Shame Log #3

Wow. All this mental unburdening is quite the thing. I just want to spill the beans on everything to get the sense of peace it gives me afterwards. I should have done this years ago.

Once I had experienced the attention that boys could give me, I needed it all the time. After the first foursome date I arranged and the loss of my virginity at 15, came another boyfriend. He was needier than I could handle – the irony was that I wanted all the love and attention, but when I got it it made me feel like the boy was weak and pathetic. I was destined to end up chasing bad guys (who I’m certain I would have rejected had they behaved better and declared their love), and feeling suffocated by the guys who were actually capable of showing me love.

My parents never displayed any kind of physical affection towards me, so I found it oppressive to be pawed at, but I also criticised anyone who didn’t demonstrate they loved me physically. When my new boyfriend stated “I love you” in a wobbly voice at the end of one of our phone calls, I ran a mile. 

I ended it and got straight into a relationship with a Turkish boy who lived nearby. He was 15 and a complete novice around girls, so at first he seemed sweet and charming.

Because I was so ashamed of having already slept with someone, I made the mistake of telling him I was still a virgin (as he was). We slept together just before my 16th birthday. By this point his controlling personality had started to emerge. He wanted to dictate what I wore, how I behaved, and where I went.

In the new year, a friend from school started to spend more time with me and him and his friends. We would all hang around together in parks or at whoevers house had an absent parent. We were all children of separated parents who worked, left unsupervised too often.

My friend told my boyfriend I kept a diary and he became obsessed with it. Between them they hatched a plan for her to ask me to go shopping after school and for him to go to our house to steal the diary.

Only my younger brother, 9, was home, and he unwittingly let my boyfriend into the house where he stole the diary and left.

I don’t know if you can imagine how utterly shameful it is to have your diary exposed to the public. These days it would have gone on facebook or something, so at least I can be thankful that wasn’t the case back then.

Worst of all were my deepest secrets about how I had lost my virginity already. My boyfriend called my house and screamed at my Dad that he might have AIDS (which was all over the news constantly).

I wanted to die of shame. I felt sick inside. I turned to my mum and for the first and probably only time ever, she stood up and became a proper parent. She drove me to his house, confronted his mum and asked for the diary back.

You’d think that would be the end of it – but he seemed upset that we had split up. He hung around our house waiting to talk to me, and we ended up back together. The following months were a mess of on/off while he played around with other girls everywhere, including my friend who had set up the diary theft and treated me like a possession of his, verbal abuse and humiliation being his favourite way to reduce me to tears. In a ridiculous teenage stunt to get him to pull in line, I told him I thought I was pregnant (I knew I wasn’t). He told everyone, and then when I said a few days later I wasn’t he told everyone I had had an abortion. Yeah. What a total prick.

With hindsight I can see so clearly how at each step of our relationship I could have done it differently and just walked away. But I didn’t seem to be able to.

In the end, it was circumstance that got me away. My parents divorce came through, both my parents moved away and I was taken in by a kind set of parents whose daughter was my friend so I could do my A-levels. Meeting up became impossible living under a stable family roof and his volatile personality had become an embarrassment to me.

I moved on. Lucky, very lucky.

I was left very emotionally bruised, defensive, angry and ashamed after over a year of allowing him to derail my life. So instead of learning from it, and admitting I had dated a total loser for so long, I covered it up. New home, new friends. Nobody needed to know.

But inside I was a mess. And more mess followed.

How I Feel Now

Retelling this now makes me feel so sad, more than anything. I had so little self-respect and needed affection so badly, I would take anything offered. My parents were pretty much absent, in the midst of sorting out a divorce, both of them out of the house for long hours (doing god knows what), and they did practically zero parenting. I was left, with my 9 year old brother, to navigate personalities that I had no idea how to deal with. I had no support, no sounding board, and no supervision at all. I could stay out all night and my parents wouldn’t ask where I’d been. I was clubbing til 2am every weekend and I don’t think they ever asked where I was going. I was alone and doing the best I could with a very poorly equiped toolbox.

