Thanksgiving As Therapy.

 

A blogger friend’s recent post about traditions started me thinking about my own traditions with family and friends and how they’ve changed over the years.

As a child, and well into my young adulthood, I spent Thanksgiving at my parents’ house, my childhood home. The menu was classic and rarely varied: a big fat roasted turkey, stuffed full of sage and sausage dressing; potatoes and gravy; fruit salad; cranberry sauce; and some combination of vegetables, usually green beans, creamed onions, or cauliflower. Sometimes, Mother made sweet potatoes or squash. And there was usually a veggie tray and a divided dish with black olives (Mother being the only one who ate them after Grandma passed away) and pickles.

Of course, the meal was not complete without dessert — apple and pumpkin pies, for which my mother was renowned. Quite the feast! And that was for the early, big dinner – later on, at supper, it was time for turkey sandwiches and pie (for which we had been too full before). Oh my goodness!

I come from a big family, and I always looked forward to these holidays with my parents, because it meant that I would see most, if not all, of my siblings and their families. I relished the house full of loved ones, the Macy’s parade and football games on TV in the background, the chatter and laughter of my sisters, and the children underfoot and overhead in the upstairs bedrooms. The roasting turkey’s aroma, mingled with coffee, pumpkin, and pickles was a familiar and welcome bouquet.

When the bird was done and plattered, it joined the rest of the dishes on the table and we were called to “Wash up!” and “Come and eat!” Those of us with aprons on, who were already bustling about in the kitchen, made sure everyone had a spot to sit, and we’d round up the kids to sit at their own table.

We all sat and bowed our heads to say grace, giving thanks for the meal and the hands that prepared it, and asking blessings upon those at the table as well as those who couldn’t be there. I savored that moment of appreciation, thinking about how fortunate I was to be in that family, at that table, with the people I love, on that busy, but gratifying, day.

And although the meal was always impressive, and we all left the table stuffed and nap-ready, it wasn’t about the food.

It was never about the food.

Over the years, the family got bigger as my sisters married and had children, and eventually, I did the same. As the family got bigger, the Thanksgiving table got smaller, as my older sisters and I started our own Thanksgiving traditions or visited with in-laws. But even after I married and had children, my siblings and I still enjoyed celebrating at my mother’s table sometimes. Mother would do less of the cooking as we encouraged her to sit and rest. We’d make sure Dad had his cold beer so he could enjoy his football game. It was nice to feel like a kid again, but at the same time, to be a grownup.

 

Losing my parents and sister in 1999 dealt such a blow to my life; aside from the obvious, it also turned my whole notion of tradition on its head. I was unable to muster up any desire to celebrate the holidays; for several years, I was lost when it came to Thanksgiving. We were invited to join other family members for their festivities, but nothing really felt like it fit. Not to me. And it wasn’t a reflection of their generous and loving hospitality; it was just how torn I felt from the very fabric of my life. The old tradition was gone – obliterated – and I had nothing with which to replace it.

Eventually, we accepted the invitation of our very dear friends. Their Thanksgiving, while not what I was used to, was a warm and welcome gathering, with a menu that’s a little different each year. I worked my way through the grief by literally working my way through it – I would arrive early in the day, don an apron, and set to prepping vegetables or making pie or whatever task I was given. Many times I found myself in tears over the sink, but those tears were the catharsis I needed.

Thanksgiving with our close friends is the convention we’ve embraced for over a decade now, and although sometimes I yearn for the turkey dinners of the past, I am overwhelmingly grateful for what we have now. We are not guests; we are family, and this is our custom. To honor my parents, I make my mother’s sausage stuffing. Mr. Stuck and I share in the preparation of delightful and creative dishes and serve them proudly. The house is abuzz in activity and laughter and music, with family members, friends, and guests arriving throughout the day. Every year, there seems to be at least one new face to welcome to the table. This is our new old tradition.

And as we sit down to the table heavy with goodies, we carry on the practice of my friend’s late grandfather and take turns sharing what each of us is thankful for. There are many mentions of friends and family, those who have gone before us, and the bounty of the day’s meal. When my turn comes, I am nearly always choked up with emotion and gratitude. I am thankful for so much: the traditions of the past; the generosity of our friends, the hosts; the faces of the people crowded around the large table; the abundance of the meal itself; and the healing that it has meant to me.

