Sunday, May 27, 2018

Weight Loss Surgery...4.5 years later.

Four and a half years ago, after months of agonizing (why don't you message me and tell me surgery is the easy way out, so I can punch you in the face?) prep work, I went under the knife and had my stomach size reduced to roughly the size of my thumb. It was an invasive surgery, the recovery hurt like hell, and I still have side effects from the process (i.e. hair loss, thyroid issues, migraines.) But I was glad to have done it, and proud of all of my hard work, despite being told (often, and inaccurately) that I'd taken the easy and selfish way out.

The good news was that surgery worked for (most of) my obesity side effects (apnea, neuropathy issues, blood pressure, cholesterol) almost immediately. I felt, and looked, like a new person. I felt like I'd felt in my early twenties, or even younger. But the surgery didn't even touch some other symptoms (I still have crippling acid reflux, and likely always will.) As if like magic, weight dropped off of me, by the day, by the hour, leaving me--by the time the weight loss stalled, which is typical for WLS--gaunt and almost sickly looking. Which, at the time, I did not mind. Because at that time, in my mind, anything was better than being fat. I didn't care if someone told me they were concerned about my health, because at least I wasn't fat. I didn't care if someone did a double take when they saw me, because at least I wasn't fat.

Because, at that time, I felt like being fat was the worst thing I could possibly be. Selfish? Yes. Vain? No. And I think I explain why further down. I was just utterly sick to death of feeling like sh*t all the time. I was tired of getting painful, bloody rashes under and between my boobs in the summertime. I was tired of feeling winded when I walked up one set of stairs. I was tired of not being capable of chasing my children around. I was tired of looking at clothes shopping like a prison sentence. I was tired of being the token "funny fat friend." I was tired of not sleeping properly. I was tired of feeling so crippled by food addiction (bing eating, hoarding food, hiding food, eating past the point of fullness until I vomited) that I literally believed I would wind up eating myself to death one day. I was sad, and lonely, and angry, and let down, and depressed.

In my sad, sick brain I felt like no longer being fat would be the answer to all my problems.

Except that I was wrong.

You see, I can say that now, because I'm 4.5 years post surgery. I have looked at this WLS experience from both sides--and the middle--and I have experienced the benefits and the downfalls firsthand, so I have actual authority on this subject. Which is why I feel so compelled to share this:

Weight loss surgery did not fix what was broken inside of me.

It temporarily aided in the physical recovery of obesity, but it did nothing for what went on, and continues to go on, inside of my heart and head every single day. Nothing can fix that. That's just part of me, part of who I am. I can help myself with therapy, and positive self talk, and self acceptance and self care...but that part of me that is so broken, so loathsome, and self deprecating is just part of who I am. I can no more change that, than I can change my being left handed. It is just me. And while having WLS helped the problem, it did not, in any way, fix the problem.

I grew up in a home where fat people were not especially liked, and despite popular thought, I was listening, always. I heard my dad (who is deceased and free of his demons now, so don't assume I'm "vilifying" him in any way. *insert eye roll here*) talk openly about people who were overweight being "disgusting pigs," and how an obese relative I adored was "repulsive" and "self indulgent." I heard the jokes being made at Roseanne Barr's expense, and the John Candy and Mama Cass jokes. I remember hearing my dad make pig noises in reference to Carnie Wilson and Oprah Winfrey. When my mother gained a significant amount of weight due to Thyroid problems, I saw the way my father watched her with disdain, and he told me, often, that the key to keeping a man was to keep my body in shape, and to take pride in my appearance.

For the most part, I was skinny as a child, and thin (enough) as a young adult. But my unhealthy relationship with food started very early on. If I earned money weeding a neighbor's garden, or babysitting, I would immediately take it to the tiny grocery store in town, and buy all sorts of "naughty" foods that I would hide and gorge on while alone. Green olives by the jar, canned spray cheese, crackers, chips, candy bars, pop, cheese whiz, boxed macaroni and name it, I hoarded it, and I ate the h*ll out of it when nobody was around. As I grew older, I continued this behavior, often stuffing my face full of food to the point of vomiting, then being oddly delighted, because I had more room for treats. I used food for comfort, reward, punishment, and more.

As soon as I got married the first time, I started gaining weight. Just a little, here and there, but my ex husband was quick to notice and point it out. When we got unexpectedly pregnant with our first child, I took the term "eating for two" to heart and ate the everliving crap out of the ten months of pregnancy. By the time I had him, I was fifty pounds overweight, and my metabolism had shifted. I was no longer able to eat what I wanted, and keep (most) of the weight off. Suddenly I used a wee bit too much peanut butter on my toast in the morning, and my pants wouldn't fit by lunchtime. Between being stuck in an awful, unhealthy marriage and having our second child, I was significantly overweight and just a shadow (albeit a large shadow) of the person I'd been before getting hitched. I was told, repeatedly that I was "too fat to f***," and that my husband couldn't get off on me anymore. I was told often to diet, to work out, to put more effort into myself, to "accessorize more," so as to take the focus off of my double chins, and much worse. The things I'd grown up hearing my own father say at random were now being said to me, by my partner, and what did I do?

I ate my feelings. All of them. With cheese sauce, usually. Not surprisingly, I found myself a divorced, under-educated single mother of two children under the age of three. I was broke, tired, sad, and stressed out....and so over the next four years, I ate and ate some more. I used food as a friend, a confidant, a supporter, and a crutch. I planned my days around it, and rewarded my kids with it. I punished myself for being fat, by eating more, while subsequently praising myself for good works by eating as well. I was sick, sick, sick, but because I wasn't drowning my sorrows in beer like so many other relatives in my family, my addiction was going ignored. When folks did take notice, they just said things like "stop eating so d*mn much," or "just get out and exercise every day, it's not that hard." My addiction, which I was well aware was killing me, was going blown off, unnoticed, and ignored by everyone around me, because all fat people need to do it stop eating so much, right?

