It’s nearly five o’clock in the morning and I should be sleeping. I’m not though. I’ve had a lot on my mind lately. It’s been awhile since I actually shared what’s been going in my journey through written word. When I started my blog that’s what it was about, sharing my journey so that other people out there that might be experiencing the same sorts of things didn’t feel so alone.
That was easy when my journey included everything about food, exercise, reconstructive plastic surgery, running half marathons and following my dreams in a pursuit of a new career. It was even relatively easy when my journey got dark and included my battle with body image issues.
The point when it started getting hard was when I began to be afraid of getting judged for where my journey was taking me.
But once again I find myself in a situation where I am experiencing an issue I think many in the weight loss surgery community face – and yet we rarely talk about it.
As I lay sleepless in bed tonight, tossing and turning I’ve decided that maybe what I really need to do is stop being scared of judgment and start being brave enough to be one of the voices that speaks out and says “If this is where you are in the journey it’s okay, you’re not alone.”
Relationships after weight loss can be confusing. Let me start there.
A few weeks ago I had to write one of the hardest letters of my life. I had to write to the man I have been married to for nearly thirteen years and explain to him that I wasn’t happy in our marriage anymore. Anyone that’s only known me since I lost my weight might be shocked to hear that I’m still married. We definitely haven’t acted like we we’re married for the better part of the last seven years. We don’t even live together anymore.
It’s been a very long time since I went through a breakup. The last time I actually voluntarily ended a relationship with someone I was nineteen years old and it wasn’t one of my prouder moments in life. I’ve been on the other side of the equation several times though, and usually when it happens, the reason that someone is ending the relationship is because of all the things the other person did or didn’t do.
A strange thing happened when I sat down to write that letter though. I figured out that the end of our marriage had less to do with what he had or had not done and a lot more to do with the changes that had taken place in me since I had lost weight.
As someone who has battled obesity since childhood, my experience with relationships hasn’t been easy. I’ve felt the sting of a lot of rejection because of my weight. Most the men I was attracted to didn’t reciprocate those feelings and for the better part of my life I felt unworthy of a man’s attention.
In my early twenties that constant rejection and feelings of unworthiness drew me to a lifestyle I thought would make me feel better. I got involved in relationships with men that wanted to dominate me. I thought that by being submissive to a man and by living and breathing to make him happy and being willing to do absolutely anything he wanted me to do sexually that someone would love me in the way I was longing for. It’s easy to get involved in a relationship where you are considered property when you have no self-worth. Being “owned” by someone actually gave me a sense of value that I had never felt before.
Living my life with the purpose of making someone else happy, with someone else calling the shots and making the rules was easy for me in the beginning, our relationship was full of crazy sexual escapades and to me, at the time, sex equated love. We went to parties where despite my weight or size I’d dress up in fetish wear, be put on display and the sexual encounters we had as a result made me feel wanted.
I think most of us want to feel loved and wanted, but for me it went deeper than that. As a little girl I felt unwanted, unloved and abandoned by my family. That’s the effect that finding out I was adopted had on me. That’s the feeling that finding out that my entire family knew that there was a pedophile in their midst and yet allowed a little girl in their care to be exposed to him evoked in me. That’s the impact that a life of teenage obesity where every boy who liked me or fooled around with me wanted to keep it a secret from his friends had on me.
All I ever wanted was for someone to love me and want me. I dreamed of romance experiences like you see in movies and read in books. I never felt like I deserved them though. When was the last time you saw a movie or read a book where the leading female role was a woman affected by morbid obesity?
When I started focusing on losing weight I didn’t really think it had anything to do with wanting a different relationship. I wanted the happy and healthy life that my Father wanted for me and in the beginning of this journey I was much more focused on the healthy part than I was the happy part.
Something strange happened though. Once I got the weight off, once I started reconstructive plastic surgery and started battling my body image issues, something changed. Without me even realizing it I started to gain back some of my self-worth, some of my self-confidence and before I knew it I actually started to feel like I deserved to be happy again.
When I look back at my marriage and the relationship that my husband and I had, I can’t really say that he has changed all that much. I was the one who had changed. For a very long time I had been settling for less than what would make me completely happy because I was afraid that nobody would ever love me again.
At four hundred and twenty pounds I was so terrified of this that I was willing to participate in a relationship that was emotionally unhealthy. I was willing to tolerate the fact that he lied to me constantly. I was willing to accept that our relationship had become completely non-physical. I could hardly stand looking at myself naked in the mirror, why on earth would I expect someone else to want to look at me naked? I was willing to accept that we hardly ever did anything together anymore. I was quite certain he was as embarrassed as I was to be out with me in public.
