Lazybones.

I confess:

I’m lazy.

I’m quite comfortable as a lump on the couch. I’ve got yoga pants and a Yoda butt. I prefer escalators to stairs. I like parking close to the store. I’ll often holler from the other end of the house before getting up and walking over to talk to Mr. Stuck.

And I’d pretty much have to be in fear for my life to be caught running.

I’m sure my inertia was a huge factor in my weight gain, because I never had what you’d call an active lifestyle. I was never in sports in school, unless you count the year I was manager of the track team, where my physical exertion was limited to handing out equipment and collecting wet towels to be laundered. I wasn’t very coordinated. I was a bookish kid, not a sporty one – my brain got all the exercise. My only bad grade in school – a “C” – was in PE.

Making the change to a more active life has been slow, but I know it is worthwhile. I use the stairs at work almost exclusively now, and it has made a difference. I’m parking farther away from where I want to go, just so I can add a few steps to my day. I’m making myself move more, and I try not to sit for too long at a stretch, but it isn’t easy for a couch potato. A body at rest stays at rest, and all that.

Newton must have known a Lazybones like me.

I’ve always joked that exercise is a dirty word, but to be honest, I wish I’d used that kind of language more often. I wish I’d listened to Mom and gone outside to play more as a kid. I wish I’d tried out for softball. I wish I’d cultivated a different type of routine than I did – one where I was actually doing stuff. I would have been stronger and more physically fit than I was back then and am now. Trying to start being active is tough if you’ve never really done it before.

I’m a weakling. I have no stamina. I haven’t found an activity that I like well enough to do regularly or commit to. It’s a struggle every time between what I want to do, what I know I should do, and what I can do. I’m inspired by folks who run and swim and work out and sweat and ride bicycles and have strong, healthy bodies to show for it. I admire their determination and their drive, but I can never seem to translate that into my own life.

If I were rich, I’d have a personal trainer and maybe a chef, and I’d probably look great, thanks to them. They wouldn’t be mean like the Biggest Loser trainers, but they’d be firm, giving me goals as well as limits and making me stick to them. They’d discourage my whining and encourage my positive inner voice. They’d show me that anyone can make a change, even when change is hard. They’d have me watch inspiring movies like “Rudy” or “Rocky” or “Unbroken” to show me that my ability isn’t what matters, my heart is. A strong spirit can overcome, even when the flesh is weak.

They’d coach me to my personal best.

But I’m not rich, and I can’t afford a chef or a trainer. I only have myself in the mirror. I have to learn to be my own coach, cheerleader and motivator. I need to take charge of my own health and follow through with what I start. I need to remember the encouraging words that I’ve given to others and say them to myself – over and over and over.

You can do it.
Look how far you’ve come!
Just keep moving.
Don’t give up!

Baby steps – they’re all I’ve got, but if I take them, I’ll get there, and I’ll be way ahead of the old me sitting on the couch.

It’s never too late! 

Let’s forgive the past and change the present so we can shape the future.

 

photo credit JamieC2009

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

Your Results Will Vary.

I remember when I began the process leading up to weight loss surgery. I read everything I could find about it, talked to people about it, and joined online groups so I could learn even more. I had plenty of ideas about how much better my life could be if I lost weight. I envisioned the clouds parting and the sun finally shining down on me.

I was apprehensive, though, and I had a lot of questions, because I was afraid and I wasn’t sure if I could make it through all the required hoops. I mean, besides all of the medical tests, I had to be on a supervised diet for six months and I needed to lose weight before surgery. Like a lot of folks who face that obstacle, I was discouraged and got cold feet. I thought, If I can lose that weight, then maybe I don’t need to do something as drastic as surgery, after all.

Yeah, no.

Then there was the liquid diet after surgery. How would I manage that? And how would I make (and stick to) an eating schedule? And how would I get all my water AND all my protein AND all my supplements? (There are only so many hours in a day, you know.) And that’s only the first couple of weeks! What will I do after that??

