The Parts of Me You Weren't Supposed to See

When I'm anxious, I eat. When I'm upset, uncomfortable, unsettled, I eat. Fast and without pleasure.

It's a private habit. It doesn't fit with how I want to show myself to the world. So, I keep it hidden from the world.

One weekend in autumn, I went to a workshop at a lodge deep in rural Maine. I knew the workshop would be intense, unsettling. And I knew the dining hall had limited fare.

So, along with bug spray and towels, I packed myself food. Cans of Progresso soup. Packages of lunch meat.

I shared a rickety, buggy cabin with some friends. They'd forgotten bug spray. Use mine, I offered. Anytime.

Dining hall meals were all right. But nothing you could wrap in a napkin, put in your pocket for later. Which was fine. I had my bag of options for when the workshop got too charged.

Then one morning at the dining hall, over coffee and mediocre eggs, a cabinmate called out across the breakfast table, "If you don't like this food, Caitie brought enough food for herself to feed a village! All the soup and ham you could want!"

I stopped moving. My cabinmate had gone into my bag to get bug spray. And seen my private life. Now laid bare over coffee and mediocre eggs.

The breakfast table chuckled, moved on. But I didn't. Couldn't. I was too exposed. Too unprotected. Too ashamed.

You weren't supposed to see that, I moaned silently. You were supposed to see the prepared parts of me. The presentable parts of me. You weren't supposed to see evidence of that desperate, uncontrolled part of me.

I left the table. Would have left the workshop if I'd had a car. Because the thing about shame is it's so loud. So total. So able to drown everything else in us out. I couldn't see beyond it.

So, I limped through the weekend. Kept my neck tucked in. Willed the clock to move forward faster. And forgot there was more to me than shame.

Which there is. Always was. Always will be.

And if I took anything from that autumn weekend it's that I've got to choose to hold my shame. Hold it with kindness. But not be beholden to it. Even if my shame is so loud, so total that I have to choose again, again, again.

I can't shame myself out of my private habits. Or shame myself into the person I want to be. That takes compassion and curiosity and playfulness and self-respect. Those beautiful things.

And when the world sees me or you or any of us as we don't want to be seen, laid bare across the breakfast table, let's not forget that those are beautiful things we can be beholden to.

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Growing WiserCaitie Whelan