It’s been hard dredging up these memories, but they are me. They are my history. I can’t pretend they aren’t and it’s wrong to try to be someone else. So, welcome back to the real me. I dated a total arsehole for over a year and let him treat me like dirt because I was so short on real love and affection.

Breaking free of a shitty relationship is tough when all you have is emptiness to go back to. My parents gave me nothing, so crumbs of affection from a turd were a better option.

My own shame and lack of self-love left me open to exploitation and actually, I am lucky it wasn’t much worse.

It amazes me now the clarity with which I can see that covering it up as my “shameful past” stopped me from learning how to create a better future. I repeated the same mistakes over and over and over again.

But I didn’t know I needed parental love. Back then I thought I didn’t care about my parents and a relationship with a boy could make me whole. I couldn’t really have known any different until I became a parent myself and the vast blackness of missing love became as clear and obvious as headlights in the night.

I always thought that the things that happened to me did so because I was a failure, faulty, promiscuous, stupid, etc. When I compared myself to all the other girls who had stable family homes I couldn’t understand how I could be so dirty while they stayed so clean and shiny. I see now that we were all the same – we were all teenage girls – I just had no rules, no guidance and no emotional connection with anyone to show me the path I could have taken. It is dark in the woods on your own, and wrong turnings are just wrong turnings. Nothing more.

Insomnia

It’s 2:30am and I’ve been awake for an hour and a half. I’m going to be wrecked tomorrow and it’s Saturday, which means the three children at home and the husband, all needing me to not be wrecked.

I woke up, mid-dream, when my 5 year old came in asking me to find his teddy. Then he wanted a drink. By the time I was back in bed my brain was in full-on analysis mode and sleep has been impossible.

Here’s what’s keeping me awake:

  1. A stomach ache. We had a takeaway curry for dinner and I overate. I noticed yesterday in the playground that my reflection in the school window showed a very unflattering fat stomach. I look about 4 months pregnant. I’ve put a couple of kilos on since cutting out the sugar and all weight piles on my stomach and nowhere else. I need to eat a bit less.
  2. Yesterday morning when I got home I found a blob of what looked suspiciously like semen on the floor outside the kitchen. So my husband must have had a wank before leaving (I left first), which is his business, but why there and why the fuck didn’t he clear up properly?
  3. The fences are rattling. Our neighbour had concrete post and wood panel fencing fitted a couple of years back and even the slightest amount of wind shakes the panels back and forth in the posts. It is so fucking irritating as our bedroom faces the tiny back garden and every time I start to relax I get a fence-shake in my ear to wake me up again. It wouldn’t be sane to go outside at this hour and hammer some planks into the fences at one end to bolster them against the lawn, but that’s exactly what I feel like doing. 
  4. The heating system/radiator is quietly whistling. I’ve tried to turn the fucking thing off overnight but we have a “weather compensator” which basically means our heating system does whatever the fuck it wants.
  5. Our neighbour has left his conservatory light on, which makes our room light up. It can never be dark enough for me at night, so having the room all lit up isn’t helping either.
  6. You know, my parents never, ever touched or hugged me as a child. How exactly do you get over the feeling that you are just not someone anyone would like to touch? It doesn’t help that I have married a man who is exactly the same. He has never been touchy-feely and never comes anywhere near me.

So there we go. Stupid stuff that normally doesn’t keep me awake but tonight it’s all just really, really irritating.

And once you get annoyed about not being able to sleep – well, you’ve had it. Insomnia has been an ongoing problem for me since my first son was born 7 years ago and it truly, truly sucks.

Wish me luck, it’s been two hours now and I’m going to give sleep another go.

Turning A Corner

Finally my mood is lifting. I feel like I have been through a black tunnel of misery – no joke. It’s day 15 of no sugar and I no longer feel like I want to kill someone. Perhaps just punch them in the face.

The cravings are still there, but they haven’t been as bad for the last two days. I’m not almost crying over the fact that I don’t want to eat any sugar. Now it’s more of a whine in the background: mmm sugary foods. But I’ve stayed strong – and I am feeling better. I feel clear-headed, which is nice. Clear-headed-but-still-a-bit-irritable just about sums it up.

