coming out

My mother called me while I was on the bus the other morning, hoping to catch me before work, and I hesitated before picking up. Not just because sometimes you don’t want to talk to your mother before 9 in the morning, and before you’ve acquired a buffer of coffee and staring-off-into-space time–though that’s a little true. What is more true, however, is that I have been feeling guilty. Six months out of surgery, and I still haven’t told her exactly what that surgery entailed.

My brother’s wedding is getting closer, and I am losing more weight, and everyone will know it’s not just vitamins, and she’s going to be so mad I lied, and I am a terrible person, and I picked up the phone and said "Hi, mom."

She was not calling to excoriate me, because she had not plucked out
the lie like a worm from my secret heart, which is like an apple in
this example. She was calling because she’s my mom, who is a nice lady,
who wants to talk to her daughter and make sure everything is well with
her. Of course, that doubled the guilt and added a layer of
self-loathing and despair, with sprinkles of yuck and a cherry made
from hate. Delicious!

We talked for awhile quietly, because I hate people who talk on their
cell phones on the bus, but you see I was in the grip of a mania and I
had no choice, and she asked how I was doing with my diet, because the
story was that I was on a diet to prepare for the wedding, and on the
bus, in front of all the commuters and tourists and freeloaders and
wanderers and the bus driver and God, I said, "Well, mom, I’m not
actually on a diet because I got weight-loss surgery and I’m sorry I
lied and please don’t tell anyone else in the family okay?" I kept my
eyes closed tight and waited.

"Oh," my mother said. "Oh, I knew that."

"What?"

"Well, you had weight loss surgery books on your wish list. And then you
went for surgery. I wish you had told me, but I figured you’d mention
it eventually."

"Oh," I said. "Okay."

And then we talked about my brother’s wedding, and she signed off, and
I said well, that was a fuck of a thing. As it turns out, my mother
isn’t stupid. Not that I thought she was stupid, of course. Just,
maybe, that I am so smart that I am fully in control of every
situation, and therefore will never be found out, in the way I
rearrange the world to best suit me and my vanity.

Because it is totally vanity, this urge to hide the fact of my surgery
from the world–it begins with not wanting anyone to know that I was
that fat. It continues with not wanting anyone to remember that not
only was I that fat, but I was getting fatter. Not only was I getting
fatter, I couldn’t stop it, and it wouldn’t stop, and I needed help.
Sometimes–most of the time–I can’t shake the feeling that weight-loss
surgery is for someone who is weak, someone who has no will power,
someone who couldn’t make herself put down the donuts and get on a treadmill, like every stupid, hateful fat girl cliché you’ve ever heard.

Except that I know that’s not true. I know I wasn’t eating donuts and
putting my face in pies and having a ham for a midnight snack. I know I
could diet, had dieted, was dieting, and it wasn’t working, and it
wasn’t staying off. And I know–I know damn well that surgery isn’t a
crutch and it isn’t a magic bullet and it is a tool to help take the
weight off and help keep the weight off, but there is no fucking way I
could do this without being on a diet, essentially, every minute of the day.
The difference is, if I eat wrong, I get sick. If I eat too much, I get
sick and it hurts. Despite that, despite the pain and the nausea, I
still have to make conscious choices to not reach for those foods that
are going to kill me, to stick with the lean protein that sometimes
feels like it’s going to kill me, because I am so tired of lean
proteins.

Here I am, ranting like I’m being argued with. No one is arguing with
me, but I am clearly so scared someone will. I am clearly trying to
convince myself of the truth of my argument. I don’t know why it’s such
a struggle, and why I haven’t been able to entirely come to terms with
it yet. I had to get the surgery; I am glad I got the surgery. I wish I
hadn’t needed to. I guess it goes back to wishing I had lost 100 lbs. back when losing 100 lbs. would have knocked me right
out of the obesity circle and into a normal weight. Coulda, woulda, shoulda.

If I really need to wish for something, it should be just letting it
go. Slowly, I think I am. I have found myself telling people,
compulsively, and not just out of guilt (sorry, mom). I told one of my
coworkers. I told a friend I meet for dinner every week, because I am
sure she was beginning to think it was odd, the way I’d just sit there
and eat a leaf. When I went away on a writing retreat, in the middle of the week, I went and announced it to the group.

The reaction, so far, has been, “Huh! No kidding.” And support, and
happiness for me, that I’ve lost so much weight, and interest in what
the surgery is and how it works and how I live and what I need to do.
Everyone has been kind, and excited and the lack of judgment makes me
suspicious. Why aren’t you judging me? This is–

What is it? A way that I’ve gotten my health and my life back? A thing
I did for myself? A scary procedure that isn’t for everyone, but which
I decided was for me, which has been working out better than I could
have hoped? Yeah. It’s not a sin to have done it. It might have been a
sin to not have done it. I need to stop confessing, cringing
and waiting for judgment. But do I want to tell the whole world how I
lost the weight? I don’t think so. Not yet. But give me time.