I felt like people looked at us and wondered why he was with me. I grew accustomed to the fact that we rarely if ever even slept in the same bed next to each other. I resolved to be okay with the fact that he never took my hand in his, that we didn’t cuddle on the couch together anymore and that the most physical attention I received was a hug or kiss in the kitchen or hallway when our paths crossed in the house.
It is astounding to me as I read my own words how much obesity held me back. It is amazing just how emotionally debilitating that disease was for me.
But as I started losing the weight I realized that I wasn’t willing to accept a relationship that didn’t make me happy anymore and once that happened, I started longing and yearning for the things that had been missing in my life for so long.
I was ready to be loved again. I wanted to be wanted again.
Once I started losing my weight I started having relationships outside of my already estranged marriage. I started to get little glimpses of the things that I had been missing and started realizing that I missed them even more than I had realized.
One might ask why I didn’t ask for a divorce then. The answer is simple. I was terrified.
I had a history of regain. I had weighed over four hundred pounds when I met my husband. The first time I told him I was in love with him I bawled my eyes out when he told me that though he loved me dearly as a friend he just wasn’t physically attracted to me. In a desperate effort to win the heart of the man I wanted I started dieting and exercising. Atkins and exercise got me down to an all-time lowest adult weight of two hundred and twenty-five pounds and earned me my wedding day.
Those first several years of our marriage things were different. But that didn’t last long. When I gained all that weight back and the scale was showing four hundred and twenty pounds again the relationship had changed completely and in my mind the only person I had to blame for it was myself. It was my food addiction and my inability to control my weight that had caused it. But even though I weighed over four hundred pounds again he stayed with me. I still got hugs and kisses in the kitchen and I wasn’t alone.
I was petrified of regain. But more than anything I was paralyzed with the fear of being alone.
I began seeing patterns in the relationships I was having outside of my marriage. The moment the physical attention and affection started to dwindle I started to panic. I started to wonder what was wrong with me and why they didn’t want me anymore. I started standing in front of the mirror scrutinizing my body from every angle. I started tearing myself apart emotionally in the pursuit of being perfect.
The fear I had of relapsing into obesity made it impossible for me to find the emotional courage to end any relationship. It didn’t matter whether or not I was happy. I wasn’t even really sure I deserved to be happy.
There is a lot of emotional work involved in life after weight loss.
It’s taken a very long time for me to get to a place where I could begin to move forward. It’s taken a lot of courage and a lot of emotional work for me to get to a place where I could look in the mirror and tell myself with conviction that I am not defined by how much someone else loves me but by how much I love myself and how loving I am with others.
It’s been a long uphill battle for me emotionally to get to a place where I can say that though I want to feel wanted and I want to have hot and steamy romantic experiences like we read about in guilty pleasure novels, that won’t happen as a result of staying in unrewarding relationships and settling for less than what I truly want.
It’s taken a lot of soul-searching to recognize that I struggle to communicate what I want and need from others without feeling insecure and uncertain about whether or not I am worthy or deserving of it.
It’s taken a lot of working on my own emotional fortitude to realize that I need to stop blaming what has transpired in my relationships on my body and what might be wrong with it.
It’s been a rough journey to a place of understanding that unless I stand for something I will fall for anything – even things hurt me and don’t give me the happiness that I want.
But I am standing at the top of that emotional mountain right now and I’ve gotten to a place where I have the emotional determination and self-respect to start fighting for the things I really want out of life.
The struggle against obesity doesn’t end when you lose the weight. In many ways, it’s really just the beginning.
I’ve talked to so many people lately who are struggling with ending unhappy relationships as they progress in their weight loss journey. It’s not an easy phase of life after weight loss by any means. It’s impossible to give someone advice at that phase of their journey because you don’t want to give them the wrong advice or lead them to make a decision they will regret later.
The one thing I can do though is share my own story and my own experience and a promise with you. If my story resonates with you and if you are finding yourself stuck somewhere in this dark part of your journey, wondering where life takes you when you finally start finding yourself again, you are not alone. There are other people who have found themselves standing exactly where you are, walking the same path and battling the same demons.
Pandora Williams author of Desperately Seeking Slender is a Cooper Approved Wellness Coach Trained in Weight Management Strategies, a Motivational Speaker and Exercise Instructor at a women’s only fitness facility in Wilmington North Carolina.
Dear Slender Seekers,
Sometimes you just have to stop and write. I’ve been quiet for too long. I’ve gotten off track and felt guilty. But today, I fixed it. Today, my first day off since New Years, today I promised myself to fix it, and from here on out, I am going to keep my promise.
If you only knew how much weight that promise holds.
Here we go.
