What are you doing in your metaphorical elevator?
Twice, in the past month, there’s been a scandal strong enough to reach my not-very-connected ears about a prominent person being in big trouble because of getting caught on video doing something awful in an elevator. The first one I knew about involved a CEO kicking a dog; the more recent one is about an athlete beating up his fiancée.
It’s not news that the parameters of privacy have changed, and I’m not sorry these people are facing consequences for their actions. But I feel a weird resonance with the jolt of dismay and shame they must have felt when they realized that they had been observed. Yes, I do, because I can imagine how I’d feel if my most ignoble moments were out there being judged by the world.
None of us are without elevator moments. I don’t care if those moments aren’t objectively so bad as to involve harming a person or animal. We all have moments that fill us with a sick plunge of guilt and terror at the thought of anyone knowing about them. To imagine having a witness…I can hardly breathe, thinking about it.
Forget all the standard stuff; all the petty sins and indelicate bathroom moments and how ridiculous humans look during orgasm. The truly mortifying stuff is individual. I think this idea’s resonating with me right now because I’m emerging (or hope I’m emerging) from a dark place right now, and I acted out badly with food. These binge eating episodes create the biggest shame of any of my acting out: they are some of my strongest elevator moments.
They’re my if-they-knew scenes. If they knew–if you knew, if you really saw–well, in my mind, it seems that would be the end. Never again would you be able to see anything else when you look at me; never again would you be able to hear or read a phrase of mine without its possible beauty being smothered and crushed by the disgusting images you remember.
If you saw my face as it must appear in the depths of such moments (a sight I’ve never seen but shudder to imagine) how could you ever be inspired by anything I write? How could you ever look into my eyes and see anything but the shadow of that betrayal, that perversion of consciousness?
“This issue we’re featuring a poet who writes authentically about…oh, wait, correction just in…a poet who knows how to squeeze any amount of processed bread product into a fist-sized lump for easy hiding.”
It’s no coincidence that Not This Song and its consequences got started while I was on a medical diet and had a temporary vacation from the insanity of my eating disorder. Now that I am, as predicted, struggling with regain and the return of intense symptoms, the shame around them chokes me and I face the challenge of continuing to be authentic in the face of it.
Yes, binge eating and the hellishly altered consciousness involved is my elevator video. No matter how much I try to tell myself that I’m not alone and everyone has some secret shames, it still feels as if the only way I can ever hold my head up is to find some guarantee that it’ll never happen again. To excise it from my psyche like a tumor and disinfect my soul until it is clean enough to share.
In recovery we’re encouraged to share and admit things we’ve been hiding; to free ourselves from the fear we’ve lived with by being honest and finding out that we can survive the experience. I’m finding it hard to share what’s going on lately, both because of shame and because I am ill enough to be suffering a lack of clarity. I went deep enough to reach the stage of continuing to act out as a way of punishing myself for having done so; building up a bank account of physical and mental damage until I could “buy” my release.
Have I paid enough? Am I ready to stop hurting myself? How quickly I would reassure you that your secret shame, whatever it is, doesn’t negate the other things you are. I’d mean it, too.