My lovely co-blogger mentioned some of the “head games” our body and mind plays with us as we lose weight. Sometimes they blitz us and we are left reeling. Other times they are subtle and just quietly pile up bit by bit and then topple over on us. If you are one of the magnificent few who have no emotional baggage associated with the changes weight loss brings, congratulations. I wish I were you! If you are anything like me then please read on.
Change can be exciting and hugely positive. It can also be frightening and make your hair stand on end (I do need volume but, I prefer the blow dryer!). I have lost 142 pounds in a bit over a year. In that time period I changed a lot. Physically this was exciting and I love the new me in so many ways. However, emotionally/mentally I still have much to overcome.
Last night I went to my first psychological support group for weight loss. It was moving and eye opening. As is often the case there were more women than men in attendance and we all sat around in an oval chair formation, sizing each other up. The therapist walked in and it was like an audible sigh encased the room. We had our “leader” and we could stop nervously wondering what everyone else was going to say. He started by laying a few ground rules; Speak in “I” not “You” form, no judgment, no gabbing with your neighbors while others are speaking”. Sounded reasonable even though I am totally a lean over and gab to my neighbor kinda girl. My husband accepted my invitation to join me at this meeting, out of the kindness of his heart and his knowledge that new situations make me nervous. He’s kind of great isn’t he?
Group officially starts with an intro session…Hello, I’m Stephanie and I had Gastric Sleeve approaching 1 year ago etc. He asks if anyone has anything they’d like to start with. There are the typical; how much should I eat, drink, exercise, why am I tired… Then someone brings up loss. Not weight loss but, coping with personal loss, the death of a son. We all are thinking the same thing, you can see it on our faces. “Without food?” There are some suggestions and some love passed around the group. Then the therapist says, “Beyond the loss of a loved one, we have all lost something. Our best friend, our coping mechanism, our go to numbing agent of choice. How are you coping with that?” That sigh escapes all our lips again and eyes are cast down. Personally I am thinking, “Dammit, this year was HARD, I lost so many people I loved, a child I never got to know, almost lost my marriage, pushed away from God because, I was hurting and angry… and where the hell were you food? I thought we were friends, I thought you at least loved me when everything else is falling apart.” It dawns on me that is probably similar to what others are feeling. We are together in this. I squeeze my husbands hand but, in my head I’m hugging each and every one of these people knowing that there is SOMETHING that each of them is facing without their sidekick food.
I am going to talk about the most difficult thing for me…my relationship with my family since I’ve began this journey. This all began because, my father was dying. I had a glimpse of what the family was going through and realized he was way to young to be dying. It wasn’t fair because, he’d changed his life. Why was God allowing him to pay for something that he had put behind him? So, I went home and talked to God all night long. Came to the conclusion that it wasn’t my place to judge God or His plan for anyone’s life. I just had to find a way past the pain and confusion to see my lesson in all of this. I concluded that my life was on track to take me away from my family way too soon. I was killing myself slowly with food. I lost my father a few short months later. It’s a painful thing to lose someone you love and yet really don’t know. I can’t explain that but, I’m sure many of you get what I’m saying. Shortly after my father passed away, my Papa (mom’s dad) became very ill. This is the man who raised me. This was my Dad. He never recovered from this last hospitalization and passed away 1 month and 6 days after my father. We went through the second death in a year and I was still losing huge amounts of weight strictly through diet and exercise. When I had my surgery it was like another death. I was so excited for it but, wasn’t prepared for the emotion involved in physically being unable to eat. I was kind of a beast to be around for the next month or so. I was quick tempered and moody. My family got the worst of this. The kids tiptoed around me and my husband dedicated himself to running our home smoothly because, I wasn’t really “there”.
Things settled and then my Mom-mom and aunt were diagnosed with breast cancer. Then we had a break in while we were home sleeping, this threw my heart into a panic. Now I had that added layer of insecurity to deal with and yep…no food to do it with. Next thing I know, I’m hospitalized again and miscarrying a child I hadn’t realized I was pregnant with. That’s when the blame game started spinning in my head. I hated myself for that more than you can imagine. I felt like my compulsion to exercise and eating so little to punish myself (for not feeling like exercising and being tired), had taken this child away from me. I felt like I’d let my husband and kids down and taken someone from them as well. Depression set in quickly (as if it wasn’t already lingering in the shadows) and I became withdrawn from my family. I told my thoughts and feelings to strangers online rather than speaking to the people sitting right in front of me (NO this is different…I talk to my family now too!). I pushed myself as far away from people as I could get. The next week was Thanksgiving and my first one without my Papa. It was a difficult day to say the least. Then a couple weeks later a great friend from online who had supported me throughout my weight loss journey, losses, miscarriage and who I had been supporting right back, sent me a message shortly after we had spoken on the phone. I looked at my husband and told him I was uneasy. I called over and over with no answer. That night I found out that my friend was gone, had committed suicide for reasons we will never totally know. We all have our guesses but, I knew something others didn’t because, “private” conversations were easier to lay things out in. This friend was struggling with the emotions of weight loss and how people viewed them differently and somehow stronger. When inside they felt like they were falling apart in many ways. I was the last one to talk to this friend and I will forever question what I could have done differently.
