Small Victories.

Clarity, Moments of :
Everyone has them once in a while.  Even me.

So at last month’s WLS support group meeting, we were encouraged to share a non-scale victory (NSV) or something positive. I like this part of the meeting, because it helps people shift their focus from the numbers to the things that really matter. The number on the scale is just one of the many benefits we get from losing weight and getting healthy. When you can stop weighing yourself every day and deciding your worth based on how much you lost or didn’t lose, that’s a victory in itself.

Breathe. Relax, and don’t be so hard on yourself! Not all of us are going to run a 5K or join a Zumba class; some of us are just happy to throw away our elastic-waist slacks or walk through Costco without eating all the samples.

A win is a win — it doesn’t have to be big to count. You’re the judge – is it important to you? Did it put a smile on your face, bring tears of joy, or make you pump your fist in the air? Then it counts! Zipping up a pair of jeans that didn’t fit last month, going on a hike, going unrecognized when you run into someone who hasn’t seen you in a while, fitting in a restaurant booth or an airplane seat, or wearing a swimsuit for the first time in years are wonderful examples. Making it through a party with your willpower and determination intact is another. For me, crossing my legs at the knees instead of at the ankles was huge, and still is.

What makes you feel triumphant?  That’s what counts!

And really, I think NSVs are about perspective. Small victories are important in all parts of life: as a parent, in your work environment, and in relationships. It isn’t all about the finish line.

I love seeing familiar faces and meeting new ones at the meetings. It feels so good to be social after feeling somewhat isolated, insulated by fat. But it’s not just fat, is it? It’s anger. Resentment. Protection. Rejection. Denial. Self-loathing. Shame. Whatever. So often we hide ourselves away and stop interacting. We don’t go out much, we don’t want to be seen, and we feel embarrassed. We shrink even further into ourselves. Even when the ‘outside you’ forces a smile, the ‘inside you’ is miserable, and it’s easier to be miserable alone.

So as the fat melts away and reveals the true self, communication and social interaction become even more important. We need the encouragement and support. We’re not hiding anymore. We are learning to stand up for ourselves in a different way. We are learning to speak a new language — the language of hope, of positivity, of gratitude, of acceptance and love. Maybe we’re learning to say No or allowing ourselves to say Yes. We are learning to love our imperfect selves.

It’s tough — some of us have hated ourselves for a long time.

But in the end, it’s these little wins that will sustain us, by teaching us to appreciate what we have worked so hard for.

Look in the mirror and smile at the winner you see there.  That’s a start!

 

 

photo credit Richard Moross

Awareness. (Or, Pot, Meet Kettle)

31-365: Name calling

I remember the first time I walked into my bariatric surgery support group, well before I had decided to have the surgery. Mr. Stuck and I were there on a ‘fact-finding mission’ and weren’t sure what to expect. We had previously gone to a seminar or two, where you sit among other prospective WLS patients in a chilly hospital meeting room stocked with bottles of tepid water and an overhead projector and listen to doctors and post-ops for an hour. While those seminars do provide a lot of information, it’s almost too much at that point – you don’t even know what questions to ask. But the support group is different in that they want you to engage with the other members and hear their stories.

I confess that one of my first impressions was of a post-op lady who seemed to want to monopolize the dialogue. Everything was about her. Right off the bat, that annoyed me, and as I sat and watched her talk, I found I was paying more attention to what she looked like than what she said. I remember thinking that her clothing was too tight; she looked like a sausage with a belt on. I wondered why she would choose to wear something so unflattering, especially after (I assumed) a significant weight loss. Although I knew nothing about her, I allowed my mind to wander a bit, and I decided that maybe she just didn’t know how to find clothing that was better suited to her shape, or maybe she didn’t have a realistic view of herself when she looked in the mirror. (How very judgmental of me.)

Fast forward to here and now and find me smack-dab in that same situation. I have lost a significant amount of weight, but I still have more to go. I pass a mirror and stop to look at the slimmer me, and I see the newly flat-as-a-pancake bustline, flabby midsection, and saggy arms. I turn to the side and see my droopy butt and poochy belly. And I see that same sausage shape that I noticed that first night at the support group.

ACK!

So I apologize for thinking those things about that lady (who, by the way, has not attended the group in a very long time), because I am standing squarely in her shoes, and I had no business judging her in the first place.

For one, when you lose a lot of weight, your shape is very different. It’s different from what it was when you were obese, obviously, but it’s also different from the shape you may remember having before you were obese. In my case, I always had a tree-trunk shape, with no real waist definition or curves. That’s still my shape. But now I also have to contend with the excess skin and loose flesh that is left after the pounds come off. I’m left with what looks like a post-partum belly. That makes it tougher to find clothes that fit correctly, because if the waist fits, the butt is too big; if the butt fits, the waist is uncomfortably snug. I find myself wanting to hide under baggy clothes once again, just to conceal the muffin top. More sit-ups!

Something else that didn’t occur to me before it happened to me (isn’t that so often the case, anyway?) is that after surgery, things are different on the inside. A bypass actually re-routes your stomach and intestines, while a sleeve removes the major portion of your stomach. These are big changes that cause other organs and tissue to move around and readjust, too, and it is common to feel little reminders of the rearrangement from time to time. Does this contribute to my different shape? Sure. The muscles that hold everything in that area have been stretched like the skin has been stretched, and it all takes time for these things to find their new happy places.

I should be happy and grateful that my new shape is smaller and healthier than it was, instead of complaining that it isn’t what I want it to be. I should be thankful that I no longer have to wear ‘plus-sized’ clothes and I can fit in a restaurant booth and a seatbelt. I should celebrate that I have so many more choices and opportunities as a normal-sized person. Don’t get me wrong – I am thankful and glad for all of those things.

Wrapping your head around your changing shape is hard. Changing the way you see yourself (and others, too) is even harder. I know I don’t have a realistic view of myself when I look in the mirror, and I am still learning how to dress my altered shape, but I keep telling myself these things take time.

Meanwhile, and rightly so, I’m calling myself out for judging a stranger in the same manner that I have been judged (and have judged myself) — for something as minor as appearance. Every time I have to stuff my marshmallowy torso into my best-fitting pants, I remember that.

Kettle, it’s nice to meet you. Sincerely, Pot.

(Lucky for me, Mr. Stuck says he loves pancakes and sausage. 😉 )

 

 

photo credits Rina Pitucci  and trixie

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