Those who know me <ahem, Mr. Stuck> know that I worry about things — mostly those things I can’t change. My mother used to warn about ‘borrowing trouble’ and I seem to do it a lot. I had myself in a complete lather with all the ‘what ifs’ I came up with in the months and weeks before surgery, not to mention afterward. I concocted all kinds of scenarios, some more believable than others, but I worried about them all.

What if my hair falls out? What am I going to do about saggy skin? What if the surgery doesn’t work? What if I’m left with strange digestive troubles? What if I don’t lose weight? What if I develop some weird side-effect that nobody’s ever heard of? What will I do at parties — restaurants — friends’ houses? How do I eat without drinking? What will I do without coffee? How soon will I be at my goal weight? What if I never get to my goal weight?

What if I fail?

And then there were the WLS support group stories. I listened to people who couldn’t eat without throwing up, those who could no longer handle certain foods, and those who had constant digestive issues. I heard people worry about how they would balance their own dietary needs against those of their families. I heard people worry about if they should ‘come out’ about their WLS, and if so, to whom. And I noticed something.

I noticed that everyone was worried about something. Everyone had questions, even if they never voiced them. And I noticed something else. For every question, there were as many answers as there were people. None of those answers were ‘wrong,’ and none were ‘right.’

The common theme was, Your results will vary.

Just like there is no such thing as a typical WLS patient, there is no such thing as a universal result. Each person’s success hinges on their personal health history; the time and effort they invest; follow up care; exercise; spiritual, emotional and mental factors; their support network; their commitment to a healthier life; and a host of other elements that can change every day.

So while I urge you to read and learn and talk to folks and ask questions throughout this process, I also encourage you to understand that there are a million things that will affect how this surgery changes you, and while some may be somewhat predictable, most are not. You may find, as I did, that the issues you have after surgery are not the same things you worried about beforehand. I will guarantee, though, that you will learn some things about yourself that you might not have realized before. That may not be easy, but it will be valuable.

Your perspective and your insight change with your physiology. You will reassess what is important — your blood pressure? Your goal weight? Your waist size? Your activity level? Your relationships? These things will all change, and so will their significance to you.

On the other hand, there are things that WLS doesn’t change. It doesn’t give you the ability to avoid consequences. It doesn’t make your food issues disappear. Let me say that again: It doesn’t make your food issues disappear. It doesn’t automatically make you a “skinny person” (whatever that means) for life. It isn’t a free pass to get away with something. It doesn’t erase the bad habits you have developed over your lifetime. It doesn’t give you a great personality, a better job, more friends, or instant happiness.

It gives you another chance – a fresh start. It gives you an opportunity to take stock of things and make adjustments. So use it. Just remember one thing:

Your results will vary.

Smilin Bo

 

 photo credit speedpropertybuyers.co.uk/ and Leo Hidalgo

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

A Work in Progress.

So many thoughts in my head…I’m just gonna toss ’em out there.

The other day, a friend of mine commented on social media about how she’s so schizophrenic (my word, because I can’t remember hers) when self-image is concerned. With each outfit, she looks in the mirror and says to herself, I look okay in this, or I look like a cow in this, or this makes my hips look huge, or whatever. What I got from that was that self-image is often a moment-to-moment thing, depending on how you see yourself, and your clothing or hair or accessories can make all the difference.

Let me just say that this woman is a natural beauty with a lovely figure. I would go so far as to call her stunning. She can walk in the room and attract everyone’s attention without even trying. To hear her expressing insecurity about her own looks is unbelievable to a person like me, but I know she’s sincere and not looking for compliments. She’s humble and she’s beautiful on the inside, too. Unfortunately, the beauty we see when we look at her is not what she sees in the mirror. I suspect this is true for most of us.

But I didn’t always know that. As a fat girl, I envied the girls who didn’t have to try — the girls who looked good in anything they wore, whose hair and makeup were always perfect, and who seemed to have it all figured out. I wanted to be like that, but I knew it was out of reach for me and unrealistic, so I accepted my lot. My pretty friends all seemed to have their various insecurities, but I couldn’t figure out why, because to me, they had it all. They had no reason to complain. I could only imagine how great they must have felt when they admired themselves in their mirrors.