But more than anything, I am grateful for what it all represents – the loving ritual; the anchor; that feeling of belonging and the carrying on of a tradition over generations. These are memories that we build together and that our children will look back on and build from.

 

It’s not about the food.

It was never about the food.

 

photo credit Hey Paul Studios

Christmases Past.

Maybe I’ve been navel-gazing too much lately. It’s the holiday season, the end of the year, and the coming of winter, and I’ve been thinking a lot about stuff.

What kind of stuff?
Well, since you asked, my mind has been wandering through nostalgic memories of Christmases past.

For most of my childhood and adolescent years, my brother welcomed our big family on Christmas Eve for the annual party. My sister-in-law was a talented and gracious hostess to our large brood, and we always looked forward to the traditions of that night.

We’d all file in and settle into the living room, perching on chairs or whatever horizontal surface was available. The house would be filled to the gills with us. Once the chicken wings and macaroni came out of the oven, we’d make a beeline to the fabulous buffet that always included a variety of tempting desserts, and of course we always ate too much.

My favorite part of the night was the singing. Out would come the caroling song books (handy, especially when singing the third and fourth verses). Sometimes we’d have piano accompaniment, but most of the time it was a cappella with three- or four-part harmonies. It makes my heart swell just to remember it: Mother’s voice was warm and true; my brother’s full baritone added color; Wendy always sang harmony; and sister Rob’s clear, sweet soprano could always reach the highest notes of O Holy Night. The rest of us would fill in around them. The house rang with music — all the songs you can think of, and more. Everyone requested their favorite carol — mine was always We Three Kings of Orient Are; Missy always requested Winter Wonderland. (What’s yours?)

I can’t even begin to describe the joy and love in that moment.

The gifts had to wait until one last tradition — the reading of A Visit From St. Nicholas, (you might know it as ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas) by Clement C. Moore. Mother would sit and the children would crowd in at her feet. She loved poetry and knew how to read it aloud, engaging her young audience. She knew it by heart, so she just turned the pages to show the kids the pictures. I’m sure my nieces and nephews remember it fondly. I sure do.

Next came the mad scrabble gift exchange. We all know what that’s like – squeals of delight, oohs and aahs, and lots of hugs and thank yous. The din was terrific — my ears would still be ringing the next day. Not long after the last gift was unwrapped, it would be time to go home, tired but happy.

In later years, my young adulthood, sister Wendy hosted the party at her house, but the traditions were much the same. It didn’t matter where the party was or what food was served — the main ingredient was always love.

I hope you all have memories like this, the kind that warm your heart. And I hope you’re all making more memories just like them, whatever your traditions may be. As much as I miss my parents and my sisters, I am eternally grateful for the memories that envelop me this time of year. I am thankful to my brother and sister-in-law for hosting this event for so long. My traditions are quite different now with my own family, but I believe that it doesn’t really matter what you do, as long as you do it with those you love.

Merry Christmas!

 

 

Photo credit Alan Cleaver

Group Hugs.

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

My Parents’ Marriage: a Tribute.

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February 26, 1944 – Two kids starting out on the ride of their lives.

My mother was a war bride; not in the foreign-born sense, but in the sense that she married a soldier headed overseas.  It was February 26, 1944; she was just shy of 17 and her man was 21, looking sharp in his Army uniform.  There were quite a few new brides in her high school; sadly, some would become new widows, as well.  Mother always told me she never doubted that the man she loved would return to her, and maybe her faith and his determination helped make it happen.  I don’t know, but I’m just thankful it did.

My father had a rough time returning to normal life after the war; in fact, nightmares plagued him for the rest of his life.  In the first few months, he drank too much, trying to escape the horror show in his head.  He didn’t sleep well for a long time; Mother recounted night after night of playing pinochle with him into the wee hours. Eventually the worst of it subsided, and they became a normal, post-war family. 

