Category — Introduction
My journey of recovery did not begin when I had weight loss surgery, anymore than it ended when I chose sobriety over my binge eating addiction. Actually, I began my journey of discovery and healing when I my daughter was 2-years old, which means that I have been working on myself for a long time (more than 18 years). Of course, when I set out on this mission, I was doing it because I had hit rock-bottom and couldn’t imagine living life anymore. I wasn’t going to “do” anything to end it, but I certainly didn’t want to wake up to another day of hell.
And so, at the ripe-old age of 26, having been married for 3 years and being a lousy mother for 2, I decided to get help. I was prepared to be beaten up. I was ready to be told that my fat and sickness was my own fault. I was prepared for the worst.
But, something strange happened; a compassionate doctor recognized something of value in me. She saw a spark of hope and perseverance. She saw someone who was ready to get better.
And so began my journey. I was diagnosed with late luteal phase disorder with major depressive disorder. That was a fancy way of saying I suffered from really bad PMS and got depressed for longer periods than would be considered “normal” or “average.”
I was prescribed Wellbutrin and a whole new world opened before me. For the first time, I heard SILENCE in my brain. I stopped hearing voices (my own), telling me all of the things I HAD to do, WASN’T doing, SHOULD be doing, needed to STOP doing; could be doing BETTER. It was a constant chorus of ME, but it was no Hallelujah chorus.
So, the drugs helped, and I lost weight (70 pounds), and I stopped feeling crazy.
But then…like everything else, the “drugs” stopped working. Or, I decided I didn’t need them anymore, or I decided that the side-effects weren’t worth the benefits. I don’t know. Whatever it was, at about age 28, I stopped the anti-depressants, and determined that I was “cured” and could “do it on my own.”
But, who wants to ADMIT that they have screwed up their own recovery? Who wants to admit that they need drugs to function? And that, if they DON’T take them, they spin out of control?
Not me – that’s who.
And so, I went about my business. Frantically distracting myself with a more-than-full-time job, full-time college, and extremely part-time wife and motherhood. Not surprisingly, I got fatter and fatter.
Doctors would tell me to move more and eat less. But I hurt. Inside and out. I couldn’t do what they wanted.
I learned that I had Fibromyalgia. Now, you’d think a diagnosis like that would be a relief, but 15 years ago, no one knew what fibromyalgia even WAS. Most people — including my husband — believed it was “all in my head.” That I was lazy, didn’t want to feel better, or worse, that I was making it all up for attention. The treatment at the time was sleeping pills, pain pills and depression pills. A ’round the clock cocktail of attitude enhancers. Did I mention the side effects of the meds? Yeah, one of them was actually shown to increase cravings for CHOCOLATE! What!? I did NOT need that.
So, I stopped the drugs. Again.
And I didn’t sleep. So I hurt when I awoke. But I dragged myself to work and school, leaving NOTHING for home and even LESS for myself.
And then I turned 30, and I thought, “I like this. I’m not 20-something anymore. I believe I am supposed to have the answers now.” (Nothing like positive-thinking to motivate change.) But, nothing DID change. I earned my degree, but the angels didn’t sing, and the gates of heaven didn’t fly open for me, I was still fat, my marriage was in trouble, I was an even WORSE mother, and I still HURT.
Enter: My very best friend on the planet (Jan). God sent her to me when I needed her the most. She reached out to me and offered me hope – something I hadn’t dared to expect. After all, I’d determined that I wasn’t worth it. I was a smart woman with a wicked sense of humor. I was creative, talented, attractive. I had a lot going for me, but I had NOTHING — because I didn’t believe in my own value.
Over the course of the next few years, my best friend patiently tutored me in the fine art of living, loving and thriving. To be clear, her style is pretty unconventional. That is because she is a choleric and I am a sanguine. She is like my father, and I am like…well…pretty much no one ELSE in my family. She is like my husband. I am…again, like pretty much no one ELSE in my family. Our daughter is an interesting combination of both Sanguine AND Choleric, but choleric usually always wins.
I could go into great detail about what these personality types mean, but this is not the time or place. What you need to understand about these two, very different personalities is this:
The Choleric KNOWS he is right, doesn’t consider any other opinions on the matter and needs no vote of consensus. He is completely FLOORED when someone says they are HURT by a his actions or statements. The idea of someone being hurt by words is simply is NOT on the radar because FEELINGS are not part of DECISIONS. This is NOT to say that a choleric has no feelings. They do…but they aren’t gonna let YOU know what they are, and they certainly won’t be ruled by them.
The Sanguine, on the other hand, HOPES he is right, considers everyone else’s opinions (to the point of exhaustion), and is completely FLOORED when someone says they are HURT by his actions – especially when he tried so hard NOT to hurt them. Feelings rule the day and a choleric can very quickly SQUASH a sanguine with a withering look or offhanded (read: insensitive, thoughtless, mean) comment. Okay, that’s the sanguine determining that the comment is anything other than what the choleric intends it to be, but that is beside the point.
