Have Courage.

 

What would you do if you knew you could not fail?
 – Eleanor Roosevelt

 Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.
 – Neale Donald Walsch

 

Comfort zone.

As much as I believe the term has been overused, it is an easily understood concept. We do what we do out of habit and out of a love of routine. Just like when we nestle into our warm beds, once we’ve set ourselves up in a comfy spot, mentally or physically, we are loath to change. It doesn’t really matter if our zone is actually, truly comfortable; as long as it is familiar, we are more likely to stick with it than choose the alternative. Even when the alternative is better, we often find ourselves mired in the wheel-ruts of our routines. Why?

I’ve asked myself this question many times over the years and with increased intensity since WLS became part of my life. Why do I continue to hold the negative thought processes and perspectives that landed me here? Why is it so hard for me to embrace a more positive self-image? Why am I unable to let go of my old self?

What am I afraid of?

I have to believe that many of you are also struggling with embracing the change and leaving the old you behind with all its associated beliefs and baggage. It’s why we can’t let go of the past. It’s why we still have closets full of clothes that don’t fit and pantries full of food we don’t eat. It’s why we brush off compliments but take every slight to heart. It’s why we take tentative steps forward, all the while looking behind. It’s why we let the opinions of others dictate how we feel about ourselves. What if we fail? What if this new thing doesn’t work out? If you listen, you can already hear the ‘I told you so’ chorus warming up.

I am motivated, in large part, by fear. Fear is an unwieldy and unwelcome part of my life. I’d like to say I’m getting better at dealing with that part of my psyche, but honestly, I don’t know if that’s true. What I do know is that I have made it into a big, scary monster that either keeps me from doing certain things or compels me to do them. I’m afraid of the dark, so I leave lights on unnecessarily. I’m afraid of what other people think, so I don’t always say what’s on my mind.

What are you afraid of? Ridicule. Embarrassment. Being misunderstood. Failure. Risk. Success. Revealing yourself. Loss. Not being good enough. Commitment. Rejection. Missing out. Death. Action. Inaction. Change.

Real or perceived, fears can easily control us.

Fear can give me a ton of reasons to do something, and it also gives me a ton of excuses not to. It’s been very prosperous in my life; I’ve allowed it unrestricted access to my decisions, my self-image, my language, and my activities. I’ve deferred to it and allowed it to be my default position, whether I realize it or not.

As a result, I haven’t challenged myself much. It’s much easier this way, you know: if I do what I’ve always done, I’ll continue to get the results I’ve always had, and there won’t be any doubt or uncertainty about it. I can coast right along.

Right?

Well, if I am to be honest with myself, I’d have to admit that I like challenges. I like them because they offer me the opportunity to achieve, to learn, and to overcome. Challenges, by their very nature, are confrontational; they defiantly stand in front of you with arms crossed as if to say, “So what?” Challenges dare you to act; dare you to upset the status quo; dare you to prove them wrong.

In January of last year, I viewed starting a blog as a challenge, so I braved the naysayer in my head and met it head on. It may be too early to tell, but I think it was a good decision. Blogging has been good therapy for me in many ways, but it hasn’t healed my grief or solved my problems; rather, it has brought those things front and center for me to deal with. It has made me recognize and appreciate the flaws and frailties that make me who I am. Writing has helped my comfort zone expand, and as it has grown, so have I. I highly recommend it.

Losing weight and changing myself has been an even bigger challenge. It has dared me to rethink everything about my life and my choices. It’s teaching me things I never knew and giving me strength. I’m coloring outside the lines now.

As I live my post-op life, challenges arise on a regular basis. I admit I haven’t taken up all of the gauntlets thrown at my feet; some will have to wait until I feel a bit more confident. But each one I do accept makes me that much happier and secure in myself.

I’m slowly coming to the realization that allowing for what other people think should not be a platform of my personal development. In some ways, that position reflects how I felt through my grief – what is right for you is not what’s right for him, or her, or me. I can’t live my life in fear of the judgment of others. Chances are, they care far less than I give them credit for, anyway.

I’m 50 years old, but in some ways I feel like I’ve just started living.

 

 photo credit Garry Wilmore

‘Fessing Up.

