Monday, January 27, 2014

Twice As Strong

October 2008

I used to hate this picture of myself. In fact, I used to pretty much hate myself in general. Looking at this picture in the past, I used to see a horribly ugly, fat, shameful person. I saw someone who I wanted to quickly look away from and pretend was not there. Even as recently as six months ago, I would have NEVER in a million years have posted any of these photos for people to intentionally look at! But here they are and here I am - in the same body but different size:

Me in a cave - still weird and goofy. July 2007

This picture is mostly just to brag - Yes, that is THE Mr. McFeely from Mr. Roger's Neighborhood!! I was little abnormally star-struck by the experience. April 2007

Today; sick and bored out of my mind, I was organizing a bunch of pictures on my computer when I came across these and several other photos. What struck me the most while looking at these photos was how I was NOT revolted by them at all. My reaction to them was completely different than it had been in the past. I looked at those photos and I loved the person in it. I felt compassion for myself because I knew so very well where I was emotionally at the time the pictures were taken. The biggest shocker I felt was love. I loved that person - that same person I was ashamed of being. My body was different back then but it wasn't bad. I was different in many ways and that doesn't mean I was a bad person either.

I have been so many different versions of myself through the course of my short 34 years on this planet. The version that I am now feels the most authentic and genuine by far. I feel the closest and most in touch with myself than ever before in my life. Maybe that sounds cheesy and hokey but it sure doesn't FEEL that way!

I used to weigh 115 pounds more than I do right now. When I tell this to people, 99% of the time, the first question is a wide-eyed "How did you do it?!?" The answer I have always given is really only partially true. I always readily admit to the fact that I have undergone gastric bypass surgery. However, I fail to include the fact that before I had the surgery, underwent two solid years of intensive eating disorder therapy. I am currently still a client at The Emily Program (an eating disorder treatment center) over six years after beginning therapy. In my opinion, that is the true reason I have been able to lose 115 pounds and keep it off since my surgery almost five years ago. 

I think everyone has heard of or knows someone personally who has had weight loss surgery and then either gained all the weight back or never lost it all to begin with. It is my deeply held belief that the reason for this is an untreated eating disorder. I have probably been on every diet, tried every gimmick and latest fad on the planet with temporary success at best. I have come to the conclusion that diets and even things such as surgery can only help a person with the physical act of eating. When they do gastric bypass surgeries, they operate on your stomach NOT your brain. When you go on a diet or under anesthesia, you still retain the same ideas, thoughts and feelings about food and eating. I gave up dieting six years ago when I entered eating disorder treatment and to be honest, I have never been happier in my life.

Now, I don't attribute simply abandoning diets to my happiness. Diets by nature are not a bad thing. However, through the filter of someone with an eating disorder, diets can be incredibly dangerous and damaging physically, mentally and emotionally. I know this because I have experienced it personally. For me, dieting or placing rigid expectation on myself of what I can/cannot eat triggers my eating disorder like mad. I have to be so careful about classifying food into "good" or "bad" categories and all the judgements that accompany the foods I choose. If I am not careful, I will find myself in a destructive cycle of disordered thoughts and behaviors.

A very reasonable question would then be, "But don't you have to follow a special diet now that you have had surgery?" Then answer is yes and no. Yes, because there are guidelines that they make for eating after surgery, such as making sure to get a certain amount of protein, vitamins etc. However, I basically eat the things my body tolerates. There are no "restricted" foods or things that are off limits. I have to be careful with fried, overly greasy or sweet foods because they make me sick to my stomach. However, I can usually safely enjoy a bite or two and be satisfied. Having had the surgery has made me become so much more aware of my body as well as the hunger and full cues it gives me. AND because of the emotional work I have done in therapy, I am able to actually listen to those cues instead of ignoring them.

At the end of the day, I don't want to be seen as a weight loss success story. I want to be seen as someone who has faced some scary emotional shit in order to recover from an eating disorder. For me, eating disorder recovery has been a holistic process. One where I could not ignore my emotions to obtain physical fulfillment or vice-versa. They had to learn to work together - body and mind. I had to learn how to unite the two within myself and for me, that could only be done by addressing both.

I suspect there are a lot of people rowing the boat that I used to row. Both women and men. Losing weight, gaining it back, hating themselves, wondering what is wrong with them and then doing it all over again. If this sounds familiar, maybe its worth asking yourself the question: "Is it possible that I have an eating disorder?" If you are brave enough to ask that question and the answer is even "maybe," trust me, you are not alone. The Emily Program is a wonderful place that I whole heartdly recommend. (Also, please let me know if I can personally be of help to you in any way).

