In December, at the last SHiFT team meeting of the year, Gina presented the idea of “Just January” as the theme. We all loved it but what Amanda said struck a chord deep within me.
“January 1st is always hyped up as ‘New Year, new me’… ,” she said (referring to the diet and fitness industry). Then (and here’s the important part) she said, “ … that just isn’t what SHiFT is about. That isn’t addiction recovery.”
As far back as I can remember, my New Year’s resolutions were always the same. Year after year, I bought into the lie that January 1st was all about finding my resolve and channeling it into the diet and fitness industry. “New Year, new me” meant attaining a new version of my physical self from which I would measure my worth.
I resolved to religiously follow whatever food and exercise program might get me to the magic number on the scale. I resolved to accept whatever physical and / or emotional pain it might cost to finally arrive at the version of myself who deserved all that life had to offer.
On the surface, my reasons for making my resolutions were countless. It’s true that societal standards and social pressures played a part but then there were “real” reasons too.
Reasons like wanting to wear that black dress with the tags still on it…( did I really just buy another dress that only fit for 36 seconds of my my life in a fitting room!?).
Then there were the practical reasons. Certainly I’d attract better partners and have better relationships. In my career, I’d be more successful and more highly respected. And still, more reasons. I told myself when I “get there”, then I will be able to do all of the things I want to do.
But at the most basic, honest level, there was only one reason for the years of resolutions and desire for a “new me”. That reason was shame. Of course, I didn’t know this until I entered recovery…
When I was six years old, I remember my mother took me to a new doctor. I wasn’t exactly sure why, nor was I paying attention to the conversation they were having. The three of us sat in a room and while I was aware of their voices in the background, I was in my own world, entertaining myself in my 6 year old imagination. Suddenly, I heard the doctor’s voice, loud and angry. I heard him say something about wasting his time… “( blah, blah, blah)… she’s just a fat kid!”
This was the first time I’d ever heard the word “fat” used to label a person. Without fully comprehending what this meant for me, my life was forever changed in that moment. Somehow, intuitively, I believed it meant defective.
I’d just been fed my first message of shame.
When I turned to my mother, I saw her eyes lowered. I didn’t understand it but I watched her beautiful face crumple in pain with silent tears. She took my hand, whisked me out of the office and I never saw that doctor again.
Through no fault of anyone, a seed of belief was planted in me that day.
So long as I was fat, there was something wrong with me. It didn’t take much for this belief to grow.
In grade 4, in front of the class on pizza day, my teacher said, “ You shouldn’t be allowed pizza, you should be eating salad.”
Message of shame.
In grade 5, my neighbour said, “ You shouldn’t wear shorts because no one should have to see your legs.”
Message of shame.
While at a normal body weight in high school, the guy I liked said he’d take me out if “I ran around the block a few times”.
Message of shame.
As an adult, my then long term partner told me if I put my face on my athletic friend’s body, “I’d never have to work a day in my life.”
Message of shame.
The point I am making here is that from a young age, I was bombarded with messages of shame. I was powerless not to believe them. My pervasive shame around food and weight cultivated the belief that I was inadequate and unworthy. This belief was based entirely on what other people said ( or what I perceived they thought) about my body and food choices.
This belief dictated over 40 years of my life and it is precisely what kept my self worth tied to a number on the scale.
The irony was that even when I reached the magic number on the scale, my perception of myself didn’t change. Before long, I was resolving to reach the next level “new me”. Life didn’t change. The only thing that changed was the number on the scale. By narrowing the scope of my worth to the size of my body, not much else mattered. I could be educated, kind and honest. I could work hard and have financial security. I could be a generous and loving person and yet nothing spoke as loudly about my value as my weight.
My logical mind can’t win a fight with addiction but with patience, love and support, it can win a fight against shame. Exploring the idea that my beliefs had been rooted in messages of shame allowed me to let them go. In time, I built new beliefs that I could trust.
This year, I challenge you to expose your messages of shame for the lies that they are. This year I challenge you not to “become a new you” but rather to “see a new you”. See the you who is (and always has been!) worthy of love. See the you who is deserving of all that life has to offer, starting now, just as you are.
This is what SHiFT is about. This is addiction recovery.