A confession has to be part of your new life.
– Ludwig Wittgenstein

One of the blogs I follow that deals with WLS and post-WLS living asked a question of its readers today: do you do anything that you feel might eventually cause you to regain? The replies came fast and thick: ‘grazing,’ ‘not exercising,’ ‘emotional eating,’ ‘bored eating,’ ‘giving in to cravings,’ and so on. Most of the commenters went on to berate themselves for making mistakes and being human. Even though the post did not ask for details, they were offered freely:
‘I am 4 weeks post op and cheated already by licking Doritos.’
‘Every time I add a new food into my diet, I wonder, is this going to be my downfall?’
‘I am 7 years post op, and I am almost back to my pre-surgery weight.’
‘I make bad food choices.’
‘I get so stressed out and then I eat.’
‘Every time I eat I am afraid of stretching my pouch.’

There were many, many more, all with similar issues.

This is the reality. I still graze sometimes instead of eating small meals and snacks at regular intervals. I still crave chips and chocolate. I still mosey out to the fridge when I’m bored, looking for something quick to eat. Not that I’m hungry, mind you. It’s that same rut that I fall into as soon as I lose focus and feel lazy.

It’s tough. Now that Number One Son is working so many hours, he’s often not home at dinnertime. When I come home, Mr. Stuck is often working outside in the nice weather, and when I ask him if he’s hungry, he says no. So I don’t make dinner. When he comes inside after dark, that’s when he’s hungry, and then it’s nearly bedtime. Instead of eating a nutrition-packed, tasty meal lovingly prepared, we end up grabbing a couple slices of cheese and a few crackers, some cookies, or a hard boiled egg. Or a beer. Or maybe nothing.

This is not how I envisioned my post-op life. I was going to have a fridge full of perfectly-portioned, healthy meals and snacks that would keep me from eating the unhealthy stuff. I wasn’t going to indulge in chips and cookies and ice cream. That was the old me. I was going to cook up new, exciting recipes from my new WLS cookbook. There would be kale and broccoli and fish and chicken and all sorts of nutritious goodies to choose from. I would eat like a thin person, not like a fat person.

Well, we did pretty well for a while. Mr. Stuck discovered he loves kale, and we started eating more fish and chicken and far less beef and pork. I tried a few new recipes. I would bring home produce and immediately prepare it, cutting celery into sticks and chunking up cantaloupe. We cut out almost all starches like bread, potatoes, and pasta. We drank mostly water. When we ate out, we would split an entrée and have more than enough food.

But then the old habits returned with a vengeance: junk food appeared in my grocery cart. Instead of splitting restaurant meals, we would each order what we wanted, and sometimes we had cocktails, too. Instead of trying to stick with our schedule of eating every couple of hours, we found ourselves skipping meals, eating here and there, and grazing whatever was available. Instead of small, measured portions, we ate larger quantities over longer periods. We got complacent.

This is a huge lesson. As much as I’ve heard it and said it myself, I still need to remember that WLS is not a magic wand. My surgery did not change my poor eating habits, my self-image, my cravings, my emotions, my baggage, or my conditioning. It didn’t make me automatically love exercise. It didn’t give me license to return to the way I did things before, like a ‘get out of jail free’ card. It didn’t excuse me from having to watch what I eat, and it didn’t make me healthy.

I am the only one who can do those things.

I noticed also on that blog post that several commenters mentioned counseling and support groups. I was glad to see that. I, for one, need the support and encouragement of family and friends.  (I think we all do.)  I am convinced that the best way to be successful for me and Mr. Stuck is to go to our meetings and talk that stuff out. When I do, I find that everyone else feels the same way. They offer ‘been there, done that’ tips on dealing with the problems we all encounter. They acknowledge that we are all human and we will make mistakes, but they offer encouragement, not criticism like we so readily give ourselves. It is so easy to fall back into those bad habits, and it is so hard to admit that to ourselves. Being with people who have stubbed their toes on that same rock makes it so much easier to deal with.

I may look like a whole new person, but I’m just the same old person in a smaller package. It is not surgery that makes me new – it is the commitment I make to myself, that I love myself enough to make these changes and stick with them. It’s not my smaller stomach — it is that I value myself enough to work hard, learn from my mistakes, and get back up after I fall off the wagon.

Thanks to Bariatric Foodie for the food for thought.

photo credit: Steve Wilson

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