It has been two years and two days since I let a surgeon remove nearly 75% of my stomach in a quest for good health. I still remain adamant that it was among the best decisions I’ve ever made. My quality of life has improved exponentially since that day, but I have to share a secret (that is really no secret to anyone who has seen me lately)… I’ve fallen off the wagon. My weight loss stalled at the one year mark and over the winter it started going in the opposite direction. Since leaving my j-o-b, the structure of a routine and the safety of a rather defined (albeit kinda miserable) future, I’ve gained 22 pounds.
It takes a lot of effort to gain 22 pounds when your tummy is this tiny. A LOT. Let’s just say, I’ve been pretty damned determined to eat ALL THE FEELINGS for some time now.
Never let it be said that I am not an overachiever.
First the jeans I bought in the “regular size store” started to get tight, then too tight. Then I discovered I could no longer pet my hip bones at the end of Savasana (don’t judge, we all have our “things”). Two weeks ago I found myself out of breath after climbing the tall staircase to visit Jillian, therapist to the stars. The final straw came when I attempted Eye of the Needle in yoga last week and my little t-rex arms couldn’t make the connection all the way around my thighs and stomach (the two places that hold the majority of this newly-discovered 22 pounds).
I realized I’ve been carrying a heaviness with me for months in addition to the weight - a resignation that I’m never going to be healthy, that I will always be f-a-t, that it was only a large, cruel joke that I ever allowed myself to feel good about my body for a fleeting moment. The old tape in my head has started to loop again… I can’t do this, I don’t deserve this, I should be ashamed. I will always be the shy, fat, little girl that protected her gentle, raw soul with layers of fat.
I am ready to hit pause on that tape and rewrite it again. Rewrite it 100 times over if I have to.
New tape... the TRUTH. I like eating well. I like being active. I like the way my skin glows when I take care of myself. I like using my body for good and not as a weapon against myself. I like not worrying about whether or not Diabetes will return or I will die from a heart attack at a too young age because I’ve clogged my arteries with coney dogs (yummmmmm… delicious, delicious coney dogs).
I like not hating myself. More than delicious, delicious coney dogs even. (American, not Lafayette, for the record.)
I recently heard someone describe FAIL as First Attempt In Learning. I failed and am now ready to S.A.I.L. (See what I did there? Clever, no?). The first step in reclaiming my health is to hold myself accountable which, for me, has always meant publicly spewing my shit all over the interwebz.
I’ve spent a lot of time coaching clients recently on choosing the next ONE step they can take to move closer to their ideal state. Change is too overwhelming when we try to do ALL the things. I want to do ALL the things - walking, running, drinking water, vitamins, meal planning, strength training - NOW.
I should listen to me - I’m a good coach.
Eventually I will do ALL the things again, but for now I’ve decided to do two things (overachiever says what?) - track my food and do one thing every day that makes me feel good about my body. I choose to be non-prescriptive about my daily “one thing” because I love the excitement and freedom of waking up to a choose your own adventure every. single. damn. day. and because I am the boss of me (it is written so on the walls of the SheHive) and I make my own rules.
So, this morning I stepped on the scale (which decidedly did NOT make me feel good - but I needed the data), re-downloaded the MyFitnessPal app and drew a line in the sand. That side - eating my feelings and shame | this side - my authentic self... a healthy, vibrant, badass rockstar.
Connect with me on MyFitnessPal: my user name is ursulaadams
So it's been just a few days since my Tiny Tummy and I celebrated our one year anniversary. Weight-wise, I'm down 80 pounds total - the majority of the weight lost in the first half of the year post-surgery. Truth is, based upon how quickly the weight dropped at first, I had fully anticipated that I would celebrate one year at my goal weight. Alas, I'm just a little over half way there with at least 50 pounds to go, if not 75 as the doctor has ordered.
It shocks a lot of people when they ask if I'm at goal weight and I tell them I'm only about halfway there. No one, including me, can imagine what a 175 - or 150 - pound me will look like. I am, however, fairly certain that the mystery will be revealed by this time next year.
As my one year "surgerversy" neared, I started to feel like a bit (or a lot) of a failure. When I had gastric bypass surgery I had fully planned on staying the course, never straying, until I met my goal weight. I am dreading my one year checkup with the surgeon next week knowing full well that the weight loss could have been greater. It doesn't help that the baratric Facebook group I'm a member of is full of posts from women who have lost 100 pounds in, like, a week. I suspect that's not normal - that the biggest losers are the only ones who ever publicly share online.
