One thing they very rarely mention about losing a massive amount of weight in a fairly short period of time is the effect that it has on your skin. Sure there are commercials for creams and articles written about stretch marks, but honestly only skinny people care about stretch marks. The empty, sagging, heavy, ugly flaps of skin that magically appear? That information somehow seems to be universally skipped over. I knew about the skin because I was in a hospital and they told me it would happen, but I didn’t know about it until I had what resembled a bag of sand hanging off of my stomach, arms and legs.
The stomach was the worst. It was uncomfortable, sweaty, itchy, and gross. The surgery to get it removed is called a “lower body lift”. It consists of a plastic surgeon cutting your entire midsection in half, getting rid of the excess skin and sewing you back up. It is an extremely serious time consuming surgery that takes over six months to heal and costs a shit ton of money. Honestly, the seriousness and price of it did not matter. After being morbidly obese most of my life and finally conquering the weight, I wanted that surgery and l would do whatever it took to get it.
Once I got as close to my goal weight as I was going to get, my parents and I started yet another process. This time no mental hospitals were involved. Thankfully, I was able to take out a medical loan and shockingly my insurance company -- insurance that I had thanks to Starbucks -- agreed to pay for some of it. It was the first of three surgeries I dreamt of getting, the other two being my arms and thighs.
Even though I had gained a great deal of self-confidence from the weight loss, the excess skin was embarrassing and made me really self conscious. I was twenty-two years old and had not only never been in any sort of real romantic relationship, I had never been kissed, had my hand held by someone who cared about me, or knew what it felt like to have someone admit to liking me. I had finally started to feel like I was pretty, but the skin kept me from acting out on any of my feelings towards people. I was too humiliated by it and didn’t think I'd ever meet anyone who would accept my body for how it was. My non-existent romantic life was filled with more unrequited obsessions. It was painful and awful and I started to feel like weight loss or not, I was going to be alone and unloved forever, or at least until this skin was gone.
I finally got the lower body lift at the end of August in 2007. It was brutal. When I woke up for the first time after the surgery I literally felt like I was going to die. I wanted to vomit and sleep and cry and scream. Considering my addictive personality I would consider the following statement a blessing: pain killers and I do not mix.
The hospital wouldn't let me leave until I could go to the bathroom, which wasn't until the next afternoon. My doctor had told us that I was going to be bed ridden for at least two weeks, but by the time that I was ready to go home I had pushed myself to be able to walk. Slowly, with help, and for a very short period...but still, I was walking. My parents were shocked. They were more or less ready to carry me down the stairs to the recovery room my mom created in her house for me. I was resilient and determined to get back to my life as quickly as possible. This surgery meant I was one step closer to the one thing that had always been missing. Love.
Even though I did recover fairly quickly I still had to wear something called a body sock for almost four months. A body sock is basically a really big version of spanks with a bra attached to it. It made going to