Rash wise, there has been NO change on my breast this week. Nada. I am so disappointed. My toe however, which I wasn’t even thinking about at the time I stopped eating sugary foods, is making a miraculous recovery. This is the same rash that withstood two different types of anti-fungal cream. The top picture is today, the bottom picture is two weeks ago when I started.

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Isn’t that amazing? So, I am successfully killing off whatever fungus that was because I’m not feeding it with any sugar. But what about the rash on my breast? I can now assume that the breast rash is not fungal (I was convinced it was, which was the motivating factor for cutting sugar out in the first place). So it must be something else. Contact dermatitis? Eczema? The thing is, all of these should be helped by cutting out sugar, but no luck so far. I’m going to have to do some more reading I think.

Exercise is also going well, and I am enjoying the running especially now it is not so cold outside. I know I need too start adding in some strength work, but I haven’t quite psyched myself up for it just yet.

Mentally I’m clearing the clutter too. Working through old things, facing up to who I am, getting on with self-acceptance (you can view my mental ramblings in my Shame Log posts).

I think I need to cut down on alcohol. I am still drinking every night, and I couldn’t face giving that up as well as the sugar, but now I’m two weeks in, feeling better, and looking at my mental health, I have to admit that drinking every night is not what I would call self-respect. It’s a comfort thing. I am thinking I might cut down to Fri/Sat/Sun only and try to stay teetotal on Mon-Thu. It’s tough though. I love my wine. Perhaps I will give it a go after the weekend.

Shame Log #2

I read somewhere a while back that you make the biggest gains if you deal with your biggest weaknesses first. I’ve tested the water talking about my academic record, so now I’m going to dive straight into one of the things that carries the biggest shame factor, for me. My sexual history (ugh. even writing those words makes me feel all icky inside). I don’t even know how many partners I’ve had – counting them would be too horrible. Less than fifteen I guess. I have a whole host of sexual hang-ups which I’ve been meaning to do something about for about 20 years, so why not now eh? Anything that causes comfort-eating and -drinking is bad for my super-health journey, so lets just get all this dirty washing out in the open and take a good, honest look at it from the beginning.

My parents

My mother never really had any hang-ups about her body that I was aware of. It doesn’t mean they weren’t there, just that my mum was very laid back about everything and was more likely to make jokes about boyfriends and sex than guide me or forbid me from doing anything. The sense of shame I picked up from her was really just a horrible feeling of self-consciousness because she would laugh at things that children and teenagers find painfully difficult to deal with (what size my boobs might end up, poking fun at me liking boys – she spent ages teasing me for liking someone on the telly that I didn’t actually like at all, but she seemed to think I ‘fancied’ him).

My father was the son of a lapsed catholic who lived in sin with my grandmother after walking out of his first marriage (and she, hers). I always thought it sounded like a love story, but my grandmother lived her life in terror of being found out, and I didn’t even know until she was close to the end of her life. My dad never instilled any religious teachings on us, but he was an extremely critical father. Everything I did was either wrong, or not good enough. And boys were a total no no. He did NOT approve of them at all, or of me spending any time with them.

Aside: you can see why I struggle so much with shame, right? My mum laughed at me and my Dad criticised me. Great job, people!

Boys

Okay, onwards. My first few boyfriends were innocent enough. Kisses on holiday, that kind of thing. But once I discovered the attention I could get from boys, I found it addictive – I didn’t get anything like it at home, and I never had. All I wanted was to find true love and live happily ever after. Neither my father nor my mother ever talked to me or related to me in the same tender way as a boy who was interested in me. I had real conversations with them. They listened and for the first time in my life, I felt desirable. I felt loveable.

I can’t even use the losing-my-‘v’ word right now without squirming with distaste inside, so instead I’ll say that I slept with someone when I was 15. He was 17. I was underage. There we go – I was underage (cringe). 

My mother had walked out on our family after Christmas, just after I turned 15. By February I’d arranged a foursome date with two boys and a friend from school who was also a little bit lost.