Needless to say, CHOLERICS and SANGUINES approach circumstances very differently.
So, my dear friend (you know, the *PATIENT* choleric?) would beat into me what needed to be done and I would sweetly tell her that I couldn’t do *it* (whatever *it* was, because what she was advocating was MEAN, and I was NICE.)
Which brings me to a critical part of my story of RECOVERY.
There are a LOT of reasons it has taken me 18 years to get to this point. If sheer will or desire had been enough, I’d have chosen recovery a LOT sooner. But, just because I KNEW something had to be done, didn’t mean I was ready or capable of doing it.
Recovery is a decision tree that looks a bit like this:
- I have a problem.
- Here is the solution.
- Am I ABLE to do that?
- Do I WANT to do that?
- WILL I do that?
- What WILL I do?
- What CAN I do?
- Will I choose to fix the problem?
- If not, place on back burner until later date.
- Rinse. Lather. Repeat.
Quite often, I KNEW what I had to do, but couldn’t do it yet, or couldn’t keep doing it. That was because i needed to grow in strength of character, confidence, experience — whatever — to have the SKILL to accomplish it. I guess you could say that simply KNOWING what to do does not assure that it WILL or CAN happen. Recovery is like a muscle. You have to work at it; build it, break it down, rebuild it and maintain it or it will atrophy.
For example, I learned that I could treat my Fibromyalgia with regular chiropractic care, massage therapy, vitamins and adrenal supplements and…A DIET FREE OF YEAST AND SUGAR. My symptoms were greatly diminished for 2-years, while I following this strict program. I even lost weight. But, I wasn’t ready to do this for the rest of my life. I didn’t have the strength or willpower…mostly, I didn’t have the BELIEF that I could do it. I wanted the reward, but I wasn’t willing to do the work.
Now, think about recovery as being an athlete. Perhaps he or she dreams of becoming an Olympian and winning a Gold medal. Well, at age 10, that athlete doesn’t possess the strength, skill or experience to win the medal. He or she may have the DESIRE, but isn’t ready to accomplish the task at hand. The athlete can choose to give up (because it’s too hard, he or she wants it NOW and isn’t willing to wait), OR, he or she can choose to continue working hard to one day win the medal. Some activities will have to wait until enough strength is built, while others can be accomplished in anticipation of reaching the next level
In my case, I had to learn when to attempt different things in my growth. When would I be experienced enough to clear this obstacle? When would I be wise enough to avoid it? When would I be strong enough to muscle through it? Simple desire wasn’t enough. I had to understand my ability and accept the fact that some obstacles would not be cleared until I was ready to clear them. Quite often, the block was MENTAL, because I truly DID possess the skill…I just didn’t believe it.
So, my dear friend (remember her?) would tell me what i needed to do in any given situation, and I would tell her if I thought I could do it, and if so, how I could accomplish it (in my OWN, Sanguine way, of course) There were many, many times when I told her that I KNEW she was right, and I KNEW what had to be done, but I KNEW I wasn’t ready to do it. She respected that, but persevered, as she knew one day, I WOULD be ready.
Just like you have to be “this tall” to ride the “big people” rides at the amusement park, I had to wait until I was “this tall” (emotionally and spiritually) to clear some major hurdles in my life. And, I guess I needed the little sign to prove it.
I’d like to think that I never stopped running or trying. But that’s not true. Sometimes, I sat down, put my head in my hands, and cried. Sometimes, I threw tantrums and screamed that I couldn’t do it; that I’d NEVER do it. Sometimes, I wondered why I even tried.
And then, it happened. I began to see progress. I experienced success. I was stronger, I had experience, and I BELIEVED I could achieve it. I realized that, if I waited for it to come to me, or if I waited for it to be EASY, it would never happen.
No, I was going to have to stretch far beyond my comfort zone. I was going to have to be willing to fail. I had to be willing to get back up again — every time I fell. Oh, and I had to wiling to do this ALL in front of EVERYBODY. That’s because, once I had weight loss surgery, I threw the doors and windows of my life open for all the world to see. When you do that – when you put yourself out there – you’re saying that you understand you will be criticized, ridiculed, vilified and attacked, BUT, you are HOPING that, in avoiding, clearing or muscling THROUGH the obstacles, you will be able to encourage, motivate and inspire others along the way.
Life is a risk – Not something to avoid. I finally figured this out.
So, you see, recovery is a combination of things: It’s deciding if you even NEED to do it. Then, being mature enough to recognize when you’re ready, learning what’s involved, determining that you WILL do it, proclaiming that you CAN do it…and accepting that you may NOT succeed on your first….second…or even fifth time.
Recovery is a process.
When people say that I’m brave or wise…or stupid — I take it all in stride. In reality, I’m stubborn and I’m blessed. I have worked hard to accomplish my recovery so far, but this is not a journey with an end. On the contrary, recovery will never stop for me, though, the sanguine in me HOPES it will become a little easier.
