Letting Go

I closed on my first house in February 2004, one month after my 22nd birthday. I was a baby. My house was a signal that a new chapter was starting in my life. It was a project that I desperately needed after four long years of a series of surgeries to reconstruct my right femur that was injured in a bizarre accident during a routine blood donation a week before my 18th birthday. The surgeries had been tough, tougher than any of my specialists had predicted mostly due to a complication occurring after my first surgery that lead to an extensive second emergency surgery that I was lucky to survive and even luckier to survive with all of my limbs.

While I was incredibly fortunate, the surgeries plunged me into an intense recovery that included learning how to walk again and a life of chronic pain that was a result of the trauma during my second surgery to save my life including severely damaged nerves in my right leg. To say I was depressed was an understatement. I was honestly barely hanging on, surviving each day but not at all living. I needed direction, a reason to move forward beyond myself and my circumstances.

I felt so far from the life I had wanted and dreamt of before life had been flipped upside down. Everything was different after my surgeries, I wanted to go back to the life I had before but couldn’t. My friends had all moved on, graduated from college and had started their careers and lives while I had been in and out of the hospital. My body felt so foreign and different to me. My surgeries had taken a time away that I could never get back but they had also taken who I was as a person. I didn’t know my identity beyond being a sick patient. I needed to find a way back to myself, if that was even possible (at the time it didn’t feel like it at all). It occurred to me one day that I needed a project that I could immerse myself in and try to rebuild my life. After spending years in and out of doctors’ offices and hospitals, I craved normal. I craved the everyday, ordinary moments of life. I wanted a life, career, marriage and children, in that order. While I hadn’t been able to control the previous four years, I knew that I could control my life moving forward and I was determined to Field of Dreams my way to it. “If you build it, he will come” was my motto so I bought a Volvo and a house.

The house would be the kick off to a new life; a life I could finally start. I found an old, neglected little cottage that I felt akin to. I lovingly painted each room in my new home. I removed the gross brown shag carpeting and had the original wood floors refinished. I replaced the roof, landscaped the back yard, had new windows installed and created a welcoming home that surely would house my little family. Little by little my previously neglected little home came back to life and so did I. I slowly found myself again, little by little. Life became enjoyable; I started laughed again and launched my interior design business two years into being a homeowner. The years ticked by and I was honestly happy. I worked, had friends, dated and always believed that surely I was bound to meet someone on my next date that would be the person that I would want to build my life with. With each year that passed, I would feel strangely encouraged instead of discouraged because things were bound to work out, right?!

Things were good until they weren’t.

One night last November, I pulled into my driveway and sat in my car looking at my house. The house was dark, empty and for the first time in 13 years I didn’t want to go inside. Things had shifted in what felt like a millisecond. What was fine a second ago, suddenly wasn’t. In the darkness, I couldn’t deny what my reality was. I was turning 35 in less than two months and desperately wishing my life was one way instead of accepting the way that it actually was. All of a sudden, the house that had given me freedom and wings felt stifling and claustrophobic. It suddenly didn’t fit. I desperately didn’t want things to change but I knew that it was too late. Once I saw it, I couldn’t unsee it.

I had built a home for a life I didn’t have, one I couldn’t buy or force to happen.

CRAP

Two days later I had called the realtor and ten days later, the house was on the market and just like that I had let go.

And let go I did. I let go of the handed down Jenny Lind crib that I had been storing in my garage covered by moving blankets. Let go of the tiny cashmere newborn clothes that my friends and clients had given me over the years because as each year passed surely I was getting closer to having the little family I so desperately wanted. As I donated each box and item I also let go of all my failed relationships and fertility issues that had haunted me. I let go of a business that I had built over the past decade. I no longer wanted anything that my life had been. I let go until all that was left was what could be contained in a small storage locker of belongings that I’m sure I’ll never look at again and a few boxes that I took with me to start over. This time building a life on what is instead of a life that I wished I had. A life built on the honest truth and in its full, imperfect and complicated glory.

You might be reading this and thinking, why did/is she giving up? Everything that she wants can still happen! And to that I would say yes. Absolutely. I still do believe that what I want can happen but I also don’t want to be so stubbornly focused on a goal that isn’t coming together that I miss the life that I do have and/or being offered to me.

I also personally believe in listening to life. Clearly, the thing I wanted most, the thing I had poured my energy, time and money into wasn’t happening and after knocking on the same door for 13 years without it even opening a crack, I have to believe that I’m being redirected.

