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Friday, November 21, 2008

The Easy Way Out

I'm pissed. So now is as good a time as any to get this out.

In the time I was away from blogging; a year or so, give or take a post or two, much has transpired, as life is prone to do. Graduations, layoffs, new jobs, moving stores to new locations, marriages, births, and sadly, deaths...so many deaths. I felt, sometimes, a little overwhelmed, as many do, and I didn't have the energy or desire to write.

Frankly, it's been a rough couple of years. My way to cope, my "drug" of choice, has always been food. I eat my way through situations, only to throw myself deeper into a pit of despair and depression. I have shared in this blog over the years my struggle with weight and the feeling of hopelessness. This blog brought me friends who, because of this medium, could only see my heart, my soul, the person I am inside. Mostly, I have struggled, because of where we live in the Babylon of Orange County, the feeling that I am "invisible". People here are shallow and honestly, if you are a female who doesn't have a whistle-thin waist, big boobs, and perfect Dr. 90210 features, you do not exist. Of course, there is no discrimination when it comes to guys...they're fair game when it comes to invisibility as well. But I'm speaking only from my experience as a woman. I have been looked "through" while standing in line at a department store, to have the girl behind the register ask the woman behind me to step up as if she were next. I have been so much as transparent at a take-away counter when the guy behind the register asked the hot girl next to me for her order even though he knew I was there first.

It goes on and on. On my last visit home to Hawai'i this summer to visit my ailing mom, my seatbelt on the plane could reach, but uncomfortably. Most of the time, they fit fine, but this time, I had to discretely ask the flight attendant to bring me an extender. This is already humiliating, but even more humiliating was the fact that she waited until the plane was fully loaded, we were already moving on the tarmac, and instead of being discrete herself, in her haste, she handed it to a guy three rows in front of us and asked him to hand it back. Mortified, I watched as all eyes followed the passing of the belt extender, now completely unrolled, and once finding its target, the looks of disgust from other passengers. To add insult to injury, my daughter was with me, and I felt that I had to apologize for perhaps embarrassing her. When she asked why I was apologizing, and I mentioned the looks from the other passengers, she said.."Oh Mommy, fuck them and their Louis Vuitton luggage. Who cares what they think." And such has always been the support from my husband and kids. I should know better. They love me unconditionally.

I have always had to worry about whether the lap tray will come down because most of my girth is in my belly..it won't. I have always had to think about chairs I sit in and worry whether they will support my weight..they do, but leave marks on the outsides of my thighs. I have been self-conscious to eat anything in public for fear that people are watching me and judging me..they do. If we ride rides at Disneyland, I always make sure that I'm in a seat alone because the lap bar stops short, again because of my belly, and leaves a gap which would make it unsafe for a smaller passenger next to me..namely, my svelte children. Turnstyles in stores, subways, and sporting event venues are hurdles that I must pass through sideways, if at all. If we go to a restaurant, we ask for a table instead of a booth because sometimes the space between table and seat are a little snug. These things I think of. They are always on my mind. Some things are a daily reminder that I'm different and society is not geared for people like me.

People see my shell. They decide that I am lazy because I've "allowed" myself to get this way. They don't see the years I have tried and tried, they don't see the money I've spent on diets, diet centers, and therapy. They don't see the pain, the absolute pain this struggle brings. They do not see my own disgust at myself, the names I silently call myself, the grief over my inability to be "normal". I have lost more weight and gained it back, then sat with a counselor who wants to tell me WHY I am the way I am and then charge me $150 for 55 minutes once a week. Then I leave his office and EAT over the finances and how I just spent $150 that we just don't have.

Ironically, there was a time that I blamed my body structure on the fact that I am Polynesian. It was comforting for awhile. Until 2004 when I found my birth ohana and discovered that of the 6 women of my 13 siblings, I am the "fat girl". My sisters would dispute this, but it's true. It matters not to them of course, they're just happy that I found them and of the blessings of my life, this is a big one. I am grateful. Still, it gnawed at me that I lost the "excuse of genetics" to fall back on. What now Pua?

Upon my return from Hawai'i, and with all the new information I gathered about my birth family's health issues, I decided it was probably a good time to have a physical. Of course my weight was at its highest, my blood pressure, for the first time since my last pregnancy 19 years ago was up, and I was not yet diabetic, but insulin resistent. Now I'm scared. Now my doctor, knowing my struggle and what I've been through, suggests I consider bariatric surgery. He says because of my insulin resistence, I can diet and diet and diet and I can lose weight, but it will come back. At this point, it's time for a tool. Unfortunately, because I don't have a diagnosis of diabetes, my insurance company will not cover it.