Now I’m a 50 year old WLS post-op. It took me a lifetime to figure out that we all have our own body issues. No matter what the mirror says, no matter what our best friend says, no matter what our loved ones say, we can’t see the good. We launch into the litany of the bad:  bad complexion, skinny arms, saggy chest, eyes too close together, ears too big, whatever. Or maybe we just focus on the receding (and greying) hairline and dark circles, as if they negate everything else. In our own eyes, we’re reduced to the sum of our pathetic parts.

So the men and women I admire for their poise, their beauty, and their confidence are privately just as neurotic and self-critical as I am. (Well, I think there are degrees of neuroses, so anywhere in the neighborhood is fine.) Why would I dismiss their self-assessments as baseless, but believe my own? Why did I make it about me and discount them? I don’t own any exclusive to bad self-esteem, and other people aren’t immune to it because they have good hair or good looks.

What strikes me more often as I get older is that we’re all so much more alike than we are different. Oh, our outsides are all different, but our insides are so similar. We’re all a little bit crazy and a little bit anxious. We love and laugh and grieve and work and sing and fight and dance and raise children or maybe animals. We all carry baggage and burdens. We hope that our frail lifetimes will not be in vain, and we all worry that we aren’t good enough. And instead of celebrating and standing in awe of the multifaceted, three-dimensional individuals we are, we demean ourselves for entirely superficial reasons…no matter who we are.

What keeps coming back to me are some words from my friend Jon, who used to get angry with me whenever I’d call myself a klutz or a dork or fat or stupid or whatever. His rebukes went something like this: When you put yourself down and criticize yourself, you are insulting those who love you by demeaning the object of their affection. How offensive! What gives you that right?

What, indeed?

You don’t have to be a fat person to have insecurities.

You just have to be a person.

 

 

Still a work in progress,

Stuck

 

 photo credit www.freestock.ca

 

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

A Pep Talk.


Are you still making excuses for yourself? Are you still downplaying and sabotaging your success? Did you forget how badly you wanted (needed) this weight loss? Are you finding it hard to make the changes you have to make?

Me, too. Time for a pep talk.

Back when Mr. Stuck started his journey toward surgery, I said, ‘You go first.’ It had not been very long since I’d had two major surgeries, total hip replacements, and I was in no hurry to go under the knife again. I wanted to see how it went for him before I decided yes or no. He was my guinea pig.

But that wasn’t the only reason. Even though I was unhealthy and unhappy, I was also unconvinced. Sure, I thought, maybe the Mister’s only option was to have that drastic surgery where they rearrange your insides, but it wasn’t mine. I didn’t really need something that extreme. Since he had to make huge changes in his diet, and I was the one feeding him, I’d have to make some changes myself, right? Then I could avoid having surgery, because it would be up to me to revamp our whole way of eating and I would lose weight as an added benefit. Win-win!

I saw how laughable that line of reasoning was as he got closer and closer to surgery. I made salads and chicken and substituted fruit for desserts. I tsk-tsked at him when he dared express a craving for chocolate or wanted a beer. I nannied and nattered and nagged. I told myself (and him) that it was for his own good – I was just trying to help.

I am ashamed to admit that I watched him like a hawk, but I was still living and eating the same way I always had. What a surprise – I didn’t lose like I thought I would – no, like I was certain I would. As I saw him losing, but not me, I realized that I wasn’t able to do it alone. That’s when I decided to seek WLS for myself. I wasn’t going to lose weight as a side effect of Mr.Stuck’s efforts — I had to do my own work.

And I did. And when I had my surgery, I promised myself, like everyone else does, that I would not be one of those folks who regain after surgery. I was DONE being obese. I was DONE with the unhealthy habits, the sedentary lifestyle, the unrestrained snacking, the bad choices. I was putting my life on the line; surgery was no off-the-cuff decision. This time, it had to stick, and I had to be the one to make it happen.

