Loving my battle scars

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This post has been a long time coming and to be honest I am not sure where I am going to go with it or why I feel like it’s time to write about it, but as I usually write without planning, I am going to run with it. I suspect it will be long, so make yourself a cuppa, put your feet up and join me if you feel inclined. I don’t see it being a two minute read as so many blogs posts are these days, but I’d love for you to stay for the ride.

You see I have written more times than I can possibly recall or link to about my lifelong eating disorder and the multitude of challenges I faced over the last 38 years or so. In contrast I have shared very little about my eating disorder in the last 18 months, but mentioned in various posts that I had taken steps to overcome it.

So what’s changed? First let me say I have not kept this a secret from anyone and pretty well everyone I meet to and speak to about my significant weight loss and resulting good health knows as I am open and honest about it. I just haven’t written about it, well here anyway. I do have another blog dedicated to it which I haven’t updated in forever, but if you want to have a peak, here is one of the pages where I discuss all the things I tried over the years to manage my addiction.

So the big change is that I had Vertical Sleeve Gastrectomy – VSG for short, or as most people know it – Gastric Sleeve. I had 75% of my stomach removed. Yes you read that right – taken away, not banded, removed forever. And I could NOT be happier.

Why did I do it? From my other blog “I’ve written in other posts about this, but briefly, I was tired of being a slave to my addiction. I had fatty liver and fatty pancreas, had already lost my gall bladder, lived with constant pain and I seemed incapable of doing anything to create sustainable change.

I want to live a long, healthy and happy life and I decided it was time to take control of my body and my addiction and needed a tool to provide me with the extra support I need to make it happen.

Addicts are different to people who just need to lose weight. We use food in ways that non addicts can never understand. Only addicts can truly understand addiction.” Oh and if you think weight loss surgery is the easy way out, you are of course entitled to your opinion but I do invite you to read this post to see why I think it’s far from that.

The last sentence says it all – addiction is a very different animal. I have written previously about the fact that as a food addict we need to slay our demons multiple times a day. We can never take an abstinence approach unlike if we were addicted to other substances (and I am NOT saying that is easy at all!!) we need to eat right?

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So now I am 18 months post op, I have lost a ton of weight and I almost cannot believe I don’t get hung up on the scales anymore. This is after a lifetime of weighing myself and watching the number go up and down and my stress levels elevating or my excitement elevating based on the number. I have been at the same weight for about 8 months now and it fluctuates about two kilos up and down and I could not care less. I reckon I’ve lost about 24 kilos, but again I don’t get caught up on that. It’s what I have gained that has changed my life.

  1. Clarity of thought. It’s as if a whole portion of my brain is now free to explore and create. It’s as if someone came in and swept out a whole bunch of stuff from my brain and thinking and left a clean open room. I no longer obsess over calories, binges, diets, rehashing what I ate, what I didn’t, when my next diet will start or anything remotely like that. It is over – forever.
  2. Freedom from pain. That’s all that needs to be said here.
  3. Confidence. Yes I loved and do my body and I truly learnt to love my curves, but the confidence of knowing that no matter what I put on I look good and can fit into is incredible. This is especially relevant when I am in Bali which I am a lot as their idea of one size fits all used to be a joke to me.
  4. Energy. Yep, loads of it!
  5. No longer reading diet books, posts, forums or anything of the kind – never even crosses my consciousness now.
  6. Not being obsessed with food – like ever. I like food and I still have my days when I eat too much sugar as sugar is my cocaine, but I let it go when I do.
  7. I can eat anything – almost. A few things don’t sit right but those aren’t good for me anyway. Restriction doesn’t work for me and the benefit of this surgery is that I can literally eat anything I want. I feel so liberated that I don’t even have words to express how this feels!

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So that all sounds sunshine rainbows and unicorns right? And to a degree it is, however as a result of years and years of yo-yo dieting and ballooning and shrinking, my body has paid the price in many ways. I have battle scars and quite a few of them.