I ended up getting together with her date (I honestly have no idea exactly how – I literally can’t remember the details, but I think my friend was a bit miffed that I dated the first boy briefly and then hers afterwards as he hadn’t been as keen on her). He lived a little way from us, so it was weekends mostly. He was a nice guy, really. He wasn’t a scumbag, or an arsehole, or anything like that. He seemed to genuinely really like me. And I was so grateful that he liked me, I slept with him. Not because I felt ugly, but because I got no affection from either of my parents and I was so in need of love. It was that simple. I didn’t fancy him that much, but he was nice to me and he liked being my boyfriend, so I felt like I had to reward him with what he wanted (I told you I was a people-pleaser – I have repeated this pattern many times). He did pressure me – he asked a lot after the first few weeks when I would sleep with him. In the end I did. And afterwards, I felt pretty awful.

I remember going to school the next day and looking at all the girls in their uniforms (it was a single sex school), and thinking how young and naive they all must be compared to me, now that I wasn’t a virgin anymore (ugh! horrible!). I felt ashamed of what I had done, but also strangely grown-up. I told one person at school – a girl I had developed a friendship with who lived with just her mum. She had a huge amount of freedom to come and go as she pleased because her mum worked. She was also a little lost, I guess. 

I am pretty sure our sex life amounted to just one occasion. A few weeks later I went on holiday with my father and brother to France. While there I met a shy, blonde boy who I did quite fancy. I think we might even have kissed right at the end of the holiday – memory fails me somewhat. He lived on the other side of London to me, but we swapped phone numbers. When I got home, I ended the relationship with the first boy I ever slept with. He wasn’t happy. He asked if something had happened in France. I lied and said no, to save his feelings (and my shame). He stormed off from our house towards the train station and I never saw him again.

So that was that. Events following this, which I’ll come to later, meant that I suffered under the belief I was some kind of slut until quite recently.  But the facts are:

I lost my virginity around three months after my fifteenth birthday. I didn’t really love or particularly fancy the boy I slept with, who was two years older than me, but he was a nice boy. Two months later I ended the relationship. I think we were together around 3.5 months in total.

How I Feel About This Now

Writing it down in black and white today is the most thought I’ve given this as an adult. To this day the only people that know I slept with him are me and him, and my friend from school who I haven’t been in touch with for years (turned out to be a pretty toxic friendship, something else I’ve had problems with repeatedly). And now of course, all of the internet. But actually that’s okay. 

I thought I was a permanently ruined person for so long. I carried around this thing I’d done while still a child like some kind of sick secret. I thought I’d thrown away my chance of true, romantic love, that I was damaged goods, that no man would ever, ever want me because I’d already given it away to someone else. I truly believed all these things for years. So I covered it up, pretended it didn’t happen. Which of course came with it’s own set of problems (planning on covering that in my next shame log).

None of these things are true. It happened. I did it for the wrong reasons. It wasn’t even because I was in love or lust, it was just to make someone else happy. It didn’t and doesn’t make me a slut or slag or anything else like that. But maybe if I hadn’t turned it into a shameful secret I wouldn’t have done it again and again for the next however many years.

It was my body, and I gave it away to please someone else. It was a silly mistake. But it wasn’t the end of the world. And by acknowledging it, it makes me different. Wiser. More complete. Welcome back to the real me.

No physical pain or anger on this one. Regret. Embarrassment. Sadness for my self. But not any more. Now I stand tall and can say it out loud. I was 3 months past my 15th birthday when I lost my virginity. I would like that event to have been a more romantic occasion but it wasn’t. Hey – I can even use the word virginity without cringing now. And no, the earth definitely did not move 🙂.

Shame Log #1

My shame started early, but I really began concocting stories to make me more ‘perfect’ from the age of about 15. There’s a lot to cover, and a lot of it is too painful for me to even consider right now, so I thought I would start with my Masters degree, which I completed in my late twenties. I’ve always proudly announced the fact that I got a distinction.

I knew the institution was an ex-polytechnic (these were lesser rated institutions in the UK that all got university status in 1992), and I suspected it wasn’t the best university even at the time of application but I had the choice of Westminster or Imperial as no one else nearby offered the conversion course I wanted (I could have moved, but I was living with my ex-boyfriend so it wasn’t really an option at the time – we split up, so maybe I should have considered my choice more carefully, but that’s more shame so we’ll leave that for now). The Imperial fees were £10k, Westminster was £3k. I couldn’t afford Imperial.