So here I am, ten months post-op, with the majority of my extra weight gone, and I have experienced tremendous benefits from this change. But in the last couple of months my weight loss has slowed down, even plateaued, for a number of reasons: I’m not exercising like I should; I’ve allowed myself too much leeway in my diet; I’ve stopped measuring portions and returned to the ‘eyeball’ method; I haven’t been drinking enough water; and the number one reason – I’ve fooled myself into thinking that all of these things are okay.

The sad truth is that Mr. Stuck and I are enablers for each other: I love cooking the foods that he loves to eat, and he loves to bring home treats. We have to be on our guard all the time, lest we ‘enable ourselves’ right back to where we started. No way, we say — there’s no way I’ll ever be obese again! 

But I can see how it happens. You get comfortable, you get lazy, you get overconfident. Right after surgery, you’re elated at the pounds in freefall — every time you step on the scale or go clothes shopping, the number is smaller. It’s intoxicating! You look better, you feel better, and you begin to feel invincible. Where before you felt restricted, later on you’re embracing the new mantra of WLS: I can eat whatever I want, just in smaller portions.

You tell yourself it’s okay to hover over the hors d’oeuvres tray at the party because they’re small, and your tummy is small, so no big deal. You go ahead and have that beer. Don’t even get me started on lattes or Halloween candy. It’s all part of the big story you’re telling yourself, because all that you’re doing is making excuses and setting yourself up. Sadly, I know this from experience.

So it’s time to fall back and regroup. For me, this means remembering what it felt like to be obese and miserable: my feet hurt every single day. I was always tired. My back ached. I didn’t sleep very well. My skin was awful. My clothes didn’t fit very well, and I resisted buying new ones because I hated trying them on and I hated how they looked and I hated the size I wore. It means remembering how I never wanted to be in front of the camera and how futile it felt to me to dress up, wear makeup, or get my hair done — I’d still be the same fat, dowdy chick as before. And it means remembering the desperation — the tearful pleas and deals I made with myself, the promises, the threats — all of that.  It means remembering the struggle of trying to diet, denying myself in an effort to see a quick loss, which never worked for very long and made me grumpy, besides.

It means remembering how I blamed myself for my failure and saw myself as worthless, lazy, helpless, and stuck, refusing to look beyond the fat – and then being resentful when other people followed my lead and did the same.

I remember all of that. I never, ever want to forget. It seemed like it took a lot of time and determination to finish all of my prerequisites for surgery, and then – finally – it happened. Now, that part – the easy part – is behind me, and the rest of my life lies before me. It’s up to me which direction I go.

I didn’t come all this way to make a u-turn. None of us did.
Relapse is not an option.

 

photo credit Lauren Lionheart

The Wheat and the Chaff.

It’s been more than a year since I got my hearing devices, and recently I met with my audiologist to discuss it.  I just love that lady — she is a warm, caring person, and you can tell she really enjoys her profession.  We had a terrific conversation, touching on all kinds of topics.  She wanted to know how my transition had been this past year; was I comfortable with where the instruments’ volume was set?  Did I have to adjust it up or down?  How often?  How was I doing overall?  I told her that one of the hardest things for me was adjusting to sounds I’d never heard before and learning how to ignore them.

Let me explain.

From our earliest moments, even before birth, we respond to sounds of all kinds.  We learn to associate some sounds with good things (music, laughter) and some with bad things (alarms, explosions).  Our brain learns to tell the difference between sounds we should pay attention to, like the telephone ringing, and those we can tune out, like the hum of the refrigerator when the compressor kicks on.

For me, it was different: my hearing loss in the oh-so-crucial midrange of sound, where conversation resides, meant that I had to strain to hear sounds like voices, but higher- or lower-pitched sounds were sometimes uncomfortably loud.  I remember a time as a teenager when I heard a strange, high-pitched buzz, sort of a whine, while at home watching TV.  I muted the TV and tried to figure out where the sound came from.  It took awhile, but I finally realized that what I was hearing was the frequency change when the TV changed pictures.  The volume was off, but I could clearly hear the difference in the tone of the buzz when the picture changed.  Weird!