So there's been a lot of internal dialogue lately about how change really works - never linear, stalls and re-starts, backwards and forwards. More so, even, about what success really is - a number on a scale or something else?
The absolute truth is, regardless of the number on the scale, this last year has been a huge success. Or as my least favorite orange villain would say, HUGE.
The first victory was deciding to, and having, the surgery itself. I had considered it and researched it for three years before actually doing it. For years I shamed myself into not having the surgery... I should be able to do it without surgery. I should have the willpower to just lose weight. I should have never gotten to 300 pounds plus in the first place. I should be ashamed that I needed help. I should not take the "easy way out." Then I decided to stop "shoulding" all over myself. I decided, instead, I deserved to be well and I was not ashamed to get help because I deserved a healthier, longer life.
Within hours of surgery I was up and walking - usually two or three times the required amount. I haven't stopped walking since. I walked every day after surgery, even if it was just around the interior of the house. I walked every day during my vacation just a month after surgery. I walked nine miles in one day in the 100+ degree heat in Las Vegas. I walked at lunch during work. I walked on the treadmill until I could jog. My standard parking spot at the grocery store is now the one furthest away from the door... always.
Within one day I was publicly sharing the Tiny Tummy story on Facebook because I was no longer ashamed. When the surgeon recommended that I not share my story publicly, I laughed at him. He knows this space well, but I know my purpose better.
Within three days I was off of medicine for diabetes. Within two weeks it was determined that I no longer had diabetes. New studies are starting to suggest that weight loss surgery may cure diabetes. I am telling you, in no uncertain terms, it did.
Within a week I had a huge fight with my husband and discovered that none of my old crutches were available to me to avoid the pain. I couldn't eat, drink, smoke or leave the house. I was trapped and I just had to sit there and feel my feelings.
Within two months I had to run out to a mall after class one day to buy new jeans because the old ones weren't even remotely passable anymore. I was thrilled to get into a size 22 that day. Last Saturday I bought size 16 jeans. Pre-surgey I was wearing a size 26.
Within four months I officiated a friend's wedding. I would have done it anyway, but I was able to do so without being the least bit concerned about how I looked/felt and instead could focus my attention on the couple I was marrying.
Within eight months I was inviting a single woman to share a dinner table with me and my husband on our Aruba vacation because I saw her as a person in need of connection and not competition.
Within nine months I was tackling childhood issues in therapy that I had ignored for almost forty years because I decided that I was done suffering.
Within ten months I had signed up for an unlimited class package at a local yoga studio because I was no longer afraid to be imperfect in public. Two months later I have yet to open my eyes in yoga class because I have no need to compare my beginning to anyone else's middle or end. The darkness and the silence has enabled me to connect with my body - a completely separate entity from "me" pre-surgery.
Within twelve months I was finishing my last week of grad school, committed to being a learner and not an achiever. I am no longer a performer in my own life, but rather an explorer.
So, not all the pounds came off this year - but the shame and fear and need to compare myself to others has. And that means so much more to me than anything that can be measured on a scale. I am also convinced that, after a nearly five month plateau, the scale is going to start to move again (it actually already has) - if for no other reason than the weight of the world I created pre-surgery is starting to lift off my shoulders.
So, year one? Total victory. HUGE.
Since having surgery I have become hyper aware of every morsel of food that goes into my mouth. What I have discovered is that, more often than not, I stuff food into my body to quiet my inner voice (aka dull the feelings).
Cue inner voice…
Welcome to my Friday afternoon my gentle snowflakes – also known as the past 40-some years of my life – a life, as we have previously discussed, pretty much sans any healthy coping mechanisms.
So I knew going into this year if I was going to be successful in my health journey the first thing I was going to have to do was find a healthy coping mechanism to replace food. I knew yoga was probably “the thing,” though I couldn’t tell you why when I chose it. I just knew that, in my mind, it was the thing that was going to get me to old age in one piece.
So I went to yoga once (and farted) with my buddy, Mark, and then went again with Mr. Adams, and then again with my friend Tracy, and then a second time with Tracy and eventually bought a two month unlimited membership to the studio and went all on my own this week.
When I am “in my practice” – which is fancy yoga language for stretching and contorting the shit outta my body in silence - I feel extraordinary. The tape recorder on loop in the back of my head quiets and I become keenly aware of the ying and yang of life. (Sorry to be so “yoga-ish,” but if the rubber grip toe sock fits…)
I am soft, but strong. I am wise, yet giggling inside with joy as I fold forward and my ribs touch my thighs for the first time and I squeal, “Look what we are doing!” to my body. I am in control, yet vulnerable – eyes closed, guided through a practice by a teacher I don’t know yet inexplicably trust. I am part of a community, yet so inside of myself. And I’m doing it all in the middle of a yoga studio in Grosse Pointe, home of the resting bitch face soccer mom. Feeling completely comfortable there is a victory in and of itself.
