My sponsor and I have been working on step #1 (again) and she gave me a homework assignment: write about what it was like weighing 326.
I have conveniently forgotten about being morbidly obese. Notice that I can say that term now. I didn’t used to be able to. There is something about having that label medically applied to yourself that makes it substantially more offensive. But, not meaning to digress—it seams that forgetting what life used to be like is closely connected to forgetting that I am a food addict and that I don’t want to go back there. So, here goes.
I wear between a size 30 and 32 pants. That is not the waist size. It is the size you get to when you grow into and out of the “women’s sizes” of 18, 20, 22, and 24. Then you are relegated to shopping at a very select number of specialty stores that sell the “extended” sizes that go up to 28 and occasionally 30 and 32. Since those stores are few and far between, I am forced to make a lot of my clothes. Thank goodness I can sew. That little skill assures that I will have an endless supply of what I affectionately call “my uniform”. That means that I wear either pants or a skirt (all identical style, different color or prints) and a T-shirt with a blouse worn over the T-shirt like an open jacket. It has to be a soft, drapey blouse because a real jacket would be too stiff, too bulky and too hot to wear at that weight, to say nothing of that fact that I could never get one big enough to go around my middle that would not drown me on the shoulders. I wear the over-blouse regardless of how hot I am because just a T-shirt would expose every roll of fat too clearly. With a soft blouse left open, it creates the illusion that I am wearing lose, flowing clothing because I like it, not because that is all that will fit me. I posted "before" pictures on q previous blog that document this image and point out that my strategy didn’t work as well as I imaged.
That uniform has its advantages. It always looks better with a flashy, chunky necklace, which means that I still have something to shop for since clothes-shopping is no longer entertaining. The drawback is that now it is even hard to find long enough necklaces to look good at that size. Ah—but what about shoes? Even though my body has grown bigger, my feet haven’t gotten any longer. That means that shoe shopping is much more satisfying and I have, indeed, gathered a nice collection of shoes. The problem with that is that at 326 pounds my feet have started to hurt and my knees are acting up so much that I can’t really wear any of those shoes and in the recent months have had to resort to wearing Birkenstocks with my dresses as well as the pants I’ve always worn them with. What a fashion statement! My children make merciless fun of the Birkenstocks. I guess that is better than them making fun of my weight or overall size.
Forget the logistical complications of trying to dress an “extended” size body. What about the emotional ramifications? Being fat stinks. Pure and simple. I’ll admit I am somewhat vain, but not really any more so than most ladies. But, I have to admit it crushes my vanity to look like this. It is more than a blow to my ego. It is humiliating. I hate having my first concern every time I have to walk into a new social situation be “what will people will think about me?” I know, it sounds egotistical to think that people will even notice, let alone think about it. But they do. The fact is that there is a great prejudice against people of size. I know there is. I have the same prejudice against other fat people. The difference is that I know me. I know that I am different. I’m not fat because I am lazy or stupid or weak or incompetent. I’m fat because of a genetic problem over which I have no control. It is the other fat people who are lazy, stupid, weak or incompetent. But, that is how I know people really do judge me. It is because I judge them too. I spend too much time looking for people who are fatter than me. Comparison is my best friend. I may not be thin, but as long as there is someone bigger than me, I am still okay.
Back to the self-esteem issue. I am such a talented person. I have so many gifts—so many things I have accomplished and done well in my life. Why is it that none of them seem to matter compared to the utterly bleak sense of failure I feel at this size? Why isn’t anything else I have done in life enough to erase the pain that I can’t conquer this one problem?
Emotional well-being aside, there are some very real physical inconveniences that come with being a person of size. For example, thin people take moving around for granted. They get on the floor and back off the floor when they want. They bend over. They fit in confined spaces. They really don’t understand what it is like to have to make getting down on the floor a huge decision-making process. Will I be able to get back off the floor? How many people may be watching me try to do it? After all, it won’t be a pretty site. Will the furniture I need to grab onto be steady enough to support my struggle upward? Even if I can get back up, at this weight it is downright painful to sit on the floor. What do you do with those huge legs that don’t conveniently fold in any particular direction without causing instantaneous pain? Never mind all the years I didn’t get down there and play with my kids. Never mind that fact that I can’t get on the floor with my grandkids. It is easier to just make sure I never get into that position. After all, that is what chairs are for.
The problem is that most chairs aren’t for people of size. They break at very random, inconvenient times. I have learned this the hard way, and as a result, I am much more clever than most fat people at assessing chairs BEFORE I sit in them and they break under my weight. There are subtle tricks to that game…make sure I am never the last one into a room and left with no seating options. Arrive early. Pick a sturdy looking chair that I know I can get out of. Sofas are never a good choice. When as few people as possible are watching, scoot the chair farther away from the neighboring chairs so I don’t invade someone else’s personal space with my over-flowing body. Plant myself in it and stay there until the event is over.