Both of my parents loved children and wanted lots of them.  Curious people would see their little ones and ask if our family was Catholic, and my mother would say with a wink and a smile, “Not Catholic – passionate Protestant.”  By the time I came along in 1964, they had been married 20 years and already had six children.  And as it turned out, seven was enough.  The house my dad built had already been pushed out more than once from its original floor plan to accommodate more bedrooms.

Raised during the Great Depression, Mother and Dad had learned the hard lessons of doing without, and with a house full of children on one income, they lived it daily.  As the youngest, I don’t remember the hard times that my siblings do, but I do know that in my family, emphasis was never on material goods.  We just didn’t live that way; we were happy with what we had, and those things that were important to us were love and family and character.  I knew as a child that I didn’t have all the fancy stuff that my classmates did, but it didn’t really matter.  I suppose we could have been considered poor, but by whose standards?  We were loved.

Speaking of my classmates – I remember several of them had divorced parents and spent weekends alternating between their moms’ and dads’ houses, juggling stepparents and new siblings and the related upheaval.  I have always been grateful that my parents never split up; I could see how divorce had a painful effect on my friends.  Even when I was secretly jealous that my friend’s dad bought her a new stereo, I still felt sorry for her because she didn’t have both parents all the time, like I did.  I don’t think I ever worried that my own parents would divorce – even though they argued, my parents genuinely loved one another and were committed to their marriage and our family.

Growing up in a big family taught us to share and to be patient; we learned to help each other, and we learned to work as a team.  We were taught the Depression-era axiom, ‘Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.’  Hand-me-downs were common; toys and books passed from one child to the next; and bedrooms were shared.  While Mother taught me where babies come from, growing up with sisters taught me about puberty and panty hose.  In fact, it was my sister Wendy who taught me how to use a razor to shave my legs and underarms.  I loved my big family.

My father was terribly outnumbered at home; after my brother moved out on his own, Dad was the only male.  I often wonder how he kept his sanity back then surrounded by so many girls, but then I recall how much time he spent in his workshop and basement.  Dad was a strict, but loving, father, but he saw the humor in his situation. One summer day, on a family vacation with just three of us girls, Dad was enjoying a cold beer outside our tent trailer, while inside the trailer was all kinds of commotion.  Hearing it, a man from the neighboring campsite came over to see what was going on; Dad swung his beer hand in the direction of the trailer and explained with a wry smile, “I’ve got female problems.”

Some of my fondest memories growing up featured my parents showing their affection for one another.  Many times I would see Dad take Mother’s hand and lead her gallantly through a few dance steps, whether there was music or not; I loved the smile on her face when he did that.  Mother drew his baths, and she would go in to wash his back; when he came out, she would attend to his tired feet.  They held hands, kissed, and hugged all the years they were married.  They were demonstrative in their affection, and that’s how they raised us.  All of us knew that our parents loved one another deeply, without reservation.  That was how it was supposed to be, right?

Pa used to joke that his first wife was a Sasquatch.  He joked about many things – how he’d spent time in the Swiss Navy and the Underground Balloon Corps, and that he was once a member of the Mess Kit Repair Battalion.  He joked with the kids in the neighborhood that the sidewalk he was pouring was actually a baby elephant walk, and that the air compressor on wheels was a newfangled go-kart.  But he took his role as husband and father very seriously.  We girls grew from wanting to marry Daddy to wanting to marry someone just like him.

Mother was devoted to Dad; she first met him as her best friend’s big brother, and was instantly attracted to the handsome, quiet young man.  She set out to spoil him, and she did.  She learned to cook his favorite foods, and she treated him like a king.  She appreciated that he worked hard to support the family and that he was a knowledgeable handyman who took care of the homestead.  I asked her once about why we were having liver and onions for dinner when nobody liked it but Dad, and she looked me square in the eye and said, “Because your father likes it, and I cook for him. He gets up every morning at 5 o’clock to go to work, and he deserves to get what he likes for dinner. Now run along.”  What a gal.

When I met my husband, I was happy to learn that his parents were also a long-married couple.  Sadly, it seems surprising anymore.  Because of this simple fact, our backgrounds were very similar, and we had much in common.  We both hoped to find lasting love like our parents had, and we believed in the sacred commitment of marriage.  He fit in well with my goofy family, and they embraced him; likewise, his family opened their hearts to me. 

