It began in February 2009 ... well, actually if I think about it, it really began in late summer of 1981. I was preparing to head to first grade, and while the details of anything that happened that summer escape me, one experience didn't: my mom digging through my cramped closet pulling out clothes trying to figure out what she needed to buy for me for my return to school. I remember with clarity that my sister sat on the bed next to her. She held out my favorite pair of Sergio Valente jeans and told me to put them on. I hadn't tried them on since the last bit of cold weather. I quickly came out of whatever bottoms I was wearing at the time and struggled to pull my beloved trousers up past my thigh. No luck. As I struggled, my sister launched into maniacal laughter. "You can't fit them jeans?!"
I didn't know what to say. Hell, I couldn't fit them. My face burned red hot as my sister continued to cackle and said: "You are fat!" Wham! I, even at that age, knew there was something wrong with/different about me. And while my sister's statement was by no means the sole reason why my life unfolded the way it did, her words did give me some warped understanding of my "different-ness." That was the beginning of the journey that sparked my lifelong struggle with my weight, fear and self-loathing. My childhood, adolescence and much of my adulthood were spent stumbling and bumbling through with my body image and in vain attempts for me to like me. In the end, or I should say at the new beginning (stay with me), I was carrying around 345 lbs of past lovers, late-night binge meals eaten in private, late-night binge drinking, a failed marriage, unmanageable asthma, aching bones and joints, and a crumbling relationship with my son.
Diet after diet, "soul search" after "soul search" all led to dead ends. I was going to have to lose weight or I would die. Period.
I began the process of getting weight loss surgery in 2008, but never followed up — making excuses that I could do it on my own and that it was just an escape hatch. But in February 2009, the stars finally aligned, and it was time for me to go under the knife. I'd been a pretty avid writer since I was 16, and I decided to chronicle my experience on a blog so my close friends could keep up with my progress and offer their support. My blog began as a simple Facebook note:
The Transformation Begins ...
Feb. 4, 2009: So, I didn't want to make this a public note ... yet. But as many of you can see, I've put on a good amount of weight over the years; there are a million reasons — you know, the "food for comfort" thing, the "I've been abused" thing, the "I was picked on as a kid" thing. But the bottom line is I need to deal with my weight before it kills me.
With my life now heading in such a positive direction ... I'd like to completely gain the self-confidence that I've always possessed, just under the surface, but have never known completely. I began the steps in order to have Lap Band surgery, or weight loss surgery. I was approved on 2/2/09 for my surgery. I'll publish this note only to those I have selected (and eventually publicly when I grow the balls). I will keep you posted on the progress of the surgery and post my different thoughts and anecdotes about my life on the "fat side." The people whom I've tagged in this note are/have been very close to my heart over the years or some just over the past few months. You've all been very supportive of me in one way or another, and I just want to tell you all that I LOVE YOU and THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart. Please keep me in your thoughts, prayers, meditations, or pagan ceremony of choice.
Stacey Rose — 354 pounds
I began to feel the love almost immediately. My peeps were behind me, and I felt that I could really do this thing. As a pre-op requirement, I had to drink straight liquids for two weeks. I failed dismally eating everything from Ramen noodles to drinking straight shots of Petrón. (What?! It's liquid, right?) That was Red Flag No. 1. But I moved on in my journey, sharing the many pitfalls of life in the "fat lane."
On Feb. 19, 2009, four days after my 33rd birthday, I had RNY gastric bypass surgery (after discussing with my surgeon what I could realistically expect with Lap Band surgery at a body mass index of more than 60). There was a certain exhilaration about the experience. It was new and exciting, and I would get to be skinny to boot! Two weeks later, something wasn't quite right. It was something I couldn't quite put my finger on.
Post-Op Week One: Finding the Illusive "Click"
Feb. 26, 2009: So, here I am at a week out from my surgery, I'm feeling OK (in less pain than I've been in today than the whole week). I'm still very thankful I went through with the surgery even though plans were changed at the last minute. I went through a lot of mental shit the two weeks leading up to this surgery when I had to go on the liquid diet. For some reason I kept telling myself I'd never not be obese, so I might as well cheat. You see, as excited as I was about all of this wonderful change that was about to happen, it did not keep me from eating in secrecy (which is so totally humiliating) and doing things that I knew would be detrimental to my progress. That made me hyper-aware of the addiction element that came with overeating or any compulsive behavior. No one who is addicted to drugs, alcohol, sex, you name it wants to act the way they act, but the behavior satisfies something in their being that allows them to function. I think it was wonderfully summed up in Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Just like the character Brick with alcohol, eating brought about the "click" for me, or that false comfort of knowing it would be fine if I just kept eating until I was full (which took longer and longer to come, as it did for the character Brick).
Fast-forward to now, exactly two weeks out from my surgery. I CANNOT cheat. I am physically unable to and don't have any means of achieving my "click." I will say there is a great deal of crying, a great deal of sleeping, and a great deal of anger — as if I were going through a detox. The mind still yearns for that comforting, and I am in constant search of healthy ways of finding it. [But] looking back, I would have this surgery over and over again and hate that I procrastinated in doing so. I now look toward my future with a renewed optimism that I hadn't possessed in my 33yrs.
