Shame is something like this:

The morning horror of mirror pinching and posing and propping your hair this way across your forehead so that the acne is covered and tilting far enough to one direction so that the reflection is false enough to please you. And then, it’s something like this, like every reflective surface at school today, every piece of glass, is a reason to contort and to pull and pull and pull at the corners of your shirt to cover your biscuit dough stomach. It’s pulling and pulling so maybe the cotton will stretch out enough, maybe the shirt will grow in size, maybe it will fit properly if you yank the threads and test the boundaries of a size Large. Hooking a finger around the back belt loop of your pants so the sliver of separation that starts low on your back won’t slide out of the pants three sizes too small.

Shame is leaving the dog’s leash coiled, too perfectly, in the center of the front room, so Mom comes home and thinks you’ve been outside today, outside this week. It’s when you quit the soccer team after the first practice because running the length of the field fills your lungs with sharp crystals and you can’t breathe but you can’t cough, either. It’s the six visits to the physical therapists for the ankles you keep cracking, twisting, pulling. The nurse says your name and points and you stare at the wall in front of your nose and you don’t look at the number she rights on the piece of paper and you step down and you don’t look at her either. The doctor, he draws a bell curve on a yellow pad and he points to the far right tail. Your ankles are too small to support your bigness.

Shame is not eating for seventeen, thirty-four hours, and then it’s the empty burn at the top of your throat and you open the fridge and the shining Kraft bag of shredded yellow cheese shocks your body into automatic consumption. And then it’s a bowl of ice cream with hardened, caramelized chocolate syrup dripping between the cleavage of three bulbous scoops; four slices of salami meat rolled around crushed Goldfish crackers and consumed in one bite; a miniature pizza, frozen at first and still frozen in the middle when it slides out of the toaster oven, stared with cubes of pepperoni, hot cheese hot enough to blister the roof of your mouth and cold dough in the center that tastes just like clay, like disastrous uncooked food that you eat anyway; and then its peanut butter on bread and honey from the spoon and handfuls of chocolate chips and coated pretzel bites and cups of raisins and a bag of grapes because finally fruit cools the cheek-burning insanity. Fruit makes you feel healthy and empowered. Fruit is good so you eat a pound of grapes and leave the browned stems in piles on the carpet.

Shame is the bowls and the napkins and the plates that take two trips to remove from your upstairs bedroom down to the kitchen, and it’s when you wash and dry and return every dish to the cabinet except for one — one dirty dish left on the countertop — so Mom knows you ate, but she doesn’t know how much.

Shame is something like this.


Allison Smith is a soon-to-be graduate of the Literature and Language program at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. She writes about recovery from Binge Eating Disorder here.