At my wedding shower, the ladies wrote marriage advice on note cards to give me.  My mother’s said, Just remember –  YOU are not perfect, either.  Those words have sustained me through these married years when my frustration level rises.  She also told me that men and women are different animals who speak different languages. She predicted that someday I would find myself in a heated argument with my husband, and suddenly recognize that we were actually on the same side.  She was absolutely right, and it’s happened more than once.  She was a smart one, my ma.

Over the years, after the kids had all grown up and had kids of their own, my folks settled into a routine of loving togetherness.  When Dad’s eyes were bad, Mother read books aloud to him so they could enjoy them together. They helped one another with the chores and the cooking.  They would linger at the table after a meal, enjoying their coffee and conversation. They took walks together each day to get a little exercise. Sometimes one of my sisters would join them, sometimes bringing her children along.  It was a slower life, well earned by their earlier lives of hard work.  One of my poetry-loving mother’s favorite verses was the first few lines of Rabbi Ben Ezra by Robert Browning: “Grow old along with me/the best is yet to be/the end of life, for which the first is made.”  That was truly how they saw their twilight years.

My parents died tragically one night in a train crash fifteen years ago.  They were on a cross-country trip to visit one of my sisters, and, just weeks before, had celebrated their 55th wedding anniversary.  My sister Wendy died with them, as did her best friend.  It’s a tremendous understatement to say how that tore the fabric of our lives apart; Mother and Dad were the hub of our family, and losing them changed everything we knew.  But what they left us is everlasting: love, family, and character.  Work hard; love God; be honest and kind; be grateful; and above all, cherish each other. 

My parents’ marriage was an example for us all.

 

You’ll See.

Like so many other things – parenting, for instance – weight loss surgery is one of those situations where people tell you, “You’ll see,” in an ominous, knowing tone. 

“I would NEVER let my kid throw a fit like that in the store!  MY children will behave when we go out.”
Yeah, well, you’ll see…”

“There’s no way my kid would say that to me!  No way!”
That’s what I thought, too.  You’ll see…”

“Seriously, I’m supposed to chew this bite of chicken, like, 25 times?  That’s just gross!”
Well, yeah, it’s a lot, but you need to.  You’ll see…”

“You don’t miss coffee?  Oh, I would DIE if I had to stop drinking coffee!”
No, I don’t miss it that much.  It’s different now.  You’ll see…”

And indeed, I did.  I found out that eating (I’m still on soft solids, progressing prudently) is different from what I remember.  Eating or drinking too quickly, or failing to chew adequately, has its consequences – and they’re immediate.  One – you’ll wonder how that quick drink of water solidified into a chunk with sharp edges as it fights its way down your esophagus.  Ow!  Two – being full used to feel like, ‘yeah, I’m full, but I can eat those last couple bites of lasagna — bring on the cheesecake!’   Now, when I am getting full, my tummy feels like it’s already stuffed up to here (points at Adam’s apple), and I’m swallowing like mad to keep it from rising further.  Full means ‘up to my neck.’  And there isn’t any more room.

I’ve found that the best remedy for that full feeling is to sit back and give that little tummy some room; usually, the discomfort is gone after about 15 minutes.  Other sensations I’m becoming familiar with?  Hiccups.  Bloating.  Burps.  Seriously.  Unwelcome and uncomfortable.  I realize this is due to my body adjusting to the foods I eat, the air I swallow as I eat, and the medications I take, which now include a fiber supplement.  I hope that these things settle down as time goes on.  (Nobody told me that I’d be able to compete with my sons in a belching contest.  At this point, I might even win!)

I’ve noticed that I’ve been having a lot of painful leg cramping lately, more than usual, so I’m probably low on potassium.  Didn’t expect that.  Time for a banana.  Which reminds me — nobody told me I’d have monster breath, either.  I can’t chew gum (I bite my cheek every time), so I have to keep some mints handy so I don’t scare people away.  (If I’ve scared you, I apologize.)