FOOTNOTE: And..about my marriage? C’mon, you’ve read about MexiKen…he stuck by me through the whole mess, and even worked on his own stuff. he’s better and I’m better and we’re better together. You need a good partner to help you over the hurdles. And my daughter? Well, that’s a work in progress. After all, the things that happen to us when we are young are a lot more influential (and lasting) than the things that happen to us as adults. It takes a lot of work to recognize the problems to even begin fixing them. But, that’s what therapy and love are for. We’re working on it, and she is an amazing young woman.
Welcome to your new life – The Bariatric After Life™
Don’t worry if you haven’t had bariatric surgery (or haven’t decided whether you even WANT to have it), you are welcome here.
Let me begin by explaining what, exactly the Bariatric After Life is.
No, it’s not life-after-death, though many who have had WLS (weight loss surgery) feel like they have died and been born again into a new body), but that’s not really my message.
I think it’s best for me to go back to the beginning: It was December 2007, and I weighed 316 pounds. Well, actually, I’d shed 50 pounds since beginning the approval process in June of 2007, but even at 267 pounds, I was morbidly obese and I was being given the gift of gastric bypass surgery. At the time, I wasn’t sure that I’d made the right decision, and even had a few days where I wanted to “return the gift for a full-refund,” but, in the end, I came to love the miracle I’d received and promised myself I’d do everything in my power to deserve and do it justice.
I quickly realized that life after bariatric surgery was going to be much, much more than a picture in a frame with the word “after” prominently emblazoned on it, but I didn’t know exactly HOW much.
What would life hold for me “after the after”? I wondered…
Prior to surgery, I spent hours and hours, pouring over “Before & After” photos. I must have viewed at least 2,000 sets of pictures – many of them, showing unrecognizable people in the “After” frame. The changes were exciting and startling. I found myself dreaming about my own “after”.
How would I “look,” I wondered? Would people know that I was the same person in both pictures? Would the changes be that significant? How long would it take to get there? What would “there” look like? What if I didn’t lose as much as I wanted to lose?
The questions were endless, but I was undaunted.
Once I had surgery, I was so focused on the ins and outs, dos and don’ts, etc., that I sort of lost track of the “After” picture for awhile….that is, until that magical day, about 14 months after surgery, when I realized that I was finally an “AFTER”…It was unreal! I finally had something to put in that “other frame!” Wow!
Let’s see…for 14 months, I’d lived and breathed bariatric EVERYTHING. I kept my head down and focused on the goal (whatever that was). One, by one, I blew past intermediate goals until, eventually, I blew past my “goal-goal”…And there I was: Looking like a normal person, but not feeling normal in any way, shape or form. Why hadn’t someone warned me that this day would come? Why didn’t someone tell me about life “after the after”?
Perhaps they didn’t think about it, or perhaps they WERE telling me, but I just wasn’t listening. I can’t be sure, but he way I see it now, much like when I was a kid who couldn’t wait to be 13 (so I could be a teenager) or 16 (so I could drive) or 18 (so no one could *tell me what to do anymore* – LOL), or 21 (so I could drink), I’d simply forgotten to plan my life AFTER life.
My initial idea was to play it by ear, just let it come as it would. I’d done research, and plugged into online WLS communities. I attended weekly support group meetings and life was good. But, there was more to it. I felt a calling; a burning in my “bariatric belly” to do *something* more with my life.
In June of 2009, I officially became Gastric Bypass Barbie and began blogging about my experiences (emotional, physical, and otherwise) for the entire WLS community to behold. In February of 2010, I attended the 1st Annual WLS Meet N Greet in Las Vegas, setting up a booth with sample products and even talking to the group about feeling great in your jeans! In March 2010, I threw the switch on my Facebook page and Youtube Channel, bringing myself to a larger audience, in a fun and different way. In May, I attended my first Obesity Help Conference (in Costa Mesa, California), then ASMBS in Las Vegas, then another OH Conference (in Cincinnati), all the while, speaking with medical professionals and vendors who support our “growing community of shrinking people!™”
I was hooked and there was no turning back.
Clearly, I’d learned that my true mission in life is to spread the bariatric word; to inspire, motivate and educate everyone who has had or is considering having bariatric surgery, so they can live a rewarding, fulfilled, successful Bariatric After Life.
Not a minor undertaking, I assure you, but so worthwhile, it’s hard to believe my good fortune some days!
All of which brings me to today. I am a successful and happy (dare I say NORMAL?) bariatric patient, maintaining a healthy 160-pound weight loss, ready to open a new chapter of a book I’m calling the BARIATRIC AFTER LIFE.
I’m bidding a fond (and slightly sad) farewell to Barbie, but not her essence. After all, SHE has always been ME, and now I am going to be your guide in the Bariatric After Life — that is, if you’re willing to follow!
So, come along as I continue to explore the ups and downs, ins and outs, loves and losses, joys and sorrows of this post-bariatric surgical life, and more. Feel free share your own experience, because a journey is more fulfilling if its not traveled alone!