  1. I had abdominoplasty four years ago – best thing ever. I love love love love it. I had a caesarian with my first son and that combined with fluctuating weight resulted in an apron forever that would never shift. A flat stomach is something I never had and why it may sound vain there are other inconveniences an apron brings that I will leave to your imagination, let’s just say it can be very unpleasant and uncomfortable. The result of abdominoplasty is that I have a scar that goes from the back of each hip right around the front of my body. It’s a big battle scar but one that I wear proudly and only two people in the world see it anyway, although I happily share it if the topic comes up.
  2. Skin. I have loose skin in many places. It is a constant reminder of the fact that my wonderful body has grown and relaxed with me, more times than I can recall. This has bounced back in some areas and not so much in others. I used to have a hang up about it but I appreciate the flexibility that my body has given me and the fact I have survived this long and maintained such good health is somewhat of a miracle if I am honest. I look pretty good in clothes and that’s what matters – except…..
  3. Arms. My arms have always been enormous and out of proportion with my body and are even more so now. Oh how I have longed for and admired arms of other women my entire life. They are now mostly loose and very saggy skin, are uncomfortable and get in the way. As I spend a lot of time in the tropics they are very visible and that’s ok but more importantly, I want to be comfortable. I have decided to have brachioplasty and will be having that in two weeks time. Yes there is a certain amount of vanity to this, but this is one battle scar I will wear proudly and openly for the world to see. I will have a scar running from my armpit to my elbow and it will serve as a reminder of how far I have come and the fact I am now healthy and taking care of my amazing body.
  4. No gall bladder. I was your typical ‘fair, fat and forty’ candidate for gall bladder removal. This affects me depending on what I eat, and obviously having an organ removed based solely on poor dietary choices isn’t idea.
  5. Invisible scars. Because of my sleeve I can no longer enjoy big meals followed by  desserts, and feeling full doesn’t have the same satisfying feeling it used to. It is downright uncomfortable if I eat too much and my portion sizes are like those of a child. Eating out is not as much fun as it was and I can never eat and drink at the same time – ever again. It’s a small price to pay but one that has an impact, especially when friends and family make beautiful meals and I can only enjoy a little.

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So, there you have it, I have plenty of scars and I love them. I am proud of myself for doing what I needed to in order to live a happy, healthy and long life. I don’t believe in regrets because everything teaches us something. I have heard many people say they only regret not doing it earlier, of course we are all 20/20 in hindsight, but I wasn’t ready earlier. The stars aligned and it was right for me to do it when I did.

I am now approaching 52 and I think I’d have to say I am experiencing the best health of my life. I feel like I have woken up from a deep slumber and life is very exciting to me right now. I am proud of where I am today and I look forward excitedly to what the future holds with my newfound levels of energy and freed up spaces in my mind!

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Life as a recovering food addict

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I haven’t written about my food addiction in a long time. There’s a very good reason for that. I’m done. I’ve finally, after 35+ years, got the demon under my command. The demon that consumed my every waking moment. As with all addicts, it will always be part of my life, but right now, at this moment, I control it, rather than it controlling me.

It wasn’t easy. It took some massive soul searching, many dark nights of the soul, and finally some decisions others might refer to as drastic, followed by deliberate action, with the knowledge that I deserve better. It’s been the most interesting and life changing six months of my life and today I’m fitter and healthier than I have been since my teens. I saved my life.

My food addiction had begun to impact on my health in a variety of ways; fatty liver, fatty pancreas, both of which eventually would lead to diabetes and potentially cirrhosis of the liver. I was often tired, lived with constant pain and had a myriad of issues as a result of the excess weight I carried and continue to gain as time went on.  I felt powerless to change, and had tried everything. And I do mean everything.

Over the years I have lost, gained, lost, gained, lost and gained again more times than I can possibly count. I have written about this many times, there’s a whole section dedicated to addiction on this blog. At this moment I’m actually a healthy weight for my height. I look and feel good and sometimes don’t even recognise the person I see reflected back at me in the mirror or in photos. This is not about weight and never has been. It’s about addiction, but the side effect of food addiction is obvious.

The behaviour associated with my addiction held a lot of shame for me and it was something I never spoke openly about until about a year ago when I started this blog. I mean, I’m an intelligent woman, confident and professional and I was completely cognisant of what I was doing. It seemed so incongruent with every other aspect of my life, but addiction is addiction.

Writing about my addiction and talking openly with others was the beginning of my healing. It was the most difficult thing I had ever done and the rawness and vulnerability I felt was excruciating to begin with. However the more I spoke about it, the easier it got and my healing began.

I was talking with a soul sista yesterday who is identical to me in every way. She is the first person I ever met who got me, really got me and had done all of the things I’d done and felt the things I’d felt. I was telling her that I felt like writing a book about living with this addiction, it would have to be fictional but with my story behind it. I would need to make it fictional as some of my thoughts and actions would be too painful and embarrassing to share as a non fiction book. At least if it was fiction, people wouldn’t be sure which parts were true.

She said something that surprised me. She reminded me of how greatly my life had changed and how much I’d moved on. I had left the beast behind, why not keep running and leave it further behind, and continue to enjoy the freedom of living without it? Why rehash it again, when for the first time since I was 14, I was free of the daily thoughts, torture and anguish it caused me?