Crushing my pills and taking them with water is still working out pretty well, except for my @#$&*^$#@ vitamins.  Mr. Stuck reminded me that if I don’t take my supplements, my hair will fall out.  He’s right, of course, and I rather like my hair, so I once again tried to figure out a good way to take these powder-filled capsules.  (The Omeprazole caps are filled with granules, which present their own challenges, but I digress.) 

The first (and last) time I tried, I opened the capsules, poured the powder into a 1-oz medicine cup and added water, much like I do for the rest of my meds.  Big mistake.  The powder and water repelled each other, in some sort of strange electrostatic dance, and the powder would not mix.  Instead, it adhered to the sides of the little plastic cup, and floated mockingly on the surface of the water.  When I swished it, it stuck to the cup.  When I stirred it, it stuck to my finger.  When I tried to drink it, it stuck to my tongue and the inside of my mouth.  I don’t know how much water I had to drink to wash it down, but it was a lot, and it turned into chunks with sharp edges as it went. 

Mr. Stuck’s next idea was to put the powder into my daily protein shake.  Sounded like a plan, so today I gave it a whirl.  Um, no.  Again, the powder sticks stubbornly to the side of the Blender Bottle ® and no amount of monkey gyrations will shake it down (yeah, I tried).  So now I’m drinking a chunky, funky-flavored protein shake (oh, yum) with bits of dry, bitter powder suspended in it.   What do these people expect me to do?  I guess I need to try the powder in a spoon of applesauce or something, even though I don’t want to.  Sure looking forward to the 3-month mark, where I can finally swallow my pills whole again.

My tastes are changing, too.  I drink cocoa or tea as much or more than coffee now; when I do have a cup of coffee, I rarely finish more than half.  Even the 12-oz mocha I ordered this weekend sat untouched after I drank less than a quarter of it.  The broccoli-cheese soup that Mr. Stuck thoughtfully bought for me was horrid when I tried it.  The clam chowder I had for lunch last Friday must have been too rich for my baby tummy, because I had to throw most of it away.  I suppose some of it will come back as time goes on, but for now, things taste different.

Since surgery, I’m down over 20 lbs.  It’s coming off fast.  I’m sure it will slow down now that I am actually eating food I can chew.  It’s easy to lose weight on a liquid or almost-liquid diet.  I’m glad to be eating food again, even though I’m not quite to the raw vegetables stage, which will be the final part of the post-surgical diet.  I am sooo ready to eat food that doesn’t have to be soft, pureed, or pre-chewed.  I am ready for some stir-fry chicken and veggies, or a fresh, crisp salad, or even an apple.  It can be tough to get through these first few weeks of restricted eating, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

You’ll see.

 

 

photo credit striatic

Happy New Year!

Happy Blog birthday to me (tomorrow) — I’ve managed to stick with this a year now.  But that’s not what this post is for. It’s to thank you, my readers and commenters, for making it a great first year for my blog, and to wish you all a wonderful 2014.

I have high hopes for the new year; with our health improvements, the Mister and I should be feeling great and full of energy, ready to tackle anything.  I am feeling very positive about myself and my circle of family and friends.  I am ready to return to work refreshed and recharged after my three weeks at home.

Resolutions?  Nah.  My psychotherapist friend Bobbi just wrote an excellent post for PsychCentral in which she discussed how resolutions set you up to fail: Break Your Resolutions: Bounce Back – Develop Your Resiliency.  I agree wholeheartedly with her idea to ‘break things down to make them simpler.’  I love how she lays it out; it makes sense.  Set yourself up for success, not failure!

That is how I intend to approach my 2014.  No great, sweeping announcements.  Just a private pledge to do better.  I intend to write here more often.  I intend to get moving more by using the stairs and parking farther away.  I intend to clean out the clutter in my house and in my head, and focus on what is important to me.

And I intend to celebrate my 50th birthday with a renewed sense of purpose and gratitude.

I’m glad to be where I am.  I am thankful for the life I am given, the health that is being restored to me (yay for my earglasses!), and the opportunity to make a difference – somehow, somewhere.  I am grateful to have a good job, a family who loves me no matter what, and a place to come home to every day.  I’m thankful for the support and encouragement I receive on a daily basis, from each one of you who reads my blog, to my friends, old and new, to my terrific family.