  5 comments for “coming out

  1. Cheri
    May 9, 2007 at 10:53 am

    Hi
    I have an appointment June 5th to set the date for my surgery. And to be honest I have been struggling with many of the issues you just described. I haven’t told many people (my mom and dad are on that list as well) and actually found myself irratated with one friend I did tell that has been telling people that I’m going to be having the surgery. I didn’t know what it was that was keeping me from telling people but I think you nailed it – feeling weak, feeling like I didn’t try hard enough, that I’m taking the easy way out. Even though my rationale brain knows and has read enough to know that this isn’t the easy way out – just a tool to help me lose the weight and hopefully keep it off.
    Thanks for the insight!

  2. *S*
    May 9, 2007 at 2:09 pm

    Did you see Gina Kolata’s article yesterday on the link between genetics and weight? Freaked the bejezus outta me and I’m only hoping that the surgery I had is going to even out the genetic odds of me ending up utterly spherical:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/08/health/08fat.html?ei=5087&em=&en=271d386f02040361&ex=1178856000&adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1178734070-ffDYensv7ypeuZ657vftsA

    *S*

  3. May 9, 2007 at 3:38 pm

    Oh! Good luck, Cheri. It is a hard decision, and clearly it comes with issues, but it is one of the best decisions I ever made. You’ll do great.

  4. spacedcowgirl
    May 10, 2007 at 1:00 pm

    Maybe, for argument’s sake, it doesn’t matter if WLS is the easy way out? I mean, based on everything I have heard, it’s certainly NOT the easy way out… but I also think it’s reasonable for people to take advantage of any safe technology that works for them to help meet their weight loss and health goals. For example, I’m on Weight Watchers, and I don’t follow the 1969 program; I follow the new program because since the ’60s they have come up with ways to make it a lot more pleasant and livable, so there’s no reason to use the “old” technology of the old program anymore.

    I guess what I am probing around in my brain is the fact that your comment about having done everything you could and not being able to lose weight makes me feel a little sad.

    Maybe Person A overeats because he is traveling 5 days a week for a job he hates, the stress is overwhelming, and a big steak dinner is the only thing he thinks might make him happy. Maybe Person B eats donuts and junk food all day and is scared it’s going to kill her but she just can’t make herself stop. In a strict sense, neither of these people is doing “all they possibly can” to lose weight, but I think you could argue that actually they are doing all they can just to keep their heads above water. Person A and Person B might not both be suited for WLS for a number of reasons, but I think frankly that if you make them try everything up to and including the most spartan 800-calorie-a-day diet before you deem them worthy of getting WLS, they are both likely to die miserable and fat, because practically speaking they CAN’T lose the weight. It doesn’t really matter why.

    My friend is also on Weight Watchers and she told me the most profound thing she felt about going on the program was a sense of relief and an easing of guilt because she was “finally doing something,” that she would watch weight-loss commercials on TV and feel such terrible guilt that she wasn’t doing anything about her weight. I couldn’t relate to that at all (I have always had a very strong resentment for the idea that I “should” hate myself all the time unless I’m being a good little girl and dieting), and in fact I wanted to cry because she seemed to feel that society was perfectly correct in passing judgment on her, on all of us, and imposing its decision as to whether we were “doing enough.” And you’re never “doing enough” unless you have pared your intake to the bone, eliminated every food that could give you the slightest shred of enjoyment, and replaced all your hobbies with calorie-burning exercise. I think that everyone has every right to feel good about themselves as people, no matter what their weight or how hard they are currently “trying.” And you probably do too; I’m just rambling because for some reason this is a topic that touches a raw nerve and makes me very sad.

    It’s easy for me to sit here and say that I think it’s important from a feminist standpoint that we not be complicit in society’s attempts to pass judgment on whether we have done sufficient penance for being fat and being women, because I guess that’s what I have been trying to say, and I do believe it, but I haven’t had the surgery and so I don’t have to put up with the rude “easy way out” comments. I guess what I mean is that I don’t believe it’s the easy way out, but I also believe that whether it’s supposedly “the lazy man’s diet” and similar moral judgments should not have to come into a person’s decision as to whether it’s right for them or not.

  5. KP
    May 10, 2007 at 2:27 pm

    I had surgery in August of 2004, and my family still does not know about it. It was “easy” because I lived thousands of miles away from them, and I only visited once a year. A few select friends know about the surgery, but it’s not public knowledge. I’m an intensely private person, so that’s just my nature. Going the surgical route was never easy. I’ve lost approx. 95 lbs., and I’m still working on losing the last 20-25 lbs. It’s still an every day struggle. I exercise a lot (6 days a week), and I try to eat right. But the battle with food, and with my head? It still goes on. I still crave chocolate or comfort food when I’m stressed, or PMS-ing. I still have demons to slay. We all get there at our own pace, and we all have to decide with whom we share this part of our lives. Give yourself time to get comfortable in your skin, and then go from there.

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