Red Flag No. 2: There were some tough times physically ...
I'm still standin'
March 11, 2009: The last 48 hours have been quite the adventure. Monday, I became violently ill and couldn't keep anything down, so my surgeon ended up sending me to get a CT scan of my stomach. I was originally told it was normal, then my surgeon called me back today to tell me that there is a very small chance that I may have some type of "fistula" (or an abnormal opening) between my new stomach and my old one. He said this was per the radiologist's report, but he doubts that it is accurate, as this type of thing is almost completely unlikely with a brand-new surgery. But next week he's sending me for a procedure called an "upper endoscopy" where they're basically going to peek down inside my pouch (or my new stomach) to see if everything is as it should be.
Despite times like this, my physical issues post-op were minimal. It's the den of iniquity between my ears that caused the most difficulty. You see, when you go in for gastric bypass surgery, you go through the necessary physical exams and a psychological exam.
I'd been in therapy for five years beforehand, and while I had no problem identifying my issues, I had done nothing to resolve them. I believed this was good enough. I'd deal with that stuff later.
Red Flag No. 3: I felt my writing gave me enough of an outlet for dealing with all of my deeply rooted stuff. I continued my blog, sharing my joys, frustrations and victories.
Post-Op Week 11: Pot Luck
Monday, May 11, 2009: I can eat cheese again (in small doses). This has brought me back from the edge of insanity ...
Post-Op Week 12: On Running the Race
Thursday, May 14, 2009: For some reason lately, I've been doing a lot of external examination ... of others. You see, I have a large amount of friends and acquaintances, and it feels like most of them are more successful than me. When it gets like this for me, I try to remember something that I heard a long time ago: "We have to acknowledge the things around us, then put our blinders on and run our race."
My writing began to attract a small following of friends, and some strangers, who all wanted me to kick this weight thing's ass! Their comments and love became my lifeline. I wrote with a new vigor ... but for an audience. While I tried to be as honest as I possibly could, I wasn't being honest with me. For a while, the outside love and support helped, but eventually — as they always do — things fell apart.
Post-Op Week 16/17: ... And I feel some kinda way
June 26, 2009: This past weekend, I came face to face with that pink elephant that I've been ignoring. And oh yes, the bitch was back with a vengeance. It was making up for lost time. So here I was, waking up and still buzzed Monday morning — with not a clue as to how I got in my bed. I'm here to tell you, I was feelin' some kinda way.
I rode an emotional roller coaster for the two days and finally on the third day the cloud lifted, and I began to clean. I was gettin' rid of shit that I hadn't looked at or thought of in years but felt like I had to hold on to because I felt some kinda way about 'em. I felt empowered. With the support of my friends, I decided to take on the elephant: alcohol. Drinking could no longer be a part of who I was because — as a very dear friend of mine said — "you have an allergy to alcohol, and you had a SEVERE reaction."
Stacey — 290 pounds
Last Flag: We're off to the races.
I'm an addict, plain and simple. If it feels good, I want it; and I want more of it before I'm done with the first. While I'd known this on an intellectual level for a very long time, I finally decided it was time to do something about it. I went to rehab. (Amy Winehouse be damned!) It was truly the most freeing experience of my life. Baring your soul in front of a group of perfect strangers might sound a little off-kilter and slightly risky, but for me it was an affirmation that I wasn't the only one ... and, hell, I'd done it on Facebook right?
As with any rehab program worth its salt, I was told to go to 12-step meetings. This, I decided, was not an option. Hell, as if this certifiable force of artistic nature — this wild flower — would be ruled by slogans and dry rhetoric. I was special, dammit! Floating along on pretty words with little action behind them, I graduated my program and was ready to face the world, as Tony Montana would say, "Re-educated, rehabilitated, re-invigorated." And without a fucking clue that the cycle was about to begin all over.
Post-Op Week 27/28: Gimme a Break!
Monday, Sept. 14, 2009: My life moves at about 100 mph on slow days ... This Friday night as I am headed out — poised for a weekend full of art, culture, and friends — I'm moving at a ramped up 150 mph (because I am late). Zipping back down the stairs on the way to the shower, I don't notice the insignificant (soon to be very significant) piece of Dora the Explorer tupperware. I slip, my arms swing around in the air grabbing for nothing, and in an effort to just get myself to stop, I shove myself onto the floor ... right on top of my ankle. I pull my leg from under me to see something that could only come out of a horror movie (or one of those really bad Steven Segal joints): My ankle is this misshapen lumpy mass — and my foot for sure shouldn't be pointing backwards, but it is.
Finally (what feels like a month later), medics show up with all their magical morphine, and the world was set to right again. All conversations began to sound like Charlie Brown's teachers. I felt relaxed in the middle of chaos. I guess we aren't made to go non-stop. Yes, it took me crippling myself for me to come to this conclusion.