Life is good.  Remember that.  Ring in the new year however you choose, but please don’t take the chance of drinking and driving or riding with someone who does.  Life is precious!

Let the celebrations begin!!  Happy 2014!!!

Becky

 

photo credits: tacit requiem (joanneQEscober) and JD Hancock

More Adjustments.

ring1
Pardon the alligator skin, but the rings fit now!

So a big part of this whole journey I’m on, post-surgical and all that, is making those changes that will enable me to live a healthier life.  I am learning to exchange a bad habit for a good one.  There are discoveries along the way, as you can imagine.  Here’s what I’ve recently thought about:

I have come to a workable routine with my medication that must be crushed.  I just put the powder in water rather than try to disguise it in some kind of food such as applesauce or pudding.  I’d much rather toss it back that way than ruin the flavor of something I would otherwise enjoy.

Omeprazole (Prilosec), which decreases the acid my stomach produces, is my new best friend.  Next to my surgeon, that is, because he said I could take my Meloxicam for my poor aching thumbs, as long as I continued the omeprazole.  Yay, me!

I would not recommend having this surgery during the holiday season unless you avoid parties like the plague.  Standard fare at holiday parties, in my experience, is not post-surgical-tummy-friendly.  And it shouldn’t be — these are the parties of excess, with rich cheeses and meats, delectable baked goods, and mountains of veggies and chips for dipping.  This is the food you mindlessly sample every time you walk past.  At least, that’s what I used to do.  This year, I kept away from the kitchen to avoid the temptation.  But I did have a deviled egg, some flakes of smoked salmon (perfect melt-in-your-mouth texture), and a few small cubes of soft cheese.  Thank God.  What a treat, especially after so long on liquids!

Mmmm…deviled eggs!
photo credit jeffreyw

As I sat in the living room or wandered outside during these parties, I thought about how much we center our social lives around food.  I will have to learn how to socialize without food and alcohol, and even coffee, to some extent.

I thought about how eating such a small amount forces me to choose what I want the most; I have to get used to throwing away uneaten food.  Having been raised not to let food go to waste, and having admonished my children not to be wasteful, this is a very difficult change for me.

It will take some time to get used to estimating how much (or little) to cook for me and the Mister.  My mind’s eye is still calibrated to a family of 4 with two teenagers and a couple of overeating parents.  My spaghetti sauce overflows the skillet; my estimation of how much pasta to cook always results in too much.  I never learned how to cook for two; even when we were first married, I was cooking like I’d seen my mother cook: for a family.

I went to the store for a few things and ended up with three pounds of bacon and nearly as much chicken breast.  Now, the chicken will be made into soup or stew, but why did I buy that much bacon?  Old habits die hard, I guess.

But in other, more exciting news, I am finally able to fit into my wedding rings again!  I can’t recall when I was last able to wear them, but I’m sure it’s been at least 3 years.  So I took them to a jeweler for a check and cleaning and now they sparkle like new.

Yes, I missed piling my plate with the sausage, the raw veggies, the lasagna, the sandwiches, the prime rib roast, and even the BLT salad at these parties.  I missed the pie, the pickles, and the wine.  But I look at my rings and I am SO HAPPY — and that is so much better.

 

 

Adjustments.

I used to say that I intended to go out of this life with the same stuff God gave me coming in: I still had tonsils, appendix, gall bladder, adenoids and reproductive organs.  Well, I still have all of those, but I exchanged my hips a few years back for a new, aftermarket set made of gleaming titanium.  So I guess I can’t say that anymore.  And in another week, I’ll give away something else: most of my stomach.

Next week, I’ll undergo the procedure known as a Vertical Sleeve Gastrectomy (VSG), or ‘sleeve,’ in which a large portion of my stomach will be laparoscopically removed.

