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Sin and Shame

Weight Gain Is Twice As Heavy As the Number on the Scale

There is a lot of talk about bias against fat people in the obesity community. It shows up in the workplace, bullying in the schoolyard, the doctor’s office, one's career and economic status, bias in the classroom, romantic relationships, and in silent attitudes.

And these are just the pressures from the outside.

I work in social media, disseminating content about obesity and healthy living, and I’ve seen a dramatic uptick in self-hatred that stems from extreme body-hatred that is naked and bordering on the obscene. Google Medium and look up tags for Fat Acceptance, Weight Loss, Life, Mental Health or Health.

As someone who lost and regained 180 pounds, I understand self-hatred but in my case it’s taken the form of extreme shame rather than (until today) public self-flagellation. I sometimes post an article on my Facebook page about obesity, but I haven’t written about mine in a long time. There are few people I talk to about other forms my shame takes, and no one I talk to about my mother of all shames. I live in silence, which has increased over the couple of years to the point that I rarely speak at all.

I am bad. I too often commit the sin of gluttony and daily live in the sin of sloth.

Hieronymus Bosch - Wikimedia Commons
Source: Hieronymus Bosch - Wikimedia Commons

I live in sin. It feels as dirty and heavy as cubes of stuff spit out of a junk yard baling press.

Shame, according to the redoubtable Brene Brown, is a deep-seated feeling that one is bad (as opposed to guilt, which is a feeling of transgression). “Shame,” she says, “derives its power from being unspeakable.”

That is what I feel. My weight gain is a sin I cannot confess or discuss, that I cannot show to the world. Shame has shaded all the other parts of me as well. Being near thin people makes me cringe with the feeling of monstrosity. I no longer feel I’m intelligent, witty or sympathetic enough for friends and family to want me in their lives. My work makes this worse. There is an increasing body of evidence that obesity shrinks the gray matter of the brain. Every day now I question whether I’m losing my shit or whether I lost it 50 years ago.

Adding stupidity to the list of laziness and gluttony is a hard hit. For most of my life I felt I at least had my intellect to compensate for the differences my body made in social interactions.

Writing this post is difficult. I feel inchoate after so much silence.

Shame has made me agoraphobic. Taking a walk is both a physical and emotional war with myself. It has led lately to anhedonia. I knew the loss of pleasure was infecting everything but my epiphany came when I drank an apricot-flavored club soda and realized I hadn’t tasted it. I sleep a lot to escape my self. I am so immured in humiliation and isolation that bathing is next to impossible (who cares? My dog likes me more for the aroma, and besides, no one is in my life to notice), brushing my hair or teeth a rarity, cleaning the bathroom is a bucket list item. (The rest of my house is pretty well trashed as well, but I can blame that on having to pile things where my puppy can’t get to them. And besides: who's to know?)

This week I realized I have to find a boarding school for my five-month-old Labrador. I’ve taught Lismore her name but she’s not housebroken, doesn’t sit (or stay, lie down, come, stay on the floor, keep her mouth shut), and isn’t getting enough exercise. I desperately do not want to lose her but I know I can't trust myself to reliably take her to weekly classes or follow through with a trainer.

This is currently my worst shame – that and my attempt to embrace Brown’s pronouncement that, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change”. I emailed two friends suggesting dinner and didn’t heard back. She says vulnerability is neither winning nor losing, that it is both. But I’m too defenseless – too vulnerable – to stand up to defeat in even the mildest wind.

If I’m going to find vulnerability it’s going to have to be here, in my office, in between my Xeroxed days and six-hour naps.

I hate being fat. It’s limiting, disfiguring, and dangerous. But I don’t much hate my body, except when I hang around thin people. I see too many obese my age who may be my size, or smaller or larger, on scooters, limping heavily into the grocery store (one of my few destinations and only when I’m desperate), using a cane, swollen-ankled, in obvious agony. Considering that, I’m lucky and possibly salvageable.

What I cannot stand is that I’ve failed, leaving me indifferent and without anything to look forward to – including, ironically, food. The shame of my weight gain has infected my ambitions, commitments, possibilities, basic self-care, and assets.

Jase Bloor/Unsplash
Source: Jase Bloor/Unsplash

Reading that list of other failures reminds me of who I once was and of what I no longer feel capable or deserving of being.