Cars are problematic. The front seat belts in my particular cars do still go around me. The problem is that not all seatbelts do. That means that it is very stressful to go anywhere in someone else’s car. It is SO embarrassing to get in their car and the have to say, “I’m sorry. Your seatbelt won’t go around me. We’ll have to switch to my car.” The majority of the time I actually can get the seatbelt on with enough effort, but the stress hardly makes it worth it. It is a lengthy struggle that involves twisting and turning and sifting around, pulling the belt in and out multiple times. After all, my rear end is completely covering the seat-end of the belt so it takes a minor miracle to even be able to find it, let alone pull the belt tight enough to get it to actually click. By the time I finally hear that “click” and experience an unexplainable sense of relief that the ordeal is over, my back has been pulled out of joint and I am exhausted.
If cars are bad, planes are ten times worse. The seat belt may or may not go around. Even if it does, my body overflows into the adjoining seats. I can usually deal with this as long as I am traveling with my husband. He loves me and never complains that I put the arm rest up and ooze onto this seat. But other passengers are not nearly so gracious. There is something culturally unacceptable about having part of my body dog-piled on their body when they paid for their seat fair and square. But, then again, nothing about being fat is fair, is it?
There are so many activities that I can’t do like a normal person. I try to play volleyball, but I am only somewhat effective if the ball comes directly to me. After all, I don’t run, let alone jump for the ball. It is not that I don’t want to. It is just that my brain is programmed to protect my body and every instinct in it says that a sudden movement at my size will likely result in a serious injury or fall. Falls are bad, not just because of the chance for injury, but because should I ever land unexpectedly on the ground, it would take nothing short of a small army to get me up again. I know. I’ve done it and it is humiliating.
Swimming is another fun activity when you are overweight. It actually ought to be a wonderful choice since it is the closest to weightless I ever get. The problem is two-fold: 1) you have to wear a swim suit. Even with long shorts over it, a swim suit at 326 pounds is not a pretty sight. 2) being in the water is fine, but having to step out of the water and make that transition from the water supporting much of my weight to having to get my wet, soggy body out of the water under my own steam is a nightmare. Its easier just not to swim at all. There is one situation where the benefits of being corpulent are a real asset. Swimming in lake. When I was young, prudence dictated that I wear a life jacket in the open water. However, I found that at 326 pounds, I don’t need one at all. I can float in a lake without touching the bottom and without any movement of my arms or legs. In fact, if I float in the water in a “standing up” position the water only comes up to my chin. I can breathe quite freely through my nose while being completely motionless. How cool is that? It’s really cool, but not cool enough to counteract how hard it is to try and get out of the lake afterward.
I could talk about the trauma of trying to go to amusement parks…of being too large to get on any of the fun rides. I could talk about the time my husband assured me I could fit on a particular roller coaster since he was sure he saw lots of other people “bigger than me” on it. Well, obviously they weren’t bigger in all the same places because when all was said and done, the safety bar would not latch and I basically shut down the ride while the staff figured out what to do. Not a happy moment in my life. What about the time we were in Hawaii and I couldn’t go on the helicopter ride with my husband because I was not willing to purchase the TWO tickets needed to accommodate my weight?
There are lots of other little inconveniences. Not being able to bend over in the shower and shave my legs. Okay. It is a small shower. The real problem was that I can barely fit in and close the door. Forget the bending over. Slip on shoes are a must when you can’t bend over to tie your shoes. Putting nylons on is a big challenge and trying to reach behind myself to zip a dress would be a mission-impossible situation if I happened to have a dress.
Climbing a ladder is a no-no. Putting 326 pounds of pressure on the ball of one foot at a time on such a skinny rung is too painful, so I stay on solid ground with my weight evenly distributed over the entire surface area of both feet, and the feet carefully protected in my Birkenstocks. No, I’m not making a sales pitch for Birkenstocks. I am just saying they are a fat person’s best friend. I have learned to walk slowly and pick my steps carefully. Curbs are dangerous. Steps are exhausting. Uneven ground is hazardous.
Life starts to feel all around safer in the confines of my own house. In fact, staying home has two advantages. It is safer and it saves me a lot of embarrassment and mental anguish. At least that would be the case if I had removed all mirrors in the house. I remember one day sitting at my desk. The closet doors in that particular room happened to be sliding mirror doors. I glanced up from my computer and caught a side-view glimpse of myself in the mirror. It was startling. It was shocking. Was that really me? I remember staring at my image with this sick sense of fascination and horror all rolled into one and thinking, “Wow, I am grotesquely fat! That is unbelievable!” And then after a few minutes I looked away and made a point to move my desk so I didn’t sit in front of the mirror like that anyway more.
Luckily, miraculously, I am not 326 pounds any more. I am not grotesquely fat. I don’t wear humongous sizes. I don’t even have to wear Birkenstocks.
But I am still a food addict. I am still just one bite away from being back to that old me, and it is worth remembering that how ever much I might want to eat that other kind of food, there is no “easier, softer way”. Being fat isn’t easier. Being crippled and unhealthy isn’t easier. Feeling lousy about myself isn’t easier.
For today, I think I am stuck with the reality that as hard as it is, the 90-day program and the 90-day OA program is the easier, softer way.