I had gastric bypass surgery in 2003 and lost over half my body weight in less than a year. Six months later I was fully healed. For about a month I was at the top of my game: I wasn't in pain, shopping for jeans was almost as satisfying as getting laid, and for the first time in my life strangers smiled at me on the street.
For once, I was a woman in a body most people approved of. High on, "Wow, you look great!" and the novelty of my own reflection in the mirror, my demons — shame and addiction — took a little vacation.
But people got used to seeing me in a size 6, and the novelty of being slim wore thin. I was high on being skinny, but I was building a tolerance. Over time, the smiles from strangers felt less magical.
Shame — the idea that there's something wrong with me — came home, strong as ever. I looked in the mirror and found new flaws. I'm so fat was out; I'm so flabby was in. My boobs are ugly was out; I'm built like a 9-year-old boy was in. Everything will be better when I'm thin was out; I'm screwed and I'll never be OK was in.
If you're like me, unchecked shame overshadows everything. And if you're like me, finding quick and easy distractions from that cripplingly painful self-consciousness isn't so much a goal as it is a lifestyle.
Pain begs relief, and ever since I was little I was desperate to feel better, to feel less, to feel different. Depending on the year, I've built whole lives around the things that brought relief — drinking, smoking, and certain foods and ways of eating. I don't "do;" I overdo.
I always felt like hell the next day. I'd wake up hungover, dry-mouthed, bloated and depressed, thinking, What the hell is wrong with me? Of course, then I'd spend the rest of the day trying to feel better, to feel less, to feel different.
So there I was, finally thin after a lifetime of being all the things women get to be when we aren't thin and pretty. I'd lost the weight, but I hadn't dealt with the shame. I'd lost the weight, but I was still just as trapped in addiction.
It turns out I was just as capable of calling myself a dumbass waste-of-space thin as I was when I was fat, and just as desperate to feel better, and less, and different.
So I slammed cake, ice cream, bagels, and chocolate until my little pouch screamed for mercy. I drank like a biker even though my body wasn't big enough to hold that much alcohol anymore.
I knew I was damaging myself. I tried to stop. I tried to eat one cookie. I tried to drink one beer. I tried to smoke only when I drank. I tried to be my idea of normal. But, eventually, all my "just ones," all my efforts at normalcy ended in reckless, careless insanity.
There are people who can moderate. No, really, I've met them. That I should be that person is an thought based in shame — the idea that there's something wrong with me as I am.
Years ago I accepted that I'm not middle-of-the-road on anything. I accepted that, for me, abstinence around things like booze, smokes and certain foods is one key to good health, to self-empowerment, and to love.
Since then, I've learned way more effective ways of making myself feel better. And because this whole taking-good-care-of-me thing doesn't come naturally, I teach people all over the world how to do it, too. Every time I teach someone like me how to accept and love themselves as they are, I get better at it.
In my case, obesity was a symptom, and not the problem itself. I wish someone had told me before I had gastric bypass surgery that my real issues were shame and addiction.
Getting thin wasn't my solution; it was what made me miserable enough to finally get well.
Photo courtesy of the author