It is all such a beautiful chaos.
When I started the month, I defined victory as being skinny enough that I could contort my body into a pose that was previously unattainable. I had no idea that the practice of yoga would become so much more and that the lessons learned on the mat would far transcend the physical. As much as I am breaking my brain, I am fixing it.
Adventure number one in the twelve great adventures of 2016? Total success.
They say when the student is ready, the lessons will come. Since I broke my brain and embraced the plurality of my life, I’ve become hyper-vigilant of all the “shoulds” that assault me on a daily basis. “You should be this, you should be that… you should go fuck yourself with a wiffle ball bat.”
Wait, that might not be exactly how it goes. Anyhoo…
Earlier this week I was having a conversation with two of my colleagues about learning competencies we needed in the organization to be successful. Somehow the conversation turned to behavioral motivators.
“People doing this type of work (nonprofit work) can’t be motivated by having their names on awards,” one of my colleagues declared and the other nodded her head in agreement.
I sat with the statement for a few moments. “Do I have to be selfless to do this type of work?” I knew the answer and I knew I had a decision to make – speak up and teach, even though the lesson may not be heard – or continue to buy into the “should” with my silence. I decided to speak up.
“I call bullshit,” I said. “There is nothing wrong with being motivated by awards. Some of us are motivated by public recognition and that’s okay. We don’t all have to be martyrs.”
Admittedly, martyr was the wrong word to use – my own particular brand of judgement on those that are not motivated by public recognition like me. Demonizing those different than me definitely wasn’t helping me get my point across. This, my gentle snowflakes, is what we call a “teachable moment.”
My colleagues argued that those motivated by public recognition would probably be bad coworkers because they kept best practices to themselves as a means to get a “leg up on the competition.” I ended our meeting so very sad that being motivated by public recognition to them was akin to being a sociopath.
With the retirement of our CEO, onboarding of his replacement and subsequent restructuring that resulted in the loss of a few leadership team members (one of my favorite bosses ev-ah included), there is a lot of change at work these days. And, as is typical in times of high uncertainty, people are grasping at straws trying to find anything concrete – something tangible to hold on to. It is to be expected – basic human nature. We crave comfort and safety.
It has resulted in an awful lot of “shoulding” all over the place. Fitting neatly into a tightly-defined mold has become a pervasive theme. And this comes exactly at a time where I have decided to empathically reject all “shoulds” and fully embrace my authentic self which defies a tightly-defined anything. To say that the work has been a challenge lately is a vast understatement. But, in the spirit of duality, a challenge that is as invigorating as it is draining.
When the student is ready, the lessons will come.
So, what does this all have to do with the first adventure of 2016, performing Eye of the Needle without a yoga strap? Continue to Lessons Learned: Adventure #1 (Part 3)
A few weeks ago I broke my brain in therapy. I was explaining to Jillian, Therapist to the Stars, that my life has become a series of increasing noticeable polarities… I am up - I am down. I am happy – I am sad. I am strong – I am scared. I am passionate – I am ambivalent. I am excited – I am hesitant. And, by the way, I have been all these things in the past 24 hours. The highs and lows are wild. I feel like a swirling tornado at times.
“What if you have dulled your feelings for you entire life and you are now allowing yourself to actually feel for the first time? What if it you always feel with this kind of force from now on? What if this is the new normal?” Jillian asked.
“It would be okay,” I answered. “All these things are me. I am all these things.” And then I had an epiphany. “It’s beautiful,” I said.
And I felt it… felt it in my bones. For once I understood the pure joy of allowing myself to be all the things I am – the seeming dichotomies make me complete, whole, complicated, not easily defined, unique and yet so exactly like everyone else.
And then, Zing! my brain broke. Like, literally broke. Something snapped and I started to see in tunnel vision and became disoriented. I had to search for words and couldn’t come back into the present.
“What’s going on?” Jillian asked. “Come back to the room.”
I explained the physical symptoms to her and she explained that I was, indeed, breaking my brain. Allowing myself to feel - as opposed to my normal modus operandi of dissociation, escapism, avoidance, (name your favorite coping mechanism here) - was forcing my brain to reroute neural pathways. In essence, I was short-circuiting my brain.
Therapy is a fascinating thing, my gentle snowflakes.
Continue to Lessons Learned: Adventure #1 (Part 2)