Over the years my brain learned to adjust; life with hearing loss was all I knew.  I learned to watch people as they spoke, so I could better ascertain what they said. I learned to sit close to the front of the class.  I learned to sleep with the bedroom door open.  When I moved out by myself, I got a dog to alert me to noises I couldn’t hear.  I managed pretty well, for the most part.  I didn’t know what all I was missing, so I guess I didn’t miss it.

In the last several years, my hearing was getting worse, and although I think I realized it, I didn’t want to admit it to myself.  But it was becoming more and more apparent, especially to my family.  Mr. Stuck might come in the house and say that the coyotes were ‘really going at it out there,’ urging me and the boys to go out and listen.  Dutifully, I’d stand on the porch and strain to hear something — anything — that might be a coyote.  “There!  Did you hear that?” he’d ask.  “No,” I’d admit.  Then, “Shh….there it is again!  You must have heard it that time!”  Nope.  Most of the time, I’d go back in the house without hearing a thing.  Same scenario when the frogs were especially loud, or the owls, or even the baby eagle.  When the dogs in the neighborhood treed a raccoon and barked nonstop for hours, it was the Mister who was kept from sleep while I snored contentedly beside him.

I knew I was missing out, but I didn’t want to dwell on it.  Why worry about something that I couldn’t change?  When I was fitted with my hearing devices, it is not exaggeration to say a whole new world opened up to me: I heard the breeze; I heard water running; and I could finally hear those crickets, frogs, and coyotes.

What a difference.

But I soon realized it was a mixed blessing; along with the sounds I was glad to hear, I also became aware of sounds I’d rather not hear, the normal racket of everyday life.  Most of you can tune that out, but I can’t.  I hear every click of the keyboard and mouse, every sniff and snort and throat-clearing by the people around me.  I hear the clock tick-tick-ticking as my workday marches along.  I hear it when my coworker puts his pencil down and cracks his knuckles.  I hear people breathe and chew.  Mr. Stuck can tell you that I am particularly distressed by whispering; his favorite hunting shows always feature someone whispering to the camera right before taking a shot at some big buck. Sibilant sounds are some of the worst for me to deal with.  My brain hasn’t learned to ignore those things; it treats all these new sounds as important, even the ones that make me want to scream.

As I explained all this to the doctor, she nodded knowingly.  No doubt she hears this from most, if not all, of her patients.  She assured me that with time, my brain would be able to sort out the wheat from the chaff (is it coincidence that wheat has ears?) and things would settle down.  I just had to be patient in the interim.

Well, if you know me, you know that patience is not one of my virtues.  And separating what’s important from what isn’t has never been my strong point.  I’m trying to change how I react to the sounds that distract and annoy me, but it’s difficult.  I’m struggling.

Overall, the little technological marvels tucked snugly in my ears have given me fresh perspective and a whole new appreciation for the world around me.  I am truly grateful to have my hearing restored.  I still don’t hear normally, but it’s as close as I’ve ever been, and far surpasses what I had before.  So while I don’t want to take away from that by complaining, it wouldn’t be fair to ignore the drawbacks.

And then I think about this wheat and chaff thing and how it applies to so many other parts of my life.  Priorities.  Decisions.  Life changes.  Weight loss.  Health.  Relationships.  What is truly important, and what is not.  What I want versus what I need.  How do we sort through these things and stop wasting our precious time and energy on things that don’t matter?

As my brain learns to sort it out, so do I.

 

***If you haven’t read my hearing story, you can find it here (in Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV) as well as here and here.

 

 photo credit Johan Neven

The Fix.

Are you an addict?  Do you need a fix?

Addiction is essentially a compulsive dependence on a behavior (e.g., gambling) or substance (e.g., caffeine) that persists despite negative consequences. A hallmark of addiction is denial (‘I can stop anytime’); thus you must recognize that there is a problem before you can begin to address it.  Battling that addiction is tough. The habit is merely a symptom of the psychological condition. By definition, an addict is vulnerable, so it is easy to see why it is common for a recovering addict to transfer his addictive behavior to other parts of his life, sometimes without even realizing it.  This is ‘replacement’ or ‘substitute’ addiction, also called “switching.”