I go home and Charlie and I dicuss options. My van is 15 this year. It has 200,000 miles on it. It's tired, but it keeps plugging along (just like me). We had discussed looking at a used car soon, but now I tell him that I would rather make a payment on getting myself healthy. So we take out a medical loan and after more counseling, testing, and two weeks of a liquid only diet to shrink my fatty liver, I find myself in the hospital on September 8th, my 48th birthday, getting Lap Band surgery. The nurses, upon finding out it's my birthday, put stickers of birthday cake on my IV bottle, and decorate my bed. They tell me this is the best birthday present I can give myself...a new, healthy self. For the first time in a long, long time, I feel hopeful.

It's been 10 weeks since my surgery. The days and weeks after surgery were arduous; two more weeks of liquid only, another two weeks of soft, baby-type foods. Trying to figure out the time span between when my brain gets the message from my tummy that my six ounce stomach pouch is full. Remembering not to go even one bite further so as not to regurgitate..which can be a lot of fun in public. Knowing that I can only drink fluids 30 minutes before a meal, or 30 minutes after, but NEVER with a meal. No more soda because the carbonation causes gas or reflux. Avoid bread because it soaks up liquid and expands in the pouch, avoid popcorn (I LOVE popcorn!), avoid hard meats like dry salami and beef jerky. There is a learning process that goes with this and I'm taking baby steps. But the difference is, I don't obsess over food anymore. It is not on my mind every waking moment like the proverbial monkey on my back. I am not Food's slave any longer. I have been liberated.

When I walked into the doctor's office, my pre-surgery weight was 277 pounds. I have never shared that here. I have never had the courage to put that out there. Today I weigh 233 pounds. Forty-four pounds in 10 weeks. I've never had that kind of success. More importantly, if I have lost a block of weight like that before, I never felt it would last, and certainly, it never did.

I can honestly say out loud that this weight is gone forever, and mean it. For the first time in my life, I feel what I always thought "normal" people must feel about eating. That it is meant to sustain a healthy life and body, to enjoy in moderation, and not an olympic event. I was a gold medalist. I woke up with food on my mind, wondered about lunch while I ate breakfast, wondered about dinner while I ate lunch, and wondered if there were any chips or cookies after dinner, and the last thought on my mind before falling asleep was breakfast tomorrow. It was vicious and unending.

Before I went in for surgery, I told only those closest to me; Charlie, the kids, my sister (who is my best friend), her husband, and my boss/friend, Wes. I asked for their confidence. I didn't want to tell anyone else. I didn't want to hear people's opinions on how I should try harder to diet and exercise. I only wanted positive thoughts around me and the full support of the people in my life who matter. After last week, I was right to do so.

A woman came into the store, and after not seeing me since before surgery, made a comment about how great I look, how much weight I'd lost, and how I did it. Being this far along, I felt okay in sharing and I told her that I'd gotten banded. Her instant reaction.."Oh, you took the easy way out."

WHO, I ask you, but a fucking Orange County housewife would utter a shallow, unthinking, piece of bullshit like that? I was insensed. I've never been a confrontational person. I've always been pretty shy, in fact, painfully shy in person. But now, I'm just livid.

"Easy?" I said. "You think this has been easy? You think struggling your whole life with weight is easy? You think living here in Orange County among "the beautiful people" is easy when you're fat? You think one diet after another is easy? You think going to the gym and listening to the Barbie on the treadmill next to you talk about her pasta lunch is easy?

"Oh," She says. "I didn't mean it that way."

"Well, what way did you mean it?"

"Um, can I just pay for this lotion now?"

"Sure..that'll be $12.50"

"I hope I didn't offend you Pua."

"You did. Ignorance offends me."

"I'm sorry. And I meant what I said, you do look great and I'm so happy for you."

"Thank you. I just wish you'd left it at that. This is not the Easy Way Out. It's been a long, hard road."

"I stand corrected."

Then she went on to tell me that Oprah had made that comment on one of her shows. I don't even want to get into that. All I know is for me, this is working. And it's still not easy. But at least I know that I have a chance at loving myself the way my family loves me.

There, I feel so much better. And I didn't even have to pay $150 to a counselor. As I said to my dear blog friend Tuna Girl, I should never have forgotten what good therapy blogging can be.

Pua...44 pounds later, and not running away from the camera.