January 2014 at Pole Class
As I sit here typing this blog, I am the twice as healthy and strong that I have ever been in my life. "Twice" because I am healthy in both body and mind. It feels incredible to be able to throw my weight successfully around a pole. Yes, I am now proudly a Pole Dancer (Click HERE to read about that adventure). To be able to hold myself upside down and lift my body weight off the ground is like next to flying. To be able to emotionally and mentally cope with life and my struggles in a healthy way makes me strong and resilient. I am definitely not "perfect" and I don't want to be. I eat McDonalds and chocolate sometimes. But I also LOVE a rich salad full of veggies and protein. I still have days where I want to eat ALLLLLLLLLL the food. The difference is that I know how to cope with those feelings. I know what to do when I get those compulsions. The difference is that food does not run my life any more. I run my life now and I like it that way so much better!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Butterflies In January

My first husband, Simon was an incredibly unique person on so many levels. I could literally go on ALL day talking about the different ways he was probably one of the most unique people I have ever known. Really, all you needed to do was take a look at him and you knew it. One of the things about Simon that set him apart from the rest of the world was his hair. Simon had the most vibrant, beautiful red hair I have ever seen in my life.

See what I mean?? And these photos don't even do it justice. I think his hair is the reason that I have always associated Simon with monarch butterflies. While he was alive and even more now that he is gone, I think of him every time I see one.

I met my husband, Dan just a few months after Simon passed away. I know that Simon wanted me to eventually move on and find love again. It was something we talked about a lot - his wishes for me if the worst should happen due to his heart condition. When it did happen; in spite of our many talks, I worried that Simon would somehow feel betrayed or upset. I knew that people who were still on Earth had LOTS of opinions and didn't keep them a secret. I really didn't give a shit what the rest of the world thought though. I was most concerned with how Simon would feel and that occupied my thoughts a lot.

About a month into dating, Dan and I took a weekend trip to his family's country property up north. We took the four wheeler out into the woods and cruised around, enjoying the beautiful fall day. We came upon a clearing with lots of tall grass and a few huge old trees that had fallen over. We decided to stop for a bit, climbing up on one of the fallen trees for a some water and a chat. I remember taking a swig of water and then looking at the tall grass immediately surrounding us. I noticed a monarch butterfly sitting on top of a weed. Just as I pointed it out to Dan, he said "I know, they are everywhere!"

As I shifted my focus to the grass further from us, I saw them. There were dozens of monarch butterflies all perched on different blades of tall grass. Now, at the risk of sounding hokey and weird, I am going to say that I could almost feel Simon's presence. An incredibly deep sense of peace came over me and tears immediately poured down my face. I can only really describe this as what felt like Simon's blessing. I just knew at that moment that he meant the words he said to me, "I want you to be happy and to find love again."

Since that day, I have wanted to get a tattoo of a monarch butterfly. I had considered it several times but for one reason or another, it never happened. A few months ago, I was on Facebook and saw that Simon's best friend, Curt had opened his own tattoo shop. Simon and Curt grew up together and he was the very first person that Curt ever tattooed. Boom - I knew it was officially tattoo time!

I got in touch with Curt and we spent time catching up. I had not seen him since Simon's funeral almost three years ago. It felt so good to talk him, hear how he has been and to talk about Simon. Many of Simon's friends were amazing after he passed. They reached out to me and called me to see how I was doing. I appreciated it so much but at the same time it was so incredibly painful to talk. Curt was one of those people who reached out to me a lot. Even though I didn't necessarily call back, he still called me. He is just that kind of person. An incredibly good person, right to the core. AND don't you dare tell him I said this but inside, he is just a big ole' softie :)

Curt and I were able to finally make our schedules jive so that I could get my tattoo. Simon's birthday was just four days ago, so the timing was perfect. I am SOOOOO happy with how it turned out!

Curt and I at his shop Vanilla Gorilla in Minneapolis

Here it is!
I learned about an ink called "grey wash" that he used on the shadow. It will fade up to be a lighter grey color and look like a nice, realistic shadow. Who knew such fancy stuff existed?! Probably lots of people, but hey - I just learned something new! I love that the butterfly looks like it was just flying along and decided to land on my shoulder. I love how it turned out, the person who did it and what it means to me. I really couldn't ask for a better experience with this tattoo. I think Simon would have really loved it!