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COLORed Folks -- Share Your Shame, Fight the Stigma

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What is COLORed, you might ask. It's a person of color who has or has had an ed (eating disorder).

I have a friend who texted me yesterday to say: "I'm crying because I'm ashamed to be a black woman with an ed." I've recently started reading Not All Black Girls Know How to Eat and the author, Stephanie Covington Armstrong, discusses the shame of being a black woman with an eating disorder. The stigma for women of color has eased -- somewhat -- but it's still very intense.

The way I've learned to lessen shame is to talk about it. The verse John 8:32, "And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free," really is applicable.

I think it's important -- whether you're black, white, purple or green -- to share your experience -- whether it's an eating disorder, drug addiction, rape or hair pulling -- because with each share, it lessens the shame a little more. With that said:

I am Adia. I am a black female. I've had an eating disorder.

There was a time when I wasn't willing to admit I had an eating disorder. Hell. No. After all, I was supposed to be on top of everything -- a good example for my school, my family, God, my race... and the list continued. An eating disorder didn't fit into that equation, and the last area -- the race one -- certainly didn't match up with the eating disorder status quo nor with my preferred narrative.

The humiliation that I internalized didn't help my recovery; in fact, it didn't encourage me to want to recover, let alone try to do it. Instead, I tried harder to hide my disease while it intensified.

It took a lot of different forms of treatment for me to get better, but to alleviate the shame, the thing that worked best was talking, talking, and talking some more. I talked to my therapists and in group therapy meetings. I talked to friends and guys I dated. I shared my story in one of my classes at Howard University, the black school I attended. I talked to family members and co-workers. The more I talked, the more the shame faded.

Now, I'm not going to pretend it's always easy, because it's not. I can still sometimes feel myself tighten up as I share with someone. One thing I can tell you, though, is that when I speak about it, the shame lessens a little bit more. If we're only as sick as our secrets, I don't want those secrets to poison me. When I share them, I'm free.

So when my friend tells me about her struggles with bulimia, I tell her that I genuinely understand, I remember it, I know it. But there's one thing she does that I really admire -- she talks. Whether she's up or down, she checks in to let me know how she's doing. She's grateful that someone understands -- that there's another black female she can talk to who's been through it. I'm grateful that I can be there for her and that she has the courage to share with me. I'm hopeful that in the future, she'll be able to be there for another woman of color who's struggling with the scourge of having an eating disorder.

Maybe by that time, even more of the stigma will have abated. I'm hopeful. I can look at my own experience -- from the early days when I fiercely hid my secret to now when I'm sharing pretty openly, I can look at Stephanie, who wrote a book about her own experience, and can look at my friend who found me online and has shared her journey with me -- and I know it can get better.

What about you? What have you found useful to help you release shame in your life? Are you still struggling with shame? Again, while my experience and those that I mentioned here deal with black females and eating disorders, it doesn't matter what ethnic, religious, or socioeconomic background you have, nor does it matter what the source of your shame is. Please share your experience below.