Letting go of my dream, the way that I envisioned it, isn’t giving up – to me it’s just giving in, getting quiet and listening to see what is showing up for me. I personally believe that the Universe does in fact have my back and that things are working out for my highest good – maybe not the way that I selfishly want but for my highest good nonetheless. Letting go doesn’t have to be negative, it doesn’t mean that I’m not strong or capable and it doesn’t have to mean losing ones faith. In fact, I’d say that I am more at peace today than ever before and for the first time I don’t have a plan for my personal life, I’m just going along with the flow and leaning hard into the opportunities that are available to me because there are a lot of doors and many that are wide open just waiting for me to chose to walk through them.

The process of letting go has been fascinating for me to explore personally but also interesting to talk about with others. Over the last couple of months, I’ve had this conversation with friends and acquaintances and when I get to the part of the story of how and why I’ve let go of my attachment to this particular dream, I’ve noticed how people franticly try reassure me and get visibly uncomfortable although I am not uncomfortable, sad or upset. I find it fascinating that we as humans desperately want life to work out the way that we think it should but sometimes life doesn’t work out the way we imagined. Sometimes there is no pretty bow that can tidily tie things up. Sometimes life is left raw and unfinished. As much as there is glory in life, there is also this.

Life Before and After Weight Loss

Four years ago, I embarked on a weight loss journey and lost 160 lbs – which surpassed all expectations I had of losing weight. It was a great accomplishment but it wasn’t everything I thought it would be. I expected to be vocal about my weight loss to encourage others but instead I became very private and quiet about it. Lately it’s been gnawing at me to share my journey not necessarily for myself but for others. I am grateful for every person along the way that encouraged me, told me to keep going and hang in there. This story belongs to them as much as it does to me and this is my way of saying thank you and paying it forward.

Weight Loss Befer and After

How I did it?

I lost the majority of my weight via VSG – vertical sleeve gastrectomy, a form of weight loss surgery. However, I will say that the surgery was and is only a tool to help me loose and maintain my weight. It doesn’t stop me from craving and wanting to eat the foods I shouldn’t, it just helps me maintain my portions. It honestly gives me the accountability I needed and was looking for.

Would I recommend surgery?

Not necessarily. Weight loss is an individual decision and each person needs to research and find the best fit and decision for them. I approached surgery very seriously, as all should but not everyone does. I researched my options and my specific surgery for almost a year before proceeding. Researching and asking questions became a part time job for me. I scoured the Internet for articles, experiences, and examples of what life would look like after surgery and weight loss. I asked as many questions as I could from anyone who would be willing to talk to me about their experience. I was permanently changing the way that my body worked – FOREVER. No bariatric surgery is reversible. Once performed, it is that way for the rest of your life.

How do I keep it off?

While I lost weight in a less conventional way, I keep it off the traditional way with diet and exercise. Boring I know, but it’s the truth. My surgery is just a tool – one I can use for good or for bad. If I eat the right things, my tool works well but if I eat the wrong things, I can still overeat just like anyone else.  I go up and down with my weight just like everyone else. For myself, I try to keep it within a ten pound up or down range so I can course correct more easily than if I let it get more out of control.

When weight creeps back on, how do I take it off? 

When weight creeps back on and my clothes fit tighter than I’d like (I don’t weight myself, more on that later), I go back to basics. I drink more water, eat less carbs (not no carbs but less carbs), higher protein choices and more vegetables. I also add in more exercise at a higher resistance and identify why I gained weight. Am I putting myself first emotionally, physically and spiritually? Am I shopping for, prepping and cooking the foods that I need? Am I emotionally eating?  Generally, once I get back on track, I feel more comfortable in my clothes with a couple of weeks when my weight comes back into the normal range for my body.

I stopped weighing myself on my home scale over a year ago. I found that my mood and behaviors were dependent on the number that I saw (or didn’t see) on the scale. Weighing myself slowly morphed into a new addiction for me, something that was more harmful than helpful, so I stopped. When I go to my doctor, I generally ask to not be weighed and if it’s medically necessary, I do not look at the scale and ask the nurse not to tell me. I know that if honest with myself, I know where I am in regards to my weight and know when I’m taking proper care of myself and when I’m not.

Am I happy with my decision?

YES! I am extremely satisfied with my decision and am proud of my accomplishment of not only losing 160lbs but also keeping the weight off for over three years.  I keep a pair of jeans in my closet from my heaviest weight and occasionally put them on when I feel like I haven’t made progress. Putting them on makes me proud of the woman I am today but also proud of the woman I was then to know when she needed to ask for help.

Do I miss my old life?

YES!!  This is one of the most unexpected things that I’ve experienced in this journey and I often feel very conflicted because the weight loss community and our society the time before weight loss is considered “bad” and the time after is considered “good”. Yes, I was overweight but I spent 20 years in that body and there were for sure more good times than bad. I had relationships, traveled the world, started and ran businesses, conquered my dreams all in that body. My life was good. I actually miss that gal more than I can express sometimes. She was bold, fun, fearlessly traveled the world alone, fell in love, started businesses, helped others and most of all survived some of the most challenging times seasons of life and surprisingly cared less about what others thought than I do now in a smaller, more socially acceptable body.