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She was right. I have moved on. The beast is lagging way behind me now, and I am controlling this demon that ruled my life. I am free, unburdened and lighter than ever, in every sense of the word.

If you have an addiction, no matter what it is, please know that you are not alone. Addiction shows up in many ways and for a variety of reasons, too many to discuss in this short post. But it is very very real.

Please seek help. Please take whatever steps you need to take and do whatever you can to overcome the demon and live your life to the fullest. Please don’t let one more day pass without embracing the amazing human being that you are and living your life free of the burdens this life sapping monster brings with it.

You deserve it.

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We are all a little messed up

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I was talking with a friend recently about some of our family history; we have a great deal in common. We are both adult children of addict/s and we’ve lived our life with varying degrees of success and failure in battling our own demons. We too are addicts, but our drug of choice is food. I have written about this previously on many occasions. This was actually really huge for me to own and talk about, as it’s something I’ve done my best to keep secret and hidden for most of my life.

One of the big issues, and believe me there are many others when it comes to food addiction, is that it is the most socially acceptable form of addiction. Most people aren’t necessarily comfortable speaking about it and it is often incredible private and painful, but the reality is that our addiction is just as difficult to live with and overcome as any other and that includes legal and illicit drugs. Sure people joke about being carb junkies and sugar addicts, but true food addiction is no joke. We don’t stick our cakes and chocolates up our arms, but we certainly eat ourselves into varying states of unconsciousness. Food comas are real. I have put myself into many of them. All of us have hidden the volumes we eat and have hidden wrappers and packets and eaten in our car in moments of pain.

I remember in a previous life I used to buy TeeVee snacks as a treat for my ex. He would have one or two and put the box in the fridge. The next day I would eat the entire box, although that was never my intention to begin with. I would buy another, open it and remove one or two and put it back. This could go on for a week or more, as he rarely went back to have any. Eventually I would stop buying the box and he would feel like a biscuit a week later (who the hell can have one or two chocolate biscuits by the way?!?!?) and would casually ask where the biscuits where. I wanted to reply with “which box?” but I would remark that after a week they eventually all got eaten. This happened many times.

I have been in a gazillion training courses as that’s what I do for a living and morning tea is usually provided. I never cease to look in wonder and amazement when I see a person take one biscuit. In fact I wrote one day in an accountability group I started that I just saw a woman take one biscuit. My accountability partners instantly replied with comments such as there must be something wrong with her, don’t trust her etc. Sure we were joking, but deep in our soul, that is our reality.

The problem is, that in order to live, we can’t just stop eating. I am not saying that giving up alcohol or drugs is easy, but one of the many approaches to recovery from addiction is abstinence. Abstinence works and eventually some people can find they live happy and fulfilling lives without their substance of choice. That’s not to say that they aren’t tempted, not at all, but abstinence is certainly helpful in order to avoid over consumption of anything. Abstinence from food is impossible. We can do our best to avoid triggers and trigger foods, but the reality is we need to eat. Every. Single. Day.

I have come to some realisations lately (perhaps the wisdom of being a certain age, who knows) and one is no matter who we are and where we come from, we all face demons in life, and we’re all just a little messed up. It might be that some people are battling bigger demons than others, and some do it in spectacular full colour and others in quiet agony, but not one single one of us doesn’t struggle with something. Not one.

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As a kid like most of us, I used to love watching TV shows that had perfect families in them with problems that were so easily and promptly fixed. The Brady Bunch was an old favourite, and I still have the boxed set. No problem was so great that a chat in Mike’s office couldn’t solve it, or a family pow-wow at the orange laminex kitchen table with cookies and milk couldn’t fix. I also loved Eight is Enough, oh man I wanted to be part of that family and I had a recurring dream that I was. Not that I didn’t love mine, but they were perfect. Oh and another thing, on TV, everybody is up early and dressed for the day before breakfast. I don’t think this has ever happened one single day in my life.

Now not everyone who uses any kind of substance is an addict, but most people have some way of numbing pain and emotions, whether they are conscious of it or not. There are countless ways that we can numb. People choose alcohol, tobacco, illicit drugs, pain killers, and then there are other less obvious ways such as shopping, food, procrastination, busy-ness, working long hours, watching TV, scrolling through social media, playing games, sex, unhealthy relationships, being attached to our phones…I could go on and on, it’s all a way for us to distract ourselves and avoid our stuff.

So, what do we do about it? I really don’t have the answer when it comes to managing and overcoming addiction, as it’s something I face every single day, but I think the twelve step programs got it right when they say we can only do it one day at a time. I would even break it down to one hour, one minute and one second at a time.