Image: Laparoscopic Sleeve Gastrectomy
http://www.virginiamason.org/SleeveGastrectomy

The decision was a long time in coming.  Despite a lifetime of being overweight and dieting, I had never considered surgery as a way to lose weight before a few years ago.  At that time, I had only considered restrictive gastric banding.  More recently, several friends and family members underwent bariatric surgery, and as I saw their results and spoke with them more, I began thinking it might be my best hope to return to a healthy weight.  Mr. Stuck had already been working toward his own surgery and healthy weight goal, so I had the added benefit of involvement with his process, too.

I did my ‘due diligence’ and read up on the types of surgeries available; who would benefit from what type; what co-morbidities would likely improve after surgery; risks and benefits; and long-term results.  I joined an online chat group to read real stories and questions.  I spoke with my doctor, who was enthusiastically supportive.  And so I made the decision to work my way through the prerequisites for surgery.

To have this surgery, I have had a psychological examination, sleep study, blood work, EKG, barium swallow, and 6 months of dietary oversight by a nutritionist (in which I lost 30 lbs).  I found out that I am an otherwise healthy obese person who has sleep apnea, but I don’t have elevated blood pressure, diabetes, or high cholesterol.  Contrary to popular belief, I am psychologically normal (who knew?).  I have a hiatal hernia, which means my stomach bulges up through my diaphragm, but I’ve never had more than mild symptoms from it.  Right now I am in the pre-surgery diet phase of two protein shakes and one light meal per day.  The day before the procedure will be full liquids.

Although I am healthy now, there are no guarantees I will remain so, especially given a familial history of cancer, diabetes, and high blood pressure; and really, obesity increases my risk of everything.  I need to lose the weight to decrease that risk.  But I also hope that losing the amount of weight that I need to will also improve my health by improving my quality of life issues like arthritis, sleep problems, and general aches and pains.

There will be a lot of adjustments to make following the surgery, but I am committed.  Where I used to think that surgery was the ‘easy way out’ for weight loss as opposed to the blood, sweat and tears of dieting, exercise and discipline, I now know that it’s not ‘either-or.’  I will have the surgery and I will also diet, exercise, and discipline myself to change my relationship with food.  But I will have the tool of surgery to help me.

You could say that life is basically a series of adjustments, from the womb to the outside world; from a child to an adult; and from a single person to a couple or family, perhaps.  Some adjustments are easy, some are voluntary, and some are life-changing.  This one is has a little of all of that, and more.  I will be adjusting from obesity to health.

I don’t intend to bore you all with “I lost 3 more lbs!” posts.  I will write about it, yes, but maybe just to tell you about my flying-squirrel arm flaps or my hair falling out.  I may crow a bit when I’ve reached a milestone, and I may whine when I mourn for the Bubba Burgers of my past (I confess, I am addicted to cheeseburgers), but I won’t subject you to much of it, I promise.  And I won’t use the terms ‘fat shaming’ or ‘body shaming’ because I detest them.  But I will share with you some of the lessons I’m learning on my way to a healthy life.

I will never be thin, but I do hope to cross my legs again someday.
And sit on the floor and get back up again.
And sit comfortably on a plane.
And wear Spandex to Walmart.

juuust kidding.

 

 

 photo credit thenext28days and MotiveWeight

Just Listen.

Tchaikovsky – Hymn of the Cherubim – The USSR Ministry of Culture Chamber Choir 1998

Got 7 1/2 minutes?  Listen.  Come back when you’re done.

I just wanted to share that with you.  It will stir your soul.  It most certainly has mine.
A friend shared it tonight, and when I heard it I knew I wanted the rest of you to hear it.  Some of you may already know this piece, but I did not.

The holidays are upon us once again, and it is good not to get caught up in that whirlwind of sound and fury.  Best just to celebrate your family and friends; celebrate new life and honor those who came before. The older I get, the better that sounds, and the more it means to me.

Look around and count your blessings; make them, and gratitude, your priority.

I Quit!

Eight years ago today, I smoked my last cigarette before heading to my appointment with a hypnotherapist.

It was time.

When I’d called to make the appointment, she assessed my readiness to quit smoking with a few questions and then agreed to schedule me for two sessions. Hypnosis can’t make you do something you don’t want to do; your outcome depends heavily on your mind set.  I had an unopened pack of Marlboro Lights in my purse, just in case. I didn’t know what to expect.

