Last night was another successful meeting of our WLS support group. I cannot emphasize enough how important these meetings are to me: the interaction of people in all stages of WLS and the guidance of the bariatric program manager make it educational as well as entertaining. If you are considering bariatric surgery, you NEED these meetings. If you are scheduled for surgery and are completing your pre-op obligations, you NEED these meetings. If you are post-op, in any phase, you NEED these meetings. Why? Because we talk about things that you need to know. We ask the questions you might be too afraid or too embarrassed to ask. We care about each other: we throw our support behind our members when they are struggling, and we celebrate their successes. It’s like group therapy. When was the last time you received a round of applause?
Weight loss is difficult for a lot of us. We struggle with the physical part, and we struggle with the mental part. Having surgery isn’t an easy fix, and it doesn’t abolish the need for eating right and exercise; you still have to make those changes to stay in recovery from obesity. People who believe, as I used to, that surgery is ‘cheating’ or the easy way out, have not gone through it. I had surgery, and I’m still in the stage where the weight comes off pretty quickly. But it does slow down, and my appetite is returning, and I still have to consciously stay on track. Let me say right here that without the support of my family, my friends, and the WLS group, I would be having a lot more trouble with that.
What keeps our group so successful and engaging is our leader and facilitator, Connie. Connie comes to each meeting with a topic or two that she wants to bring up for discussion; she gives us recipes and tips, articles of interest, and suggestions for books or blogs to read. But what I appreciate most from Connie is her honesty. As a bypass post-op, she gives us examples from her own experience. As a bariatrics nurse and program manager, she gives us her professional opinion and observations. And as a wife and mother, she gives us the human, personal side of being in recovery from obesity. Often her husband is there as well, giving his perspective. The meetings are interesting and interactive; everyone participates, not because they have to, but because the environment is comfortable and supportive.
One of the ladies made a very revealing point last night. R has just begun her 6 months of pre-surgery appointments, which for some of us are a battery of nutritionist visits, psychological and sleep evaluations, and tests, such as EKG, barium swallows, and endoscopies. She said she’d been obese since she was a child; she has no idea how she will look or feel after she loses weight. Over the years, she said she developed a ‘victim’ mindset, where she could blame obesity for so much of the unhappiness in her life. She could feel sorry for herself and make excuses. She said it became a way of life. Then she admitted that she was scared, because once she has surgery, she won’t have that crutch anymore. She wonders what she will do once she has reason to be happy.
That really made me think. We’ve all been scared of change.
If you have spent your life shaming yourself and allowing others to shame you for your obesity, if you have cultivated feeling sorry for yourself because you can’t jump in the pool with the rest of your friends, if you have nurtured that self-loathing that we are famous for – then it IS scary to change. Change of any type is daunting anyway. You must realize that the whole persona that you have developed over a lifetime of obesity is a construct; it is not the real you, even though you might believe it to be. It is a shell that has hardened over the person you are.
Everything from the clothes you choose to wear to your facial expression, your body language, and speech, is a response to your negative self-perception.
· Your drab, monotonous wardrobe enables you to fade into the background and not attract attention to yourself.
· Your facial expression is often sour and forbidding, making others less likely to engage you; you rarely look anyone in the eye.
· Your body language says many things: I hate how I look; I am ashamed of myself; I am not worthy of your attention or love; my body is in pain and so is my spirit.
· Your speech may be quiet and hesitant, as if you would rather shrink into the floor than talk; or you may be loud and defiant, as if daring anyone to challenge you. That chip on your shoulder? It’s more like a 2 x 4, my friend.
Is this the real you? I think not. I think the real you was lost in there somewhere as the protective shell got thicker and harder as the years went by. The real you, the vital you, the you with dreams and ambitions, struggles silently against the literal and figurative weight of obesity.
M, who proudly said she’d never missed a meeting, shared that when she was heavy, she hid herself in brown, black and gray. Now, she’s celebrating her post-surgery body and spirit with bright colors and fun accessories because they make her happy. She said, “Don’t wait! Do it now! Wear the colors that you love!” She’s right. Don’t wait until you decide you’re ‘thin enough’ to wear red, or horizontal stripes, or bold prints. Start making yourself happy now.
My mother used to admonish me to stand up straight and look people in the eye, and I always did. As I got heavier, however, my posture suffered, and because I was so miserable, I just slumped. I kept my eyes on the ground as I walked, not only because my balance wasn’t so good, but also because I was unhappy and didn’t want to see the reactions of others as they passed. Recently, I have found myself walking with a more confident stride and a smile on my face for the people I meet. There’s a lightness to my step that hasn’t been there in a long time. It feels good.
It’s time to dig deep and reacquaint yourself with the person you really are inside. It’s time to remember the things that made you happy and to encourage them. It’s time to put a smile on your face, especially when you look in the mirror. It’s time to stop judging yourself by others’ criteria and let the real you shine. This is a journey. As we shed the pounds, we can shed the old assumptions and attitudes, too.
We can either complain because the sun is in our eyes or bask in its warmth. Which will you choose?
photo credit: roland