Breaking Free from Shame
The word “gratitude” is the new shame word for this decade. How many times have we heard “You need to be grateful” over the course of our lives? We hear this phrase as children, as teenagers, and even as adults, the theme echoing from past and overlapping the present.
You should be grateful for the shoes you have on your feet. When I was a kid, I walked to school barefoot (uphill both ways and in snow all year).
You should be grateful that you get the chance to do anything (play a sport, take music lessons, or go to a friend’s sleepover).
You should be grateful that I embarrassed you at the meet-the-teacher night at school (or ). It means I care about you. I wish I had someone care about me that much when I was your age.
If we do not feel gratitude, others shame us for being unappreciative. Even though no one says this, the message we receive when we hear “You’re so ungrateful” may be subtle, but its effects are everlasting. Our subconscious mind translates the phrase into such ideas as:
You are an uncaring person, so you are a horrible human being.
You are unworthy.
You do not deserve approval.
You should feel ashamed of yourself.
It’s a funny thing when we hear these phrases aloud; we don’t even register the latter part of the phrase. The first part has pierced us, it had done its damage. Guilt and shame stain our souls and the stain becomes darker as years go by, and each time we hear these words, the stain we try to ignore grows in size and darkens.
When I was younger, I used to get upset when people asked, “What do you want for your birthday?” and bought me something altogether different from what I had requested. Sometimes they gave me something that cost much more than what I had asked for, but that did not matter to me. My angry reasoning was, “Why ask what I want if you’re not going to get it for me?” You can imagine how this went over with my parents. Right now, you may even be agreeing with them. If you’re a parent, you may have had a similar incident or two. Maybe my parents did not believe I really wanted what was on my list. Maybe I was not clear enough. You might be thinking I am a rude and ungrateful human. Put your gavel down, Judge Reader. Hear me out.
I was not ungrateful: I was confused and hurt. In my inner child’s mind, I felt betrayed by the people who bought me gifts. My inner child thought, in the simplest of terms, they lied to me. They had led me to believe that if I informed them what I wanted by writing down my Christmas list or birthday wishes, I would receive something I had requested. Is this not a version of the Holy Bible’s “Ask, and ye shall receive” concept? As adults, others tell us when we practice the Law of Attraction, we receive what we appreciate. However, if we study the principles, repeat the necessary affirmation but don’t get what we want, we should not feel anger; we should feel ashamed. And if I remember the stain on my soul, if I did it wrong, the “shame” code whispers that I’m not smart enough, so I’m not worthy, so I don’t deserve.
Can you see a pattern here? Do any of these above statements resonate with you somehow? If so, we need to shift your brain pattern, just a little. I promise, no pain here. There is no right or wrong way to do this, either. You only have to try.
Today, I share my gratitude journal with you. I hate to admit this, but I am not the best gratitude journal writer in the whole wide world, and truth be told, I may never be. However, I can stop my mind from languishing in an all-out self-pity party and shift so it can find positive things in my life that I can appreciate. You might benefit if you can see how I move out of my mental “funks,” how I get out of the “ungrateful” zone, if you will. Maybe if you can see how I change my brain’s behavior and attitude, you can apply this to your own life.
Now, let it be known that I am a chocoholic like no other. I should start a support group, “Hi, I’m Liz. I’m an addict.” I know they have Overeaters Anonymous, but this is still different. I can go for days eating nothing but triple-chunk brownies, with or without fudge frosting. I can do the same for Hostess Ding Dongs, and hey, you guessed it, cupcakes (but only good ones—too dry or bad frosting, I’m out). And no, I’m not exaggerating. Come find me toward the end of a semester when I’m writing my final papers for grad school. Come find me when I have had an unpleasant visit with family members. Come find me when someone tells me I need to lose weight. It’s my passive aggressive nature. I know this about myself, but when I’m agitated and stupid tired and the chocolate is calling my name, I lose all control. I don’t even keep track of how much I’m eating until I pick up the last brownie and go, “Crap! I ate them ALL? In just four hours? Wow!” Please don’t judge me: at least I know myself and I’m being honest with you (you should be grateful, lol).
So, last week I had the lowest health moment in my life. I was going to a baptism, and I could not find anything to wear. I had gained so much weight in the last several months, that I literally did not fit into anything I own other than workout clothes or sweats. I don’t care what planet you’re on, workout clothes and sweats are not appropriate for attending a Baptism. Luckily, I found a cute long skirt with a forgiving elastic waist and a big blouse, so I threw them on and told myself I would deal with my problem when I returned home.
I had known I was gaining weight all spring. There had been signs: a wedding during Spring Break, where I could only fit into my “fat” outfits; a presentation I had to do where I could not find a nice shirt to wear, and I did not have time to shop; the fact that I would not look at myself in the mirror when I brushed my teeth or got into or out of the shower. But last weekend, I needed to face facts, so I jumped on the ol’ Weight Watchers scale, which read 207.8. This is the largest I have been in my whole, entire life. I wanted to cry.