Do I consider myself a food addict?

I do identify with being an addict and in recovery, and while I don’t identify with having an addiction to food, I do identify with having an addiction to a cycle of self neglect and at times, destruction. I just happened to use food but I also lean into other forms of numbing to avoid my feelings – work, men, social media, television, co-dependent friendships. It is not come easy or natural for me to put myself and my needs first and during this journey have had to develop healthier coping mechanisms to deal with my emotions and the stresses of life. My weight was just a symptom of something bigger in my life that was wrong.

I have found that in my own recovery, lasting change comes from the willingness to sit in my discomfort and pain – to look at the messy and uncomfortable parts of myself and make friends with those areas. During this journey I’ve come to see my addictions as not something to be feared but to be known, learned from and given the space to have a voice but not control. Suppressing and pretending that these parts of myself don’t exist only leads back to wanting to numb the pain.

What was different this time around? Why now?

Sometimes I wonder why I’ve been successful this time around with losing and maintaining my weight when I struggled so much for the better part of 20 years. I don’t know what was different other than finding what worked for me and also identifying a deeply rooted “why”. For me my deeply rooted why is to have a family. For my specific heath issues, my weight kept me from being able to get/be pregnant. I had to choose what I wanted more, to stay stuck in my addiction or the chance to have a family. For me, having a goal bigger than myself is helpful, motiving and has made all the difference.

Will I be able to keep it off?

This is the question that I get the most often and it’s the only one I really don’t have an answer for other than, I don’t know. I would like to hope that I can and will but I know from my experiences that life is hard and cruel sometimes and that we all fall down and back into our old patterns for comfort sometimes. So while I am hopeful and determined, I also give myself grace to know if I slide backwards that I can and will be able to lose the weight again and get back up.

Why did I stay so quiet and private about my weight loss?

As I lost weight, every single one of my relationships changed and eventually went away – all of them. Seemingly overnight, I was only seen in my friendships, romantic relationships and even in client relationships as someone who was losing weight. The people around me became consumed with my weight loss and while I wanted to be seen for so much more than my weight loss, it was what every conversation in my life became about. As I lost weight and started to realize that my journey really had nothing to do with the numbers on the scale but really discovering who I authentically was, I found these conversations and relationships frustrating, sad and lonely. I was disheartened that others didn’t want to discuss the emotional side of my weight loss but only talk about what size I was currently wearing.  The more weight I lost, the quieter I became. I began to feel like I no longer brought anything else to the table, that I was no longer interesting unless it was to talk about weight loss in terms of numbers and sizes. I was (and still am) happy to talk about weight loss all day long in regards to addiction and recovery but talking about sizes and numbers on the scale made me feel like everyone was missing the point and the bigger picture and I honestly became disinterested in having those conversations so I stopped talking about my weight loss and kept it as private as I could.

Dealing with body image issues after weight loss:

Surprisingly, my body image issues are bigger today than ever before. My brain still hasn’t caught up to my body. When I see someone coming towards me in a crowded space, I move out of the way always creating more space than needed. When I’m at a restaurant or coffee shop and slide between tables to sit on a bench, I still hesitate thinking that I may not fit or that I’ll have to inconvenience the neighboring table. Shopping for clothes is harder today than ever before because of the way I see myself and I don’t feel thin even though the mirror and scale would say differently. My hope is that as I continue to live in this body that my brain will catch up and that I’ll accept myself more and more as more time passes.

Why am I sharing my story now?

Over the last couple of years, I found myself really missing my old life, missing the woman that I was. I felt sad for leaving her behind and wanted to find away to live in the space between the two versions of myself.  On one of my daily walks, it occurred to me that I didn’t have to leave my old self behind but that I could bring her along with me by talking about my weight loss, who I was and who I am now because of my journey.  Being overweight is a chapter of my life that is just as important to me as losing weight and one that I don’t want to pretend that didn’t exist. It existed, was beautiful and important – talking about it only helps to honor that time.

I’m incredibly grateful to have had the experience of living my life is a larger, less socially acceptable body. The experience has made me a more compassionate human being. Because of my experience, I am able to look past someone’s physical self to see them for who they really are. I rarely judge based upon appearance, mostly because I know what it’s like to be underestimated and judged based upon my own appearance. I know that a good life isn’t dependent on a certain size and that we all have our journeys and some parts of those journeys are messy, complicated and take time to wade through. For  that clarity and more, I’m grateful.