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We all have our demons, issues, shit, stuff or whatever name you choose to give it. The secret to a somewhat balanced and successful life is admitting that none of us is perfect. We must learn to embrace our imperfections and vulnerabilities and live with them the best way we can. Sitting with pain and discomfort is not easy, and it’s something I have spent a lifetime avoiding, but I am working on it. In order to heal we need to feel.

One moment at a time.

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Food

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Always there for me.

Friend.

Lover.

Confidante.

Comfort.

My solace.

There for me in times of need, sadness, commiseration, joy and grief.

Always there when I need you.

Never judgmental.

Always available.

You feel like home.

Sometimes I want to enjoy you with others.

Sometimes I want you all to myself.

When the pain is too great, you take it away.

Filling my aches and gaping holes with warmth and comfort.

Numbed for a time; though never for long enough.

Sweet, salty, soft and chewy.

Crunchy, hard, sour or juicy.

Hot, cold, solid and liquid.

You feel so good and never let me down.

Food food food food food.

 

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Getting a fix

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Standing there, my fix in my hand, I am ready to pay.

The moment had finally arrived. All day it had consumed my thoughts. What can I get, where can I get it, when can I get it. I tried doing other things, distracting myself. Keeping busy. Considering what I could use from home. Nothing I did took the thoughts away. I need a fix. I need it this afternoon. It is not negotiable. But it’s only a few hours until dinner.

No I need a fix.

I hopped in the car and went to the service station and chose my drugs. A packet of Twisties and a dark chocolate coated peanut brittle. Yes that will do it. Hmmm maybe I should get a chocolate ice cream too, yes good. What about packets of lollies…what if I need them and don’t want to have to come back, shall I get them just in case? Whatever I need I must get now, right now. Shall I get smaller packets because I know I can’t stop if I get a big pack and I must finish what I get tonight, so shall I get a smaller one. Just like yesterday when I wanted cake, I didn’t buy a cake that could be cut because I KNEW that I would eat the whole thing. Better to eat an individual smaller cake. No I will stick with these three things and I can come back. Or should I? Yes. No. Yes. No. Yes.

I paid and walked out with my three things. I ripped open the Twisties and started scoffing them before I even reached my car, only metres away.

Home again, Twisties inhaled, I decided to savour the chocolate. But just a tiny bite first, until I get comfortable and sit down to enjoy it. No, it’s gone. Big bites, big chunks, eaten and swallowed.

It’s over.

Did it satisfy me? Well I enjoyed the sweetness. Did it fill whatever need I was looking for it to? Not really. I don’t really know what I wanted or expected it to do. All I know is that I needed it. Now I am thinking about the chocolate ice cream in the fridge. Might as well eat that next, no need to wait.

Once again, fucking addiction has me in its grips and one fucking day at a fucking time I avoid looking at it, unless I am feeling strong. When I am strong I can face it and slay that dragon, or at least put the dragon in it’s box for a little while. Today the dragon is slaying me.

Until tomorrow.

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A live half lived ….

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One of the many things that is so fucking hard about having an addiction (as I have written about before, mine is food) is living in a state of “when I am … then…”.

For me it has always been “when I am at my ideal weight …then….”.

I have literally hundreds of different scenarios I could relate here, but I will share one example that impacts on me regularly. Imagine, the weather begins to change from the chill of Winter, and the first moments of Spring appear, just like this weekend just gone. It is time to get some warm weather clothing out of the top of my wardrobe. Even though when packing them away months earlier, the temptation to donate them was huge as there was no way I will be this weight once next summer comes, no way! I will definitely need a whole new wardrobe, so why bother storing these larger sizes? So I get some out to put on and see my bits of skin and extra wobbly bits that I had hoped I would long say goodbye to, and have said goodbye to previously. But that’s not really the issue, I am used to that. It is the thinking behind a lot of the purchases that I find to be a live half lived.

I usually shop with the thought in the back of my mind that “I won’t be this weight for long”, so I buy clothes with the mindset that I will just get this to get me through. It is not that I don’t take pride in my appearance or buy nice things, I do, but I never really go all out and buy things that I think I might need long term. For example underwear. I remember one day a few years back shopping with a girlfriend for a new dress for my first ever girls night out. We found a lovely dress and it was low cut so you could see my bra, so I mentioned this to her. She said, it’s ok, just wear one of your other bras. Thing is I only ever had one bra. Yes just one. It wasn’t a financial thing, I had plenty of money, I just didn’t think I needed to buy more than one as “I wasn’t going to be this size for long”. She thought I was joking and laughed. I reiterated that I only had one bra. My beautiful girlfriend who is a smoking hot, feminine beauty with drawers of lingerie was gobsmacked. She just couldn’t believe that I could have just one bra. I wasn’t able to explain my thinking behind it at the time, but we quickly went off so I could buy another one, but not too fancy as “I wasn’t going to be this size for long”.