Stacey — 264 pounds
As I lie in bed for three straight months, looking at the same half-painted green walls, gazing into the same antiquated 13-inch color TV and refusing to eat, a steady stream of obsessive compulsive thoughts nearly drove me mad. My constant doping wasn't helping matters. The ever-present buzz of pain pills brought out paranoia. I was convinced my son loved everyone but me. I was sure that people didn't give a shit about me when they didn't visit.
I rebelled by breaking out and driving when I shouldn't have been. The pills masked the pain of walking on a partially healed broken ankle. That was until my prescription ran out and the refills dried up. Picture me camped out on my warped mattress locked and loaded watching Parking Wars, eyes big as saucers — physically unable to sleep for days. What did I do? I called my Doc for some Ambien for sleep and Xanax for anxiety.
Breaking my ankle put me in a position that I hadn't been in a long time: helpless, depending on others, and often, alone. My old friend alcohol returned (and the occasional session of over-eating followed by vomiting, as I was UNABLE to ... silly addict!). I was high most of the time and miming my way through each day. Still blogging like everything was OK or giving only slight glimpses into the hell my life really was. I'd become what I hated: another hypocritical inspirational writer — until, inevitably, the bottom fell completely out ... again.
Post-Op Week 39: Catharsis or On Falling Up
Thursday, Nov. 12, 2009: What is there to say? I fucked up majorly? Whenever I write. I try to come from the most honest place possible. Even if it hurts. Even when I feel vulnerable because I'm realizing when I don't (even unintentionally), I self-destruct in some way. I implode. Sometimes I explode. It's the silence, the keeping of secrets, that my spirit rebels against. Whatever the vice — if you put it before yourself, you're guaranteed nothing but pain and misery.
Without having to reveal the sordid details, I will say my sobriety came apart at the seams this weekend. It had been unraveling for a minute, just didn't want to acknowledge it due to my actions/inactions. I have to search the reasons within my spirit ... and hopefully be strong enough to remedy them. Scratch that. I am strong. I know this. Always have been. It's my survival instinct. What I need is the willingness and the ability to let go of the belief that I'm "on top" of it all. Let go of the fear of asking for what I need in some cases or demanding it in other cases and not settling for bullshit because I devalue myself when I settle.
Damn. It's all I can say.
I'm not sleeping well, but it'll get better. I cannot use my old coping mechanisms. This is a fact. But it's one second at a time right now. Soon it will be one minute, hour, 1/4 day, 1/2 day, a day.
I'm grateful for that: the ability to start all over again, and finally KNOWING I can't do it alone.
New clean date: 11/10/2009
A few of the sordid details: At 7:18 a.m. — 11/10/2009 — I woke up in the Regency Inn off Tyvola Road. I was a mess and had no earthly clue as to how I'd come to where I was. Like a thunderbolt I was struck with the reality that my son needed to go to school, and that I'd slipped out through the night leaving him with my mother while he was sleeping.
Shame washed over me blazing hot. My hands shook as I dialed my voice mail. "Mom where are you?" I could have died; I wanted to badly. I would later find out that I'd attempted to take my own life by pulling in front of a bus the night before — and then blacked out.
I was sick — sick of me, sick of life and was trying to take the easy way out. I wanted to kill myself "accidentally." I hated who I was, and hated who I had become. When all hope was lost, I became willing to really change because deep inside I didn't want to die; I just didn't want to hurt. So on Nov. 10, 2009, I began my journey into recovery, 12 steps, slogans and all. The weight, the chemicals, and my other unhealthy behaviors were all just symptoms of my disease. My addiction.
I struggled with letting go of all the old lies, feeling like I had to be OK, I had to be the ray of hope for all the world, instead of just being regular-ass me. As I worked my program and continued to take an honest look at myself, my shit, and choose to act in different ways than the ones that kept me insane, I started to feel better about me. Do not mistake this for a happy ending. Tomorrow never comes, and the work waits. I can only stay clean and live clean or today. What's great is ... I finished my blog! I continued until, at last, a full year had passed. With a sound body and a sounder mind, I made my last entry on 2/19/2010 — a year to the day I had the surgery that would completely change my life.
Post Op Week 51/52: ... And in the End
February 19, 2010: 365 days ago today, I took on what I believed to be, at that time, my biggest demon. My weight. I wanted to believe that when I got to a certain size that I would somehow be OK with who I was. That the boys I wanted would suddenly want me. That all of my wildest dreams would come true ... if I just lost the weight. Then as I began to melt away, I realized just how fucked up my insides were.
Gastric bypass surgery for me was like imploding a condemned building and starting to rebuild in the vacant space. A trip to rehab, a broken ankle, a relapse, a 12 step program, 111 pounds and many other naughty bits later, I accept that destruction is quite necessary in order to rebuild. It hurts like a motherfucker, but you most definitely come out of the fire purified (if you survive.) And I survived a full year dedicated to getting to know who I really am.
Melted and ready to reform,
Stacey — 243 pounds