A dear friend of mine is a recovering drug and alcohol addict. She said that in rehab, they told her that the most common substitute addictions are sugar and sex, but they may also be exercise, work, smoking, dieting, overeating, drugs, shopping, cleaning, or a host of other activities. It’s still addiction. Even if the substitute is not in itself a bad thing, like work or exercise, it is clear that spending an excessive amount of time working or exercising can be harmful. You’ve changed the outward manifestation of your addiction, but you’re still addicted. You may not know it, but the people around you probably do.

I’ve known people who choose not to drink because their parents were alcoholics; their drug of choice is food, specifically sugar. One of my acquaintances quit drinking hard liquor and now only drinks beer. And we all know ex-smokers who gain weight because they eat candy instead of smoking. They simply replaced one habit with another – and that is not recovery. Your brain still craves the reward, the ‘high’ of whatever you did to satisfy the craving; it’s just finding another way to get the fix.

So let’s bring this closer to home. After a lifetime of obesity/food addiction and unsuccessful, yo-yo dieting, you have weight loss surgery. You have changed your eating habits; you are losing weight and getting healthier. However, you now smoke twice as many cigarettes as you used to. Or now, under the guise of ‘celebrating’ your weight loss, you max out your credit card at the mall. Or maybe you have become obsessive about working out. Or you become overly flirty and promiscuous in an effort to demonstrate your attractiveness. Or you become preoccupied with proving something at work, becoming an overachiever or workaholic. Or you spend countless hours online.

Whatever your replacement addiction may be, legal or not, it is like a rebound after a romantic breakup – it is a short-term, feel-better coping mechanism. It helps you escape the downside or negative consequences of your behavior. At best, it may not be harmful, but at worst, it certainly can be.

The problem is not the activity itself – it’s the obsession.

The need.
The craving.
The dependence.
The preoccupation.

So what can you do about it? Well, recognizing that you’re switching is a good start. Then you must realize that you need help dealing with it. Help might mean behavioral therapy with a professional. It might be a 12-step program, counseling, or a support group. It might be developing other ways to deal with the stresses in your life or adopting new pastimes. It might be as simple as enlisting friends and family to hold you accountable or to help keep you away from challenging situations.

To me, it proves that I can’t do this alone. Left to my own devices, I would substitute one thing after another after another. For years, when I dieted, I would smoke more; when I tried to quit smoking, I’d eat more. When I finally quit smoking for good, I gained a lot of weight. Now that I’m not overeating, I find that I’m shopping more and spending more idle time online. (I’m also writing more, but I think that’s a good thing.) I have to be very careful not to let the habit gain the upper hand because I know it can easily happen.  My brain still wants that fix.

I’ve come to the understanding that my obesity was not just about food. Facing myself and overcoming my compulsive behavior takes a lot of work and a lot of time. The key is in finding the balance in your life. You want to cultivate productive, healthy habits and behavior but not form detrimental attachments to them. It’s tough. I’m glad that Mr. Stuck and I are working on this together. I’m grateful to every one of the people who come to the same WLS support group we attend, because their insight and encouragement is what keeps us coming back.

I’m not a psychologist or counselor. I offer neither authority nor expert opinion on addiction. I know there are people out there in much worse situations than I, and I do not mean to downplay their struggles toward recovery. I just want to acknowledge that an addict doesn’t have to have a needle in his arm or a bottle of vodka hidden in the bathroom cabinet. It could be the guy on the treadmill, the boss who stays late every night, or the woman next to you with the Diet Coke.  It could be me.

Or it could be you.

 

For further reading on this subject, check out the book Eat It Up! The Complete Mind/Body/Spirit Guide to a Full Life After Weight Loss Surgery by Dr. Connie Stapleton, a licensed psychologist and certified addiction counselor.  Eat It Up! shows you how to create and maintain balance in your life and helps you on the journey to your well-being.  In addition, Dr. Stapleton is the ‘Doc’ to Cari De La Cruz’s ‘Post-Op’ on their Facebook page, A Post-Op & a Doc, where you can find wit and wisdom and lots of support.  Check them out!

