Life After Loss
Updated: Dec 25, 2021
Greetings friends, I sincerely hope your Thanksgiving holiday was warm and wonderful. As I welcome in December, I'm deeply saddened to learn of another school shooting. I send healing prayers to the victims' families and pause to give thanks for the safety of my loved ones.
Today would have been my step father's 99th birthday. Mauro was a detective for the city of Cambridge. I learned a lot in his shadow, especially a strong moral code of ethics. Among many lessons he imparted on me was the need for learning patience. I thought very little of his tutelage back then. Now at 52, twelve years after his passing, I ask to be graced with patience and loving kindness each morning when I rise.
When we think of life after loss we immediately think death of a loved one. There are so many other types of loss. Loss of a marriage, identity, career, home, health, friendships and on and on. What about weight loss?
Many years ago I had two bariatric procedures a few years apart. Bariatric surgery is also known as weight loss surgery. I used to weigh 270 pounds. I was grieving multiple losses, healing from a total hysterectomy and trying desperately to lose weight. When a person suffers a dramatic loss or multiple losses its hard to achieve personal goals even if you think you are motivated.
I thought I was sufficiently motivated. I had a great diet coach who remains a friend to this day. She was effective because she had gone through dramatic weight gain and loss herself. I even had a personal trainer. I read countless books and had the knowledge to make healthy choices. Still the weight loss was only 20-30 pounds. I didn't realize at the time that emotional and hormonal imbalances were blocks to my success. I was in menopause and suffering the symptom's of Hashimoto's disease, an auto immune disease that attacks the thyroid. In my desperation I decided to have the gastric band procedure, also known as the lap band. After surgery I struggled daily with pain and swallowing issues, I only lost about another 30 pounds. I felt like a failure. Since the medical field labels a person "morbidly obese" when they need to lose a considerable amount of weight, the patients psyche takes on a negative stain that is nearly impossible to shake. I tried hypnosis and meditation, well let's just say I tried it all. After a few years I had the band removed. It left scar tissue and I'm sure it was the reason for my hernia.
I was still desperate to lose more weight. I thought becoming thinner would solve all of my problems. I would be happier, wouldn't I? I scheduled a new procedure called the gastric sleeve. I was one of the first to have this newly approved procedure. If you are wondering, yes this is when I had my near death experience (NDE) that I wrote about in a previous post. I will write about that day in greater detail soon.
In spite of nearly dying, the procedure was successful and I recovered well. I followed all post operative instructions to the letter. I rapidly lost over 100 pounds. Sadly the only problem it ever temporarily solved was back and joint pain. The happiness it brought me was also fleeting, shopping for new clothes. The expense caused me more stress. I experienced jealousy and lost friendships. Social anxiety around eating and drinking was another on going battle. I suffered with depression and confusion about my new size and the aftermath of my NDE. I had no support system and lived alone. I commuted nearly two hours to get to the hospital where my bariatric team practiced. There were no closer options that performed these surgeries back then. It was not exactly a recipe for success.
Like all pre-surgical patients I had been in talk therapy because you must be cleared for surgery by a psychologist. Therapy can be successful when there is trust between patient and clinician. Not every therapist is invested in your success or uncovers the root cause of chronic obesity. They are well aware of the long term weight loss failure ratios. Not every therapeutic relationship uncovers eating disorders. You would think that's a no brainer, morbidly obese = perhaps an eating disorder, right? No one ever asked me questions that would bring my hidden eating habits to light.
Binge eating disorder (BED) is insidious, and more common than you think. People don't realize it's a disorder, they consider anorexia or bulimia to be true eating disorders. Society feels you should be able to just eat less, that overeating is within your control. You must just be lazy with no self control. Eating disorders are ALL ABOUT CONTROL! When you cannot control circumstances in your life, like abuse for example, the mind makes a warped new reality. The false sense of control manages how much you eat or don't eat at all.
When a person has surgery to restrict the amount of food you are able to take in, side effects like vomiting/purging are common. Purging is not always related to taking in more food than you should. It's like when pregnant women cannot stomach a food they have always liked. They cannot handle a smell, it makes them nauseas. This is what it can be like after weight loss surgery. Things you love, you can no longer eat. You sometimes become sensitive to smells. This eventually fades after the first several months. After surgery you can no longer eat the portions you are used to or even normal portions considered acceptable. Many starchy foods you may never eat again, like pasta or rice that expand in your stomach. Your esophagus makes all kinds of fun noises that everyone can hear when you drink or eat. Some people end up eating in isolation so they are not subject to the self-conscious feelings that arise. Once you wake up from your surgery your behavior of numbing and self soothing from overeating is suddenly and quite literally cut from your life.
If your pre-surgery behaviors are untreated you inevitably replace them with something else. Some patients begin drinking alcohol to self-soothe which is very dangerous for a post bariatric surgery patient. Personally I replaced binge eating disorder with bulimia about nine months after surgery. It took me quite a while to admit to myself that I had a problem. There are specialists who treat eating disorders. When you do the hard work with a trusted clinician, it will be the best thing you ever do for yourself.
Surgery is not a cure for eating disorders. I know there are many people who had an easier time and perhaps are keeping their weight off. I applaud them. The people I know that are more than a decade out from their surgeries have not been able to maintain the weight loss. I'm thirteen years past my first procedure and have had about 30 pounds return over the past few years.
I continue to hear stories of people struggling who recently had their surgery. The hospitals now offer reboot programs for people who had their surgery in years past and are experiencing returning weight. The counselors coach you to count calories, control your portions, and of course exercise. I'm sure this program helps people, but I'm not sure how many former patients actually reach out and participate.
There are some common origins that create behaviors like overeating, or purging. The loss of a loved one, depression, anxiety, physical/emotional abuse or other traumas are often at the root. I had not effectively processed my grief and trauma. I stuffed the emotions down till they had to be purged. It took finding the right healing practitioners to surround myself with. Eventually I released the grief with help from a trusted therapist, and my master teachers that trained me in Reiki.
Deep healing is an act of self-love that takes courage, commitment and time. My journey was long and bumpy with lots of detours. I have no doubt that I was being guided by my unseen helpers. My personal experience, coupled with my training as a coach has armed me with an arsenal of tools. It really is a battle. Please share this with anyone you may know who is dealing with loss.
I will leave you with one of my daily affirmations. I will give myself the care and attention I need to be physically and emotionally well, and able to thrive.
Healing the past in order to embrace the future doesn't have to take a lifetime.
Till we meet again, -K