Same goes for jeans, I usually have one pair as surely I “won’t be this size for long”. This has been going on since my late teens. I will be 50 in a few months. There were two times in my life when this wasn’t the case, but for the most part, this is how I have always shopped.

Occasionally I have a moment of deciding I should embrace my Rubenesque body (which my husband truly adores and sometimes I do too) and I go out to buy a few pieces at once, but I never fully embrace the experience as I won’t be needing these clothes for long.

And yet I continue to do the same shit…..over and over and over and over again.

I have several significant events approaching in the calendar in my brain that I want to be able to make sustainable change for, and hopefully I will do that, but in the meantime I will wear my clothes that are this size, because I won’t be this size for long.

I am still here….

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I have written about my food addiction here before, and as hard as it was to do, it felt good to own it.

Owning it and doing something about it are two different things. This is where I struggle. I am an incredibly intelligent woman. I am cognisant of my thoughts and behaviour and consider myself to be highly emotionally intelligent. Why oh why then can’t I get a grip on this monster that consumes me, my thoughts, actions and the sometimes devastating consequences that occur as a result? I have been playing this yoyo game for over 35 years and I am so fucking tired.

I can think back to so many points in my life where I have had what I thought were lightbulb moments, and they were at the time. The lightbulb just didn’t stay on for long enough. I could list literally dozens of them, and I will do that another day. I truly thought last year when I identified, said and owned the word addict for the first time, after taking a client to an AA meeting and then going to a few OA meetings that I was on the right path. I thought the diagnosis of non alcoholic fatty liver disease and fatty pancreas, which could have devastating consequences for me would have been it. Somehow these important health issues don’t stay in the forefront of my mind when I am faced with my drug of choice, or when things become uncomfortable or difficult. I don’t deal with uncomfortable moments – like ever. Numbing and distraction are my friends when anything becomes even slightly challenging.

I have managed on two occasions to make some semi sustainable changes and had amazing results. In 1998 I ate well, exercised and lost over 30 kilos and looked and felt incredible. The same happened the year I lived in Ghana between 2010 and 2011. Man I felt great. Threw out all of my fat clothes, because I was NEVER going to need them again. How wrong I was. Addiction is always there, waiting in the sidelines for the right moment to take it’s hold and suffocate me in it’s grip.

I was watching a documentary called Oxyana about a town of people addicted to pain medication and I was asking myself why they didn’t just do something about it, get into treatment, get help, something. I asked myself the same question. I don’t have an answer.

Yesterday I went to the gynaecologist and was told that I have a condition that is likely to require major surgery. This will have a significant effect on my ability to do certain work, the physical activities I can undertake and more.  I asked her what caused it and amongst many things she said “not looking after yourself”. As a passing comment as she was seeing me off, she said “darling please try to lose some weight”, it will really help with this. She said it like I might say “let’s watch a movie”, just a straight up matter of fact statement.

As it should be.

For other people maybe.

Not for me.

So what did I do? Straight off to the supermarket I went for a custard tart and a packet of cheezels. I was so upset and depressed that I was immobilised for the rest of the afternoon and evening and all plans I had to be productive and get some important things done were forgotten. I ate crap for dinner and my darling husband looked over at me and asked me gently “my love is that a healthy dinner?”. This was after me moaning and complaining about my condition. Bless him. He can only be confused by the consistently inconsistent woman I am. Holier than though organic juicing vegan queen one minute, crap eating sugar loving mindless eating monster the next. Both of these versions of me can be present several times in one week, or sometimes the cycle is longer. One thing that is consistent is that I have never maintained the healthier choice version of me for any length of time for many years.

I know I feel so good when I eat well and I feel so shit when I don’t. It is just so easy to slip and one slip leads to another and before I know it I am mindlessly back in the misery of the addiction. At those times it doesn’t matter my size, health, future plans and goals. All that matters is the comfort that the carbs give me.

So here I am back at day one again. Today I was feeling incredibly fragile and my mental health wasn’t the best, but I did what I needed to do. I am studying and I almost wanted to leave the course at one point as I was not feeling good at all, but I stayed and I am so grateful that I did as I felt much better as the day went on.

So here I am, back to day one.

Again.

One day, one hour, one minute, one breath at a time.

As it will always need to be.

To be continued…..

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