And I can sit here and make excuses all day. At the end of the semester, right before finals week, I came down with pneumonia. I coughed so much I threw up a couple of times. The steroids they gave me helped me gain weight. When I returned to the doctor the second week because I’d become worse, they gave me more drugs. During this whole time, all I wanted was comfort food. There was no healthy food here; if I was awake, I wanted chocolate and sugar, in vast amounts. My husband tried to help by saying, “Here, let me make you something to eat. You’re going to gain weight and be unhappy.” Of course, this only kicked in my nature to eat more in rebellion. When I finally looked at myself in the mirror, I was shocked and appalled. I had eaten so much that I now had to lose 37.8 pounds to just get back into my clothes (yep, I know what I need to weigh so I can fit into my clothes—sue me), and more 45.8 pounds to get to a weight that makes my doctor and my body happy.
Harvard Health did a study on gratitude in 2011. When doctors asked patients to write about pleasant memories, the patients’ happiness scores raised. When the patients wrote a thank you letter to a specific person, the “impact was greater” than any other form of therapy, and the patients were happier for up to one month. Experts with Forbes also suggest that you write in your gratitude journal every day, and five seems to be the “magic” number to help change brain activity. So, in the spirit of helping, I will give you five reasons that I am able to express gratitude for this weight dilemma.
1) I am grateful that I am healthy enough to work out and make my own meals. Put things in perspective. I could be so much worse off, but I am extremely fortunate: I don’t have to take medicine (other than Claritin-D for allergies), I have a library of over 100 workout videos, and I know how to cook. I am also smart enough to buy cold cuts and fruit already cut for the days that I am too tired to cook or fix my meals.
2) I am grateful that I can own my cupcake. There’s an ad for an exercise machine on TV. I’m sure you’ve seen it. One of the clients claims that she gained 64 pounds when she was pregnant and states, “That’s not baby weight, that’s donuts.” She owned her cupcake. While I would love to blame my weight gain on pneumonia and prescriptions, I know this is not true. It was all the junk food I ate, coupled with the fact that I had quit my workouts. I have to be honest, because that is what allows me to change. Honesty releases my brain to start solving the problem and quit living with shame in the past. I don’t need to feel ashamed or embarrassed. This is what happened. It is what it is. How do I change it? When I give my brain a puzzle, it happily goes on a quest to find answers; and its happiness increases my happiness. This is true for everyone.
3) I am grateful that I know I can succeed. There’s a funny thing that happens in your mind. If you can succeed in one thing—ANYTHING—your brain remembers this, and it will help you figure out how to succeed again. It does not matter if you’re a genius or not. You just have to ask yourself some questions, and help yourself remember. What was my mindset when I succeeded? Who helped me (did I do this by myself, with a friend/relative, or did I join a group)? When I encountered a problem, how did I solve it? When my progress slowed down or seemed to stop, how did I manage to get it going again? How did I achieve my goal last time? Bonus thought: when you succeeded last time, it was God’s (or the universe’s) way of telling you that you deserved this awesome achievement, and you should be proud of yourself. You are worthy. I have never lost this much weight before; however, I HAVE lost weight in the past, so I know I can do this if I use a little effort.
4) I am grateful that I can work out. One of my favorite workouts is a TurboFire video. During the cool down Chalene Johnson says, “Know that you are blessed to be able to do this workout.” I smile and give a fist pump every time, because yeah, there are people around me who can’t. I stopped workouts in the spring. I start them again tomorrow. My plan is to do my favorite workouts for the first three weeks, then I can add others. Why? Because I know it takes about twenty-one days to build a habit; since I like how I feel when I work out, this plan will help me succeed. See a new pattern emerging? (I simply asked my brain questions, and it went to work for me.)
5) I am grateful for today’s blog post. To be honest, I felt humiliated when I read the number on my scale. I was embarrassed and ashamed that I had allowed myself to become this size. When I pulled out my gratitude journal, I did not feel grateful, because I had been lying to myself for months. I had betrayed myself. But, through writing to you, I found my five things (plus more). To be honest, I had a different idea for my very first blog post to kick off June, but I think this one might be better. Why? Today I talked about my weight, I confessed to a billion strangers (ok, maybe closer to 50, but still, strangers) that I had gained an unhealthy amount of weight, and I told everyone that I start my workouts again tomorrow. Whether I meant to or not, I just gave myself accountability, because somebody who reads this is going to check in on me somewhere down the road. (I’m kind of depending on it, so don’t be shy! J) Hopefully, I also gave some of you some ideas on how to take more positive steps.
Be kind to yourself. If you are reading my blog, you are a cupcake, full of all that is good and right in the world. Gluten-free, old, young, burnt, plain, frosted, it does not matter. If you’re reading this paragraph, something here resonated, and I hope it helps you in some way. We don’t have to feel ashamed when things don’t go the way we want or planned. Sometimes failure (or weight gain) is God’s (or Source’s) encouragement for us to find other ways to succeed. You are wonderful just the way you are, and you deserve to be happy. Do yourself a favor today. Ask yourself these questions:
1) What is one goal I have for today/this week/this month/this year?
2) How can I do this?
3) Who can I share this with, so I can receive support and comfort?
4) What five things, no matter how small, can I be grateful for right now?
Still here? Yay! I am so grateful that you came here today, I am grateful that you read my blog all the way to the end, and I am so grateful that you are going to take time to comment on my post! J or just let me know how you’re doing. Got something to share? Great! I’d love to hear your story.