Wrong. I was neck deep in a full blown food addiction, and felt stuck, stuck, stuck. What people forget about food addiction is: you can stop doing drugs, you can stop drinking alcohol, you can stop gambling, or looking at porn...and you're going to LIVE. Thrive, even. But with food addiction, you're asked to just use a tiny amount of the very substance you're addicted to. Imagine telling a meth addict, to just use a small amount of meth every day, and never, ever abuse it again.

Exactly. Wouldn't work.

Some people did want to help me. Sometimes when I asked for it, but more often than not when I hadn't asked at all. People shared diet tips with me all. the. time....just under the assumption that because I was fat, surely I wanted diet tips, right? I cannot even begin to explain how often I got unsolicited emails from friends with links to boot camps, weight loss programs, and gym memberships. I was told about miracle pills and supplements, and offered more free samples than I can count. I was told in front of a room full of people at work once: "you've got to get your weight under control. You're too young and too pretty for that body."

Um.....thank you?

I became afraid to eat in public, often eating half of what was given to me while around other people, only to go home and power eat my way through a block of Tillamook Colby Jack alone at home later. I grew accustomed to the judging eyes on me as I ordered a Big R burger with a cheeseburger on the side, and a diet soda. I knew the jokes. I'd heard them all before, so I took to eating in my car. Once my (second) husband and I were out for dessert after a movie with another couple, and after ordering a lava cake and a glass of skim milk, the couple (not an especially health conscious couple themselves) cracked up, teasing me for ordering a hugely fattening dessert and a glass of low fat milk. The truth was, I just prefer the taste of skim over regular, but it didn't matter. My explanation fell on deaf ears, I was the joke. Again. Once I went to my brother's house for one of his children's birthday parties, I sat in a wicker chair, only to have it give out half way through opening gifts, sending me toppling to the floor in front of everyone. To this day, 100 pounds lighter, and I will never sit in another wicker chair. If that's all there is to offer, I'll stand. Period.

By some miracle, in the midst of full blown addiction and single parenthood, I met and married an incredible man. He still loves me, too, which is both unfathomable and wonderful. We had two more children, pushing my weight higher than it'd ever been--not that my husband cared, he still seemed to love me, even though I was a big girl and even when we became foster parents and had an agonizing failed adoption, which caused me to become even heavier.....

He still loved me. He even loved me enough to help me get WLS. He also loves me 4.5 years later, even after watching me struggle with the emotional torture that having a food addiction causes, especially after your stomach can't hold what your brain is telling you to ingest. You see, once I got the surgery, the problems didn't just disappear. They just came out in weird, random places that made no sense. Anger, crippling sadness, bouts of anxiety so sudden and scary that I thought I was having a heart attack, sullenness, malaise, being withdrawn. All this, and that guy still loves me. I don't deserve him. But I'm sure glad I got him.

Don't get me wrong, I am grateful I had the surgery. Four and a half years later, I am still considered a somewhat healthy weight. I bounce between 150 and 160 pounds and wear a size 8 or 10. This is where my body plateau'd itself, and I'm good with that. At my lowest post WLS weight, I was 139 pounds, but I was shaky, weak, and sort of gross looking. As much as I loathe my (still) poochy tummy and pancake butt, I am grateful that I have a body that still allows me to walk, run, dance, and play. I have a heart that beats, and arms that hug and my husband still finds me attractive, despite wrinkles and a shaved/sometimes bald head. I am blessed with moderately good health, with a hiccup here and there, none of which weren't expected, considering my family history, and life story. For the most part, I am a healthy 42 year old woman, and for that I am grateful.

That said, I still have demons.

I am never, ever satisfied with the way I look. I am working on it, so don't judge me just yet. Every day I put forth vast amounts of effort towards self acceptance and love for the way my body looks without clothes on. Despite having been thin(ner) for four and a half years now, I still see myself as an obese woman. I hear my father's voice in my head calling Carnie Wilson names, or see the looks of disgust he would give my treasured overweight relative while they ate in the back of my mind, and I shudder to myself. When my (current) husband pulls me in to hold me close, I hear my (ex) husband's voice in the back of my mind, telling me he can't get off on me, and more often than not, I pull away. Despite what my outside looks like, my inside is, and likely always will be, a sad, lonely, depressed fat girl, who wants desperately to eat until she vomits, so that she can make room for more.

Will these awful, ugly feelings ever go away? I literally have no idea. I hope so. But frankly, considering the fact that at 155 pounds, I look at a wicker chair and throw up into my mouth, I would venture to say no. These feelings will never go away. Because my WLS helped my neuropathy and my cholesterol, but it did not help my brain and my heart, and those two things are where the feelings of inadequacy, addiction, and self loathing reside, and evicting them has proven infinitely more difficult than I had originally expected. I would say that WLS has the ability to fix your outside appearance, but not your inside cancers. Those will continue to grow and spread and poison you, unless you get some significant psychological help.

I wish I'd found a way to accept myself the way I was. Granted, I really am okay with the body size I have now, and I would like to keep it forever. would've been nice to have learned to love the body I was in, before I lost it. Maybe then I would love the body I am in now, too.

I guess the moral of the story is: Weight Loss Surgery is lovely, and it's an excellent tool, but it is not a cure all. And if you don't fix what's broken in your heart and head, it's a waste of money.