I’ve shared with you in the past that a wise man once taught me that part of our responsibility in our journey is to have the kindness of heart to reach back to those behind you in the journey and help them along.
He also taught me to have the courage to reach forward to those ahead of me and ask for help when I needed it.
Today, I lived that lesson.
I read a post from a friend on Facebook today that reminded me so much of where I once was in my journey; the day I created Desperately Seeking Slender. I was just coming out of bariatric surgery. I had decided I wanted to help others in their weight loss journey and found myself wanting a career giving people what I felt I needed most right then, someone who had been there and someone who could tell me what sort of exercise to do and teach me about nutrition.
I reached out to my friend and offered to send him a book that would help him in his journey. The extra Cooper Manual I had to buy when I didn’t have it with me when I got there for class.
This did two things.
I allowed me to give someone who is following a similar path as my own, a little guidance as to how I did it and what directions he might want to go in.
It also allowed me to reach out and ask someone who might be willing to help me with something I am struggling with; someone to study with me over the phone. I have this wild image of me running on a treadmill answering flashcards questions while panting and then reading off flashcards for my study buddy to answer during set reps.
Yeah. I’m a little weird.
I’ve also realized that once again I got sucked into my own emotional pit. (I also realized what it is that usually snaps me out of it.)
Sometimes it sneaks up on me in placed I don’t expect it. It was really bad for me on Christmas Eve. Missing my Father in combination with my first holiday season away from Oregon, missing my PNW Family and Friends was really hard for me.
But the same friend I reached out to today had reached out to me on Christmas Eve. I was driving to the gym. I had managed to get myself off the couch and into the car but I just wasn’t feeling it at all. In fact, I was already having an internal conversation with myself about how I was only going to do a really short 2 mile run. I got a text from my friend encouraging me to get out of the house and go for a run.
Somehow just knowing that someone else was there cheering me on helped me. I got on that treadmill and put 5 miles on my shoes that day. Guess what? I felt so much better afterwards. I was so grateful to the friends that had helped pull me out of that slump.
I’m a big believer in the “Attitude is Gratitude movement.” as well as the “Pay it Forward” movement.
Today I was able to thank my friend for being there for me when I needed it by being there for him when he needed it and by giving him something I wish I had possessed a little bit more of earlier on in my journey, experience and guidance.
I need to get back to the ABC’s – Back to the basics.
First step, confess. – I got off track again. Guilty of taking on too much and not having enough time to do all the things for me that I need to do. I stopped doing the very thing I teach others to do. Even though I love my father I have a bad habit of letting old ghosts haunt me. Sometimes, it just takes that ghost giving you a little nudge and telling you it’s time to move on. (I do love the way my father can still teach me a lesson to this day.)
Next, reassess. – I can’t do it all but I can do most of it. My running time needs to get worked back in. I need to somehow combine studying and exercise to help make that work. I need to give my clients everything they need from me to help them be successful with this challenge we have going on while still maintaining my exercise and study goals. This is my number one priority. I got this.
Now, commit. – I need a plan.
I’ll schedule my days more carefully to allow for better time management. I will schedule in, travel, exercise and study time.
I will let go of the grief I’ve been feeling. I’ll write more often. I express emotions better in words. Even better if I am the only one reading them.
I’ll keep my promise to myself to not take on any other big projects until I have completed my goals. (This is a big one for me.)
I’ll keep my promise to myself to always use Sunday as a Celebration Day. Celebrating the things I am proud of.
Today is Sunday, and as I shared with you earlier I am proud of myself for the way I was able to live a lesson I believe in today. I’m also proud of myself for the ability to realize that I am not perfect and recognizing my mistakes. As one of my heroes, Heidi Powell would say “I’m Perfectly Imperfect.”I’m also proud of my ability to learn from people like her how to fall without failing and what steps to take to get back up. Most of all I am proud of myself, for the person I am, the woman I’ve become, and the coach I strive to be.
Now since we’re talking about getting back on track Slender Seekers I have a challenge for you. I challenge you to do the same thing I am doing in the beginning of the year. Don’t make a New Years resolution that might not last past the first few months of the year and set goals you’ll be disappointed in yourself when you don’t achieve. Instead I challenge you to simply be the best version of yourself you can be right now.
Look at your current situation, confess anything you’ve fallen short on to yourself. Reassess the situation and decide what your priorities are and then commit to a plan to get yourself back on track. I’d love to share this journey with you and celebrate the steps you take to get to where you want to be along the way. In fact, why don’t you write to me and tell me what successes you are celebrating and I’ll celebrate them with you.
That gives me a whole new idea. But more on that later. Now, it’s time for me to get some sleep.
Sending you lots of virtual hugs,