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Surviving Obesity

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When you’re rolled into the operating room for bariatric surgery, you pray that the procedure will help you overcome obesity and all the sad and difficult things about it. It’s the start of your weight loss journey, and you’re ready to leave all that behind. When you look back, the excess weight that was so very, very heavy becomes smaller and lighter. Eventually it disappears. Is that the end of your weight loss journey?

No, it’s not. Or it hasn’t been for me. I'm still moving down the road of recovery. I still remember the bad stuff, the ridicule and humiliation and pain. It’s hard to dispose of because a lot of it is tied up in memories of incest, physical and verbal abuse. Some of that may have contributed to my overeating. It’s hard to put it all away in a cupboard and lock the door. For 20 years, I considered myself a victim of a dysfunctional family and of the siren call of food that helped numb the pain.

Then the excess weight was gone, and it took me another three or so years to stop thinking of myself as a victim and start thinking of myself as a survivor. I was (and am) proud of myself for surviving the terrible, terrifying years of strife, weight gain, and self-pity. I was strong, not just because I’d been lifting weights at the gym but because I’d been exercising my free will. I was strong enough to make better choices in life and in eating. I was going to survive, damn it!

More time passed. My weight went up and down as I dealt with physical and emotional troubles, but I was still a survivor. All the weight didn’t return to weigh me down. I became even stronger as I mastered those troubles – a stronger, more triumphant survivor. I was on top, right? Finally, I was wonderfully the victor over villains that took the form of people and problems.

And more time passed. Hey, I’ve been on this journey for quite a while by now. I’m 8+ years out. I’m 8+ years older. I don’t want more change now. I hate change, don’t you? It’s scary, hard, painful and time-consuming. But I hate being obese even more than I hate change, so I persist. I’m nothing if not stubborn (and of pig-headed Scottish descent).

One day I stepped on the scale and was so startled by the number that I stepped back, waited a minute, and stepped back on. The same number appeared. I had lost 120 pounds. Really, truly 120! I was almost half the weight I was before my surgery. I had gone from size 3X clothes made by Omar the Tentmaker to size XS clothing from an assortment of cute, skinny apparel brands. I could even wear some children’s size clothing and shoes. Finally, finally, I liked looking at my reflection in the mirror. I might even have become a bit vain, but I deserve that, don’t I? Don’t we all, after a lifetime of shame?

Then a logical question popped into my mind: WHAT’S NEXT? It’s my million dollar question, and one day it might become yours.

So, what do I do next, having survived over 50 unhappy, often miserable years of victimhood? Do I want to tread water for the rest of my time on this earth? Well, no. I’m a lousy swimmer, afraid of the water (which I’ll blame on two episodes of a family member’s attempts to drown me). I don’t after all want a long, straight road without surprises and amazing views and adorable size 6-1/2 shoes. I want my adorable feet on the ground and my head in the heavens.

What do I want? I want to move from SURVIVING to THRIVING. I want to prosper and grow like an exotic, sweet-smelling hothouse flower (preferably one that never dies). I want to flourish, prosper and succeed: growing happier, healthier, and even more adorable. I will not let myself be dragged through the frailty and doom of old age. I will NOT. I will thrive. In fact, I am now thriving, even as we speak. It’s by far the sweetest reward I’ve ever had for all my hard work. I’ve earned it, and so have you.

Nowadays I’m enjoying interesting new friendships, richer old friendships, various hobbies, pets, and countless activities I had even never dreamed of, never mind tried, before weight loss surgery. I actually enjoy exercise classes (as much for the social aspect as for the calorie burning), new ideas and adventures, hobbies, church, writing, laughing (I’ll give up exercise classes before I give up laughter), and of course the never-ending delight and occasional insanity of caring for two jobs, a house, nine dogs, two cats, and the 63-year-old child I call my husband.

NEXT has arrived. It is here and now. I’m not a victim, I’m not just a survivor: I’m a THRIVER. Sometimes that’s quite a stretch for me, but almost always it’s interesting and challenging and even fun.

What's next for you? Decades of weight maintenance and tolerance of the tiresome aspects of life? Happy medical appointments? Happy clothes shopping? Admiring glances from strangers? The spouse or partner or baby or job you’ve always wanted?

I’ll tell you what’s next. Life is next. Live it as a thriver, not just a survivor. Celebrate and enjoy it. You may have to experiment, try on as many new activities as clothes, discarding some and keeping the bright, shiny gems. Those are the jewels in your crown. Wear that crown with pride. You’re a thriver, and don’t you ever forget it. Treasure your thriving, because it’s the best gift ever paid out to someone who’s worked as hard as you have. It’s so valuable that no one can name its price. It’s all yours, and don’t you ever forget it!

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