For years I have kind of glossed over that choice, hanging onto the fact that I got a distinction (the highest award for a masters degree), and ignoring the status of the university itself.

So today, I took a deep breath and looked it up in the league tables, both for my subject and as a whole. Westminster is in the bottom quarter of UK universities. I’ll just write that again, shall I? The university I got my masters at is one of the worst universities in the UK.

I kind of knew this, but I’d never bothered to verify it. I had just ignored it.

On facing up to this fact, and repeating it to myself, I felt actual physical pain in my chest. The pain of failure, humiliation, and shame. Why? Because I have always been told how clever I am – my parents drummed it into me as a child, and because it feels like a part of my identity to be academic – at primary school I was never the pretty one, I was the boy-haired clever one. And also because one of my oldest friends, who I seem to have a complex relationship with (more on that later), went to Oxford, straight out of school. The best UK university.

I felt so upset, my chest hurt and I wanted to cry. Then I got angry and thought that I may as well have not gone to a shit university at all – I’d be better off deleting it from my CV and identity. What a stupid mistake. I’d rather have no degree than one that says I am shit, right? But of course that is also a form of false identity that prevents healthy self-acceptance. To deny it is the same as making it out to be better than it was. Both are an attempt by me to avoid feeling ashamed.

But here’s the thing – I don’t need to feel ashamed. The shame is all in my head. It’s there because I didn’t live up to my parents’ label, and because it isn’t the view I have constructed of myself, and because I feel as though my friend feels superior to anyone who didn’t go to Oxford, especially me, and it was my way of competing with it – well at least I have a masters with distinction. I sat there and breathed through the feeling, sinking deep into the pain and humiliation and regret and everything else. I just experienced it. No fighting, no anger, no self-pity. And it started to pass. Because you can’t walk around like that all the time. So I just kept thinking about it, and breathing, and telling myself the facts. I got a masters degree from a not very good university.

And you know what? It’s okay. I went and dug out the certificate to take a look at it. It was still a worthwhile experience, I still worked hard, and I got a job at the end of it that I loved and couldn’t have gotten had I not done a masters at Westminster. It doesn’t mean I’m an academic failure. But I have to accept that academically I don’t present as a superstar, no matter how clever I was told I was as a child, and no matter how much I feel as though I should or would if life had been different and I’d had more supportive parents, etc. It doesn’t mean I’m an idiot for choosing a less well-respected university without checking up on it first. It is what it is. And it is a part of my whole. I don’t need to hide it, big it up, change it or lie about it. Welcome back to the real me.

So many years I have carried around that shame and feeling of failure. But maybe I can let that go now. I can just state what I did for what it was. It’s a relief not to have to make it seem better so people don’t judge me.

Now, as painful as the moment was, that wasn’t too bad. I am anticipating that other things I need to deal with will take a bit more than a few kind words to myself, but we’ll see.

I Am Ashamed

Today, while I sat with yet more tears streaming down my face, still reeling from a morning of tears and depression, I had a kind of epiphany. Without my crutches, my crappy comfort foods, there is nowhere to hide from myself. And I searched, deeply, for what the hell is going on in my head. For the reasons behind so much of my mental anguish. And I think I found it.

I am horribly ashamed of myself. Almost everything I’ve done brings me shame, and I’ve spent my life trying to reinvent myself to get rid of it – to bury it and cover it up. But it never goes away. I think I have a fundamental tendency to view what I do as not good enough. Where this stems from I am not entirely sure. I have always felt very self-conscious and “judged” even when I was tiny – some of my earliest memories include feelings of self-consciousness and embarrassment.
My parents and even some of my oldest friends have judged a lot of the things I have done, and I have always carried around the idea, spoken many times by people in my life, that I am falling short of my potential. My father was ruthlessly critical of everything my brother and I did. My mother was physically and verbally abused for the first 17 years of her life and had her own world of problems that made being a present and stable mother figure almost impossible for her.

