I did something frivolous and utterly lovely this past Thursday.
My friend booked us both appointments at a spa, and I didn’t stop her. We had brunch at this gorgeous restaurant overlooking a waterfall, then I got a massage. It felt decadent and totally outside my regular life.
I’ve had massages before on occasion, but usually when I have been pregnant or, once, immediately postpartum. (Newborn Lilly spent the appointment sleeping between my shins, which sounds awkward, but worked out nicely.)
This time, the, Jana (“Yana”) the massage therapist gave me instructions and stepped out of the room while I stripped out of my fluffy spa bathrobe, put my hair in the highest possible messy bun (per her instructions), and laid on the heated table under the blanket. She reentered and I relaxed facedown, silently talking to Jesus and trying not to drool or fall asleep.
Something switched. I went from, “Thank you SO MUCH for this chance to rest and BE” to an irrepressible self-consciousness. I don’t know why. Somewhere between lying down and the massage of my left arm, I was overcome by shame. All I could think was, “I’m so sorry I’m fat. I’m sorry. I’m fat.”
I tried to talk myself down. I’ve worked so hard to be okay—grateful, even—in my body. To be strong and healthy and feed myself healthy food and let that be enough. This is important to me for my own sake and for my girls’ sakes as well. Yes, I’d like to set down the weight, just so I can spend less of my energy carting it around. But I feel almost comfortable with my body, and I’m happy with the work I’ve done, so to hear the inside of my head become a swirly vortex of “Ohmygosh, I’m so sorry I’m fat” was disheartening. Actually, to be honest, I felt shame about my shame. I don’t need to apologize for the space I take up. I’m paying actual dollars for this stranger to touch my naked self, and I don’t need to apologize for anything. Besides, she’s a massage therapist. She’s seen everything. It’s fine, Robin. Get a friggin’ grip.
The inner dialogue suddenly switched again to a compassionate, self-parenting tone: “Oh, hon. I’m so sorry you’re still here. It’s okay. You don’t need to apologize for your size and you don’t need to apologize for your shame, either. The work you’ve done is real. You’re not “back where you started.” I’m sad that it’s cropping up for you again now. Speak it aloud. Shame can’t survive when it’s spoken aloud.”
(Can I pause a moment here to celebrate the progress toward self-compassion? This is new for me.)
Jana had me roll over (no easy task when I had only two or three inches on either side of my body) and I blurted it out. “I can’t shut off this thought that I need to apologize for being fat. And I know it’s stupid—you’ve seen it all—but I just needed to say it.”
It was fine.
Of course it was.
Jana and I talked for much of the remainder of the appointment about nutrition and adrenal fatigue and insulin resistance and research (she’s going to school to be a nutritionist) and how it’s legitimately possible that a person might be trying really hard to be healthy but the body might not respond in the ways we hope.
You guys, it was terrifying to speak it aloud because I am, in the deepest part of me, still trying to be okay with my shape. Also, because I didn’t want to sound like an idiot. Because being fat is one thing, but being fat and stupid is too far. But Brené Brown is right. Shame can’t survive vulnerability or connection. I was vulnerable; she allowed connection; the shame dissipated.
This is what I want to remember: speaking shame aloud gives me a chance of stepping away from it.
Yes, being vulnerable to a stranger is a risk and requires some discernment. I can imagine people I know who would be poor choices to share shame with because of their own insecurities. Strangers can be wildcards, but they can also be kind.
It was worth the risk: my memory of that massage is now characterized by relaxation, bravery, and connection where there would have been shame and insecurity.