The loss of my friend was the last straw. The whole year of distance between myself and my husband, loss of loved one, the loss of our child, every bad moment came crashing down on me in moments. I lost it completely and blamed so much of it on the weight loss. I spent the next few weeks through Christmas eating as much trash as I could. Punishing myself for looking better and feeling physically better when so much was wrong. Blessedly my husband is a patient and loving man. He didn’t walk away from me when he would have had every right to. He stood by me, started going to therapist visits with me. I realized that neither of us had realized how all the little changes and unspoken things had become a major issue as I lost more and more weight. I think on my part it was that I couldn’t hide in food anymore. For him I venture to say it was insecurity because, he sensed me distancing myself. Many counseling sessions later, we are back on track. Stronger and with better communication than we’ve ever had. It was scary and it was difficult opening ourselves up to scrutiny but, we did it and it saved and strengthened our marriage.
I found out so much about how my weight loss affected my husband. This strong, confident man I was married to was scared. He was scared of losing me and that the changes I was undergoing physically and emotionally were signs that I didn’t want to be married anymore. He was struggling to keep our family together but, feeling as if he couldn’t talk to me about it. Conversation about any “weakness” doesn’t come easy to him. He was dealing with his response to my physical changes as well. It made him feel guilty to admit to himself that he was more attracted to me at a smaller weight. He had never truly “realized” that he had a problem with my weight. What he could not understand is that I needed to “hear” those things. I thought his silence was a sign that he was unhappy. I thought that he liked me bigger and was disappointed that I was losing weight and that is why he seemed so “different”. His comments about my losing too much weight and bringing home snacks to tempt me, were insecurities not hate, which is what I was taking them as. He couldn’t understand that seeing the love behind his perceived “insecurities” was what my heart needed more than anything. The whole time I had been thinking he was the one who wanted out of our marriage.
When we were both able to explain the impact my weight loss was having on our marriage, it’s like the curtains were drawn. It wasn’t an instantaneous thing, it took time and work but, it showed us how much we mean to each other. We have been blessed by a second chance at communicating and loving each other. It’s something neither of us is willing to throw away again. Hmm…maybe I will be able to talk him into writing a short account of this from his side.
Things didn’t just change with my husband, my children were impacted as well. I went from being a person who does everything for everyone besides herself, to a person who was focusing on herself a bit. I miss practices and I don’t sit around at their beck and call anymore. Workouts are something I do for myself. It’s my time to focus on me and what I need. I never realized how much this would change our family dynamic or how much I needed it. I don’t want my kids to grow up thinking it’s ok to “forget” about yourself and put yourself last on the list. They of course need humility but, not at the expense of losing touch with who they are and what they need. I am setting a better example for them now. As well as demonstrating that the relationship between a husband and wife is important as well. My guy and I go out and leave the kids behind now. We make time for our relationship and it makes us a better team of parents 🙂
So, maybe this is TMI, I don’t know but, I think it needed to be said. Weight loss isn’t easy, no matter how it’s attained. Life will have it’s ups and downs no matter what decisions you make. I am not trying to dissuade others from losing weight but, rather to prepare them for the reality of it. It’s not all skinny jeans and smoldering looks from handsome strangers, it’s still LIFE. We have to learn to live it without turning to food for comfort and that isn’t as easy as it sounds. Don’t hide your head in the sand when you sense changes in relationships during your weight loss. Face them head on and avoid the urge to think they are going to resolve themselves. There are some things in life worth fighting for. For me, it’s God, health, family, myself, great friends…these are some of the most important.
This was the long way of saying that in group last night a lady had the nerve to bring up her relationship with her husband. Several people gave her the, “Oh you poor thing look.” and then changed the subject. My NON public speaking self finally worked up the courage to voice a bit of what we went through. I spoke from the heart and looked to my husband to see if he was in agreement. We were open, honest and admitted the mistakes we both have made. It wasn’t easy and I had a hard time doing it at first but, the blessing of having people stop us in the parking lot on the way out was worth it. They told us how happy they were that we shared what we did and let us know that our struggles were not isolated. If our battle helps this woman and her husband in any small way, it was worth the discomfort of putting ourselves out there.
People seem to gloss over the emotional side of weight loss and the impact it will have on our lives. I think it needs to be out there in all it’s gore for others to see. Feeling alone is such a helpless way to live. Talk to each other, be honest and don’t skirt the facts. Nobody is going to have the exact same experience as you or I but, they are going to have bumps and bruises along the road. Pick them up and dust them off. Help them with kindness and compassion not judgment and gossip. If you are embarking on this weight loss voyage, then you are strong and brave. Don’t forget that when the hard days come.