(If you haven’t read Part One of this story, see it here: https://proseandpoesy.com/2020/08/21/if-youve-never-reached-rock-bottom-youve-never-attended-the-school-of-greatness/ )
Years ago, during an especially traumatic life event, I reached out to my brother. Unable to see the way forward, I asked him, “What will I do? How will this end?”
Here is what he said: “You will walk through the fire, and you will come out the other side.” It wasn’t easy, but I did. And now, if I wanted to heal my body, mind, and self-image after more than 30 years of increasing obesity, I’d have to become a firewalker once again.
Make no mistake. Overcoming obesity is a story of recovery. And like any other recovery, it has its unique challenges. Consider, for example, that a person struggling with food issues cannot quit eating.
In other recovery processes, the survivor might note benchmarks like these: “It’s been five weeks/eight months/twenty years since I’ve had a drink/placed a bet/used a drug.” Substitute “eaten a meal” in that sentence, and you’ll see the difficulty.
Regardless, every recovering person has to come to terms with the situation. First, I had to accept my reality. Then, I had to own it. I cried the day I finally admitted no matter how unfair it seemed, no matter how many compounding circumstances and mitigating factors I could name, there was still just one fiery path forward.
Sure, obesity ran in my family. Yes, I had been diagnosed with polycystic ovary disease and its resulting hormone imbalance. And that prescription for antidepressants I‘d refilled regularly for twenty years? Now, that was a real chicken-and-egg riddle: Was I obese because I was depressed, or was I depressed because I was obese? Guess what? It didn’t fucking matter, because in the end we all have to play the hand of cards we’re dealt. I might have been dealt a pile of crap, but how I played it was up to me. Me.
I said the words out loud, making them real: “I want to lose 175 pounds.” It sounded horrifying. It sounded overwhelming. It released a flood of shame. What intelligent woman allows herself to reach that special level of obesity identified as super morbid?
Yet while my burden was there for anyone to see, I knew others were struggling with their own, less visible, burdens. They were digging their way out of debt, getting sober, vowing not to cheat again, and giving up drugs. The world was full of people with complications and contradictions. We were all walking through our own personal fires. These were my peers.
There’s a theory we’re each living exactly the life we want, otherwise we’d find the ways to change it. I didn’t think this was the exact life I wanted. I mean, who would consciously choose this? I’d tried many times before to change my life, and failed spectacularly. I was a Weight Watchers drop out and a Nutrisystem no win. If there was a diet program I hadn’t flirted with, or gotten downright slutty with, only to find myself doing the weight loss walk of shame and still searching for “the one,” it hadn’t yet crossed my path.
My doctor advised me to have bariatric surgery. Spoiler alert: I didn’t. I came this close, but the thought of amputating most of my stomach so I couldn’t put too much food in it seemed a bit like amputating my feet so I couldn’t buy too many shoes. Thank you, but no. Bariatric surgery is a life saver for many, but it wasn’t meant to be my life saver.
Still, I had to start somewhere. So I bought a food scale and learned how to weigh and measure my portions. I downloaded the MyFitnessPal app and used it to document everything I ate, staying within a daily calorie goal. A Fitbit on my wrist became as constant as the wedding ring on my finger. In surprisingly short time, I started to see results, and those results motivated me to keep going. My puffy eyes reduced, my double chin shrank. For the first time in years, I walked past the mirror without turning away for fear of seeing my own reflection. I worked hard for that.
If 57 was a momentous age, 59 was even more noteworthy. In two years, I had lost 165 pounds! That was just short of my 175 pound goal, but I’d take it gladly! I’d transformed myself from 305 pounds to 140, and from a size 30-32 to a size 12-14. I might never be petite again, but I’m the most glorious average I could ever imagine. And when I turned 60 a few weeks ago, I celebrated the one-year anniversary of maintaining my weight loss. I didn’t just walk through the fire; I owned that bitch.
It would be a lie to say it was easy, or even pleasant much of the time. Some days I hated everyone and everything, some days I cursed others for the amount of food they could seemingly eat without getting fat like I had. Of course, I knew nothing about their private eating and exercise habits, but it sure looked like they’d been dealt a plum hand while I still shuffled through a big old pile of turds.
But here’s the thing: I didn’t give up. In two years, I never said, “Screw this, I’m done.” Every single day I woke up and recommitted myself to my recovery. On days that were especially hard, I reached up to the shelf where I kept my inner strength and pulled down some more. And every single night I was thankful for getting through the day.
There’s so, so much more to say about my weight loss journey. Every single paragraph I’ve written could be expanded into a story of its own: good, bad, and just nasty. I could write how counting calories (both incoming and outgoing) became both my super power, and the dictator of my social life. I could tell how a person who could barely walk half a block became one who walks five or six miles, swims more than 100 pool lengths, and regularly bikes to the neighboring town—all while hating exercise. Overcoming obesity at my age has special difficulties, and I experienced every one. I rely so heavily on the routine I’ve established that I become unmoored by fear of what could happen if I’m injured and can’t exercise or prepare my own meals. There have been goals crushed and goals discarded, binges and reckonings, compromises and choices, and oh, so many victories.
Society’s general regard for the obese sucks, and I carry some awful memories with me, preserved in amber for all time. Also still with me is my former self, standing by at every moment; my inspiration, my cheerleader, and my unerring reminder of what has been and could be again. In fact, I literally still wear her skin. It hangs off me like a matronly dress handed down by my Great Aunt Lois. Loose, extra skin is an unfortunate side effect of extreme weight loss.
But here’s the bottom line: I did it, and it was worth it, and I’m continuing to do it. My past failed attempts ceased to be my definition. And although I don’t know what challenges are in my future, I know what I’ve accomplished so far grew me an enormous wingspan that will carry me above the fray. There’s strength in me.
After I’d lost the first 100 pounds, people started to say I didn’t look like myself anymore. But that’s not true. They simply had never seen me as I was created to look, and now they were getting a glimpse. I’d hit rock bottom, and I hit it back. I’d walked through the fire and come out the other side.
The school of greatness is out there. Gaining admission might seem like an insurmountable task, but we must take heart in knowing the doors are open to all.