Marie was a very nice lady with a calm demeanor; as an introduction, she detailed her background as a registered nurse and the path she took to become a hypnotherapist. We had a nice chat, and she explained that while we spoke, she’d be taking notes to use during my session. She asked me why I wanted to quit, what my expectations were, and what I thought the greatest benefit of quitting would be. I told her that my impetus for quitting was my children – I didn’t want them to grow up seeing me smoke and thinking it was a normal thing to do. Most importantly, I wanted to be healthy for them, to be there as they grew up.

She asked if I had any special requests, and I did: the previous times I had tried to quit, I had found that the smell of cigarette smoke made me want to light one up, myself. I asked her if she could make it so that I could tolerate the smoke without craving the cigarette, as I had friends and neighbors who smoked. She cautioned that it might be a difficult task to pull off, but she would try.

I lay back in the recliner and closed my eyes, focusing on her voice. Soon the outside noises faded away and I felt at peace. Contrary to popular belief, I was not asleep; I was completely awake, yet completely relaxed. Her words were soothing and pleasant; I remember that more than what she actually said that day. I do remember, though, that she asked me to visualize myself a year from that day, both as a smoker and also as a non-smoker, and to describe how I felt in each incarnation. She had my ‘future self’ talk to my ‘present self’ to encourage me to choose well.

In what seemed like the blink of an eye, I was alert, sitting up, and feeling refreshed. She asked me how I felt, and I realized that I felt terrific! She asked if I had any idea how long I’d been there with her, and I said, “I don’t know – an hour?” I was shocked to find out I had been there close to three hours!

Wow.

I asked if we were all done, and she said we were. I reached into my purse to get my checkbook and found an unopened pack of Marlboro Light cigarettes. I was sincerely puzzled – What are these doing here? I don’t smoke! It was as if someone had flipped a switch – I was a non-smoker now. I asked if she’d throw them away for me, and she laughed and said, ‘sure.’

I drove home, still feeling great. When I got there, my neighbor, who had been watching my kids, motioned for me to join her out on the porch for a cigarette so she could tell me how the boys had behaved while I was away. I said, ‘I’ll join you, but not to smoke.’  I sat across from her at a table on the porch, but the cigarette smoke didn’t bother me one bit.  I couldn’t believe it. Success!

The boys asked me where I had been; I reminded them that I had been at an appointment so I could quit smoking. Number One Son asked, ‘Did you quit?’  I said, ‘Yes.’  He burst into grateful tears and hugged me tight.  Number Young Son told everyone he saw that his mom had quit smoking, from the bus driver to the lady at the grocery store.  When I found a partially-opened pack of cigarettes in the house, I offered to let the boys throw them away for me. They happily obliged, destroying the pack and everything in it. They hated cigarettes and were glad to see them gone.

It has been eight whole years since that day.  I have never had a craving, and I have never cheated. It was painless, and my kids have told me they no longer remember when I smoked. I did go back for my follow up appointment, but it was only to reaffirm that I was a non-smoker now. For a while, I kept track of the money I was saving by not buying cigarettes, and it was amazing to see how much money I had literally burned in my years of smoking. When I quit, cigarettes cost about $5.00 to $5.50 per pack, and I smoked about one and a half packs a day. It sure adds up.

Quitting smoking is the best thing I have ever done for myself and my family. My clothes, hair, car, and breath no longer smell like cigarettes; I no longer rush out of a movie or restaurant to huddle in the corner and smoke; I no longer panic when I’m down to the last couple of cigarettes in the pack and scrounge for change to buy more; or worse, pick through my cigarette butts for something I could smoke. I don’t worry about crushed packs, broken cigarettes, or no-smoking signs. I don’t wake up with a hacking cough every morning, and I don’t get every cold that goes around anymore.  I don’t miss holding someone else up because I had to ‘finish my smoke.’

I don’t like to preach; I never liked being preached at.  Yes, I would love for all of my smoking friends and family members to quit, but they, like me, must do it for themselves.

All I can do is support them when they decide to take that step.

 

 

photo credit justj0000lie