 

photo credit Alan Cleaver

 

 

On a Roll.

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Clockwise from top: Fish Lover’s Roll, Rainbow Roll, sashimi tuna and belly salmon. YUM!

Lately the Mister and I have been enjoying sushi rolls on a regular basis, which is surprising because until about three months ago, you probably couldn’t have paid the Mister to eat raw fish (pro tip: not all sushi features raw fish).  The restaurants serving sushi also served teriyaki and sweet and sour pork, which were much more his style.  But that has changed.  Sushi is beautiful, and I feel perfectly decadent eating it, even though it’s all good for me. Not only that, but using chopsticks makes me eat more slowly, because I’m not very adept with them.

For us, sushi is a win-win. It’s not deep fried; it’s not covered in sauces or full of preservatives. The combination of flavors and textures is quite satisfying. It’s also fun to watch sushi being prepared.  Recently, the sushi chef came to our table to present us with buttery pieces of raw fish, or sashimi. He shared bright orange, fatty salmon, from the belly of the fish, and gorgeous, ruby-hued Bluefin tuna. Now that was truly a treat.

I wish I could say that my pantry contents are strictly clean and healthy, packed with nutrition and no longer peppered with salt, fat, and sugar. Like many folks, before I went under the knife, I pledged to overhaul my intake as well as my outlook, and I decided that things like coffee, chips, soda, and sugary snacks should not survive the purge. I just knew I’d be preparing little Bento Box meals with melon chunks, cheese sticks, and hard-boiled eggs, and I’d steer clear of the stuff that was little more than empty calories and additives. After all, this is the rest of my life, right?

That was then.

They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Well, I’m guessing the road to my refrigerator is, too. Although I do eat far more healthily than I used to – I rarely eat beef, I don’t drink soda, and I have all but eliminated potatoes, noodles, and bread – I am not the perfectly pious post-op I predicted. I am not averse to having bacon with my eggs, treating myself to rice pudding, or enjoying a cocktail. I even whipped up a blue box of Kraft Dinner once because I had a hankering for a couple bites of mac n cheese.


Yes, I admit it.

My point is that even though I did not adhere to my initial (strict) expectation of only consuming the ‘right’ food, allowing myself the odd indulgence is not a bad thing. The key is that it’s infrequent.  If I stray from the path once in a while, I don’t need to beat myself up for it.  If my diet is primarily chicken, fish, dairy and vegetables (with a lot of sushi for good measure), then a couple of pieces of chocolate, or a beer, or a cookie won’t have much of an effect.

Sometimes, just a taste of something is enough, and I’m on my way. I consider that smarter (for me) than totally banning those things, and it emphasizes my understanding that my success begins with my head. I have to learn how to manage my food cravings and behavior in a way that works both physically and mentally. Of course, not everyone handles their cravings that way – for some, it’s far better to avoid the foods that are most troublesome to them.  Whatever works.

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Forgot the name of the mango-topped roll on the left, but the one on the right is a Rainbow roll.
We’re happy to have a sushi habit to replace some of the bad habits we used to have. Sushi is so beautiful and tasty that on some level, it seems like cheating – like I must be getting away with something. And I suppose, in some way, I am: I don’t have to prepare it, it’s relatively inexpensive, and it makes a satisfying, nutritious meal that doesn’t feel ‘heavy’ after I eat it.

The sushi roll we like best features avocado, cucumber, and imitation crab salad rolled up in rice and seaweed and topped with velvety slabs of the freshest raw salmon and tuna. One roll, cut into eight pieces, is the perfect size for us to share. The taste is amazing, especially with ginger, wasabi, and soy sauce.

This is the rest of my life, right?

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What’s left of our favorite, a Sunset roll.
  Lucky me.

 

photo credit: me (sushi) and kalleboo