Is ‘fat’ really the worst thing a human being can be? Is ‘fat’ worse than ‘vindictive’, ‘jealous’, ‘shallow’, ‘vain’, ‘boring’ or ‘cruel’? Not to me.
– J.K. Rowling
So, as an important part of building the new, healthier us, Mr. Stuck and I go to a monthly weight loss surgery (WLS) support group. Normally there are 15-20 people there for the two-hour meeting; they range from those who are learning about WLS options to pre-op and post-op patients. We’ve been going for over a year, and we really enjoy it. It is run by a bariatrics R.N., Connie, who is also a couple of years post-op. (I highly recommend to anyone considering WLS that they find a group and go. You learn so much.)
We arrived a few minutes into the meeting, while people were introducing themselves around the circle. We took our seats and listened until our turn came. We gave our names and a brief update (surgery type, surgery date, how we were doing). I noticed there were a few new faces tonight, but I didn’t see Cindy, my “surgery sister.” (She and I had realized just before our surgeries that we were scheduled for the same day, so we connected in that way, dubbing ourselves “surgery sisters” for fun.) She is a lovely, vibrant woman who seems to lead a busy, stressful life. I liked her from the start.
A few minutes later, Cindy arrived. She made her way to a chair, and I noticed how refreshed she looked. Even though she was dressed casually, in a yoga-style jacket and pants, she was made up and looked very nice. She had a smile on her face and a light in her eyes. I was glad to see her.
When it was Cindy’s time to talk, she took a deep breath. She apologized for being late, but said she was doing well, 6 weeks post-op like me. She said she had discovered something, and she wanted to ask the rest of us about it: self-esteem.
She said she had been thinking about how heartbreakingly sad it is to, as she put it, “apologize yourself out of life.” She said, “I spent all these years apologizing — for everything — and smoothing things over. I swallowed it all; food, shame, anger, hurt. I pushed it down. I made it go away. But I’m done. I’m not apologizing anymore. I’m not sorry, and I’m not rude, but I’m done. Now, it’s about me. It feels crazy as I adjust to this new body and new life. Am I hungry or not? What do I want to do? I feel powerful! I feel joyful! I feel blessed. And I want everyone to feel that way.”
She asked around. “Did you feel it, too? Did you find it?” She continued, choking back emotion. “I thought I was a good person. I am a good person. I thought I had it good — I thought my self-esteem was fine. I’d get up, clean — but I didn’t know. I didn’t know! I can’t tell you how different it feels from thinking you have self-esteem to really having it. You can tell people about self-esteem and self-image all day, but the reality is, you can’t. They won’t know. They have to live it.”
I listened to Cindy as the words rushed out of her mouth unbridled. Everyone was understanding and respectful, even as she talked much longer. “Why don’t we think we are worthy? Why don’t we see ourselves as equal to everyone else? Why do we have to apologize for being who we are, living our lives, and taking up space? Why do we convince ourselves we don’t deserve to be happy? We have just as much right to be happy as anyone else. We DO deserve to be happy. We are worth it!”
With that, she sat back, still very emotional. One of the ladies got up, walked over to Cindy and gave her a hug. Connie pointed to one of the new faces and asked him to introduce himself to the group. He told us he was a couple years post gastric band surgery. As he told his story, another regular, Merele, arrived. She looked a bit flustered. When it was her turn to speak, she said, “I am so thankful for you all. You have no idea how much it helps me to be here. You are all family.”
Merele went on to say that she was several months post-op; the ‘honeymoon period’ of having no appetite was over and it was difficult for her. She said she was really struggling with that. Merele, like Cindy, was very emotional as she shared how she is finally giving herself permission to be happy. She said, “I have stopped worrying about other people. It’s okay for them to have their meals, but I can’t pay attention to that. This is my new life. This is ME! I had to make this huge change, and it’s for the better, but it’s scary. I have to make my own choices, and I choose to live. I don’t want to die inside as well as outside.” Merele also got a hug.
As I listened to these ladies, I took notes. No apologies. Choosing happiness. Change can be scary. Struggles. Joy. Self-worth. Cindy said, “I’m 60 years old, and I should have known this when I was 40. My daughter is 30. I want her to be happy, too.”
So many lessons in life. I am no more of an expert than anyone else is. Do I have self-esteem? Not really, but I can feel a spark of change in how I view myself. But I also feel that I have wasted a lot of time, and I feel guilty about that.
I wasted my sons’ youth as their obese mother who was unable to wrestle on the floor with them or run footraces across the yard. Subsequent injuries and illness made everything worse physically, and my self-image sank, as well. Pretty soon, I was referring to myself as dowdy and dumpy, and all the negative voices in my head became reality. I was a slob. I was tired and lazy. I felt helpless. I was unable to change my situation. I was unhappy. I was depressed. I felt guilty because I wasn’t better, thinner, prettier, more fun, younger, in better shape, smarter, whatever. And as we all know, that cycle of negative self-fulfillment just rolls along. Overeating>Guilt>Depression>Overeating>Guilt>Depression.
I have been slender for short periods of time after stringent dieting and self-denial. Each time I felt a rush of confidence in my new look, enjoying the compliments and approval. But each time that confidence was hollow, and fear hid in its shadow. I was always afraid — that I would gain the weight back (I always did), and that I was a failure. I saw that people who had never looked at me twice were now friendly to me, and that just underscored it. No matter what kind of a person I was inside, whether I was smart or funny or kind, it meant nothing if I wasn’t worth looking at. That is what they taught me.
So then I would feel phony. And angry. The fat that had always been my armor, my permission to be a mouthy smart-ass, was gone, and I’d wish it back. ‘Life was easier fat,’ I’d tell myself. I didn’t have unwanted attention from random men. I didn’t get the catty looks and competition from women. I wasn’t viewed as a threat, I guess. I didn’t have to care about my looks, because nobody was looking, anyway. And then it became easier to tell myself I wasn’t worth it. I couldn’t do it — it was too hard. I had failed again. You see, I pretended to have confidence, but I didn’t really have it, and as soon as the doubt crept in, it was easy to cave.
Getting your head straight after weight loss is tough, and it’s a constant struggle. The old you vs. the new you. The negative vs. the positive. Excuses vs. reason. Old habits vs. new choices. Apologies vs. confidence. It’s a daily fight, because surgery doesn’t change your head or your heart. As you adjust to the new reality and the possibilities surgery has given you, you still fight the hurtful words in your head when you look in the mirror.
But you’ve got to remember you’re winning this time. No apologies.
photo credit cod_gabriel