I have never really felt that I have done right, in anything, unless it is perfect.

I was going to write a list of things I am ashamed of, but the list goes on and on and on – too long for me to probably ever finish. It ranges from things I did at school, to the way I acted at work, to my personal conduct in relationships, to my self-image, my career, my (limited) achievements, my taste in everything, my parenting, my everything.

Funny enough, even recognising that this is the root of the problem (and I guess shame is in some way a rejection of self-acceptance and self-love), has made me feel better. I know what’s wrong with me. 

So I need to work through all this – this mountain of shame and embarrassment and the feeling that I am inferior, and not as good in any way as anyone else.

How the hell I am going to do that I am not sure, but it must start with accepting exactly what I am and what I have done, no matter how distasteful that seems to me.

Panic Attack

To continue my shitty morning I went to a mum and baby group with my daughter who is almost 18 months. I never really got the whole mum and baby group thing. It’s just a bunch of women getting together who have fuck-all in common other than the fact they have given birth recently.

I always felt like an outsider when I went to them when the boys were babies and I did again today. I just sat there wondering why I persist in doing things I really don’t care about but think I *should* be doing, wondering why everyone else seems so much more happy and confident than I am. My daughter is the most anxious baby ever and would not let go of my hand the entire time. I think this is down to me spending nine months of pregnancy in a constant state of red alert because of all the miscarriages I’d had before. I literally spent every waking minute (and a fair few of the sleeping ones), afraid she was going to die at any second. Baby F came out stressed out and has never really recovered. Her personality is fearful of everything.

So, there we were, she was hanging onto my hand as she had done for the whole hour we’d been there and I was standing around feeling like a spare part, when suddenly she lost her balance and even though I had hold of her hand somehow she managed to dive head first onto the solid floor with a horrible smack sound.

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Well of course, she screamed and screamed. But I was unexpectedly upset beyond all reason as well. I think it was the combination of feeling shitty anyway, the fact it felt like it was my fault because she was holding my hand at the time, how out of place and isolated I felt and also a feeling of shame that I had let my child get hurt.

Anyway, we put some ice on her head, but she screamed and screamed. She calmed down a bit when I took it away, but then she lost it again when I tried to sit back down with her. I’d been struggling to hold back the tears since she first fell, but suddenly they just started running down my face and I knew I couldn’t stop them any longer. I was going to cry my eyes out and I couldn’t stop it. I got up and grabbed my bag and I couldn’t even speak a proper goodbye because I was trying to stop my chest from heaving out these massive sobs.

The two girls that run it were clearly concerned but all I could do was shake my head and leave – oh god it was all so embarrasing.

Walking back to the car I actually heard myself gasping little sobs out loud that I couldn’t control. Once we were in the car I drove off and my breathing went haywire. I was uncontrollably gasping my in-breath, around four or five times in succession, like I was suffocating and I couldn’t breathe. I was actually a bit frightened that my airways were going to close up (the only other time I had a panic attack was after nearly being hit by a car on my bike in 1998 – 19 years ago almost to the day – and my breathing was so erratic and laboured afterwards I was terrified I was going to die. I had a very competent, confident boyfriend at the time who stayed completely calm and just waited it out with me, bless him). It took about 10 minutes before I could breathe in and out properly, without my chest jumping up and down, by which point we were home (yeah, I drove home. I needed to be home and I drove slow enough that I knew I could pull over at any point if my breathing got worse).

What the fuck. Right? I mean, being miserable and irritable is one thing, but that kind of reaction is totally disproportionate and unhelpful.

I am beginning to wonder – is this just my brain fucked after all the years of a high sugar diet? Is it the glass of wine I have every single night making me depressed and anxious? Or have I just spent 20 years unknowingly self-medicating with sugar and alcohol to cover up my fucked up, depressed and anxiety-ridden personality?

I just don’t know. But the only way to find out is to carry on and see if this ever improves.

I don’t think I have ever felt so low – my mood is on a par with how I was after I lost pregnancy after pregnancy. Back then I had a reason – now I’m just clueless as to why I feel so fucking awful.

I just don’t know what to do to make myself feel better.