shopping, or shopping in general, but shopping for clothes feels especially difficult. There we were, at Savers, with Lily swinging from the racks and getting the hairy eyeball from other shoppers, me trying to remember if Lily had outgrown most of her pants, and also attempting to track down a few shirts and shorts for myself, all the while feeling overwhelmed by the rows and rows of merchandise and wanting to flee. (I have fled such settings before, but we had come a fair distance, and had our friend with us, and it didn’t seem like a real option.) And then we were in the teeny-tiny, claustrophobia-inducing dressing room, under the fluorescent lights, with the full-length mirror, and I had forgotten how stunningly awful that experience is. I started to cry while Lily played with fallen price tags and plastic hangers on the floor. It was all I could do to not surrender to bawling, but there was my beloved girl, and I don’t want her to think that getting undressed in front of a mirror should have to involve tears of shame. She was sufficiently distracted, I think, and I was sufficiently muted that I don’t think it registered for her very much.
It’s also tied, it seems, to my roiling thoughts about a young Tunisian woman named Amina who posted a topless photo of herself with words written on her torso that said, “My body belongs to me and is not the source of anyone’s honour.” She was threatened with being stoned to death, and was reportedly forcibly hospitalized by her family, drugged, and beaten. In response, there was a collective outcry from many locations around the world with women baring their breasts and writing messages of support (photos of these various efforts are included at the link above). I had seriously considered joining them, but ultimately decided not to; either way, the prospect of joining or not joining has been a torment, and part of it is about my own body shame, and part of it is about my rage that such shame should ever exist, and even more, my rage that women are daily subjected to such appalling constraint and violence, from physical acts such as stoning or rape to the cultural/emotional influences that lead women to hate their own bodies and monitor themselves vigilantly, sapping energy away from more fruitful pursuits.
Now that I’ve opened that release valve a bit, it’s time for me to lean against the tree and breathe. A memory from this morning rises up: Lily came to snuggle me in my bed, and said, “You’re the best, warmest, softest mama in the whole world.” Such sweetness and love. She doesn’t see me the way I see myself. Probably no one sees me quite so harshly as I see myself. And this “I” who’s seeing, pummeled and distorted by a hundred thousand stories, I’ll be gentle to her.