Aloha.

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I wanted to love you, Hawai’i, I really did.  I held on for a long time, hoping things would get better.  I tried.

It just didn’t work out between us.

I’ve admired you from afar, and for many years I’d heard so many nice things about you.  Friends said we were destined for the long term.  You were beautiful, wild and free.  I hoped one day to meet you.

So when the chance finally came for us to spend time together, the anticipation bubbled up in me.  And you didn’t disappoint.  No, you were as handsome and lovely as they all said you were, lush and vibrant and serene all at once.  I marveled.

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You fed my stomach and you fed my soul.

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We explored each other warily for the first days, you and I.  At times breezy, you turned sultry as the evenings settled.

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You offered a lot of fun, but I also saw your somber side at Pearl Harbor.

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The next day, you showed me a parrot fish munching coral at Hanauma Bay and a wonderful luau and dinner show later.

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You taught me the story behind the “shaka.”  Our time together was going smoothly, and you and I got along just fine, Hawai’i.

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But things turned sour at Haleiwa, on our trip up to the North Shore, right after the butter garlic shrimp at Macky’s.

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I mean, really.  I was just going for a ride, but that tour bus guide had other plans. You really hurt me that day, but I stayed with you.

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That sprained ankle slowed me down.

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The wheelchair helped, but I have to admit it put a crimp in our relationship, which had started off so well.  Now I couldn’t be as freewheeling and spontaneous as you wanted me to be.

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Now I had to temper my enthusiasm with a painful slice of reality – an Ace bandage and a cane.

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Still, we dined happily with dear friends who were glad to meet you, too, and the bag of ice was a small price to pay.  (The cab fare was another matter entirely.)

I gamely went along with the original plan, getting to know you better.  We went to Hilo, where you showed me your active volcano and the beauty of its stark landscape.  20160505_184700[1]

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It was almost romantic, dining on ahi poke, illuminated by your evening glow. There was still so much to learn about you.

I sensed the best was yet to come.

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In the morning we met an old friend for the first time.  We swam with her in the warm, thermal waters near Pahoa.  We saw myriad little fish swarm near the boat launch and the young boy practicing surfing near the breakwater.

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We met some new, friendly faces and petted some dogs on boogie boards; we also met a not-so-friendly sea urchin that left its marks.

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We even saw where Pele stopped to rest last year, leaned up against a fence at the city dump.  I should have known that the churning in our guts was a foreboding.

We drove around the coastline, determined to see as much as we could.

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We saw huge boulders churning in the waves, testimony to the sea’s incredible strength, and turtles riding the surge.

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Enormous palms and banyans provided shade while showy bougainvillea and trumpet vines climbed their trunks.

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It was lush and warm, and the sea breeze was just right.

Something ugly was brewing in that perfumed air, though.  Later on, I knew it: instead of butterflies, I felt an angry growl in my stomach.  What should have been a relaxing time of fun and laughter became exhausting.  My enthusiasm, like my energy, was draining away fast.  Maybe I should have known when the flight was cancelled, but the staff was helpful and eventually got us where we needed to be.  I still held out hope for us.

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Maui, the final destination, was supposed to be the best of all.

Only it wasn’t.  And after an hour and a half drive, inching our way over 20 miles to the resort, making arrangements to stay closer to the elevator in deference to my still-swollen ankle, and finally checking in, all we could do was collapse on the bed and sleep.

Hawai’i, your charm was fading fast.

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It rained from the sky straight into my heart, and even my best attempts at salvaging the days we had left were mostly fruitless.  We finally saw one of your fabled sunsets, but only briefly from under the heavy rain cloud, and only from our room, while we bitterly laughed at the irony.

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After two more nights of Gatorade, bananas and crackers, I no longer wanted to be with you.  I was no longer under your spell; I was tired, hurt, and deeply disappointed in you.  You weren’t what I had hoped for, and you weren’t what I was led to believe.

You were beautiful from a distance, but when I was with you, you smothered me, and I realized I couldn’t live that life.  It was time to go.

To be honest, these may have been the worst days of my life, made more so because they were supposed to be some of the best.  You mocked my plans.  You flouted my desire to do it all, and you made me unable to do anything.  Even the sun turned its back at the end.  So I don’t feel bad for ending it at all.  I’m not a quitter, but I know when I’m wasting my time.

So, goodbye, Hawai’i.  I’m breaking up with you.

Aloha.  I never want to see you again.  When I speak of you, it will be in past tense, because we don’t have a future together.  Your name will become synonymous with the worst of times, not the best of times.  When I hear it, it will bring to mind a broken ankle

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(it wasn’t a sprain, after all), food poisoning, and a sea urchin sting.  It will remind me of rain, dorky tour guides, and rude people.

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I may wistfully recall our time at Duke’s and Morimoto’s, but I am more likely to wince at the thought of that ahi poke.

And I couldn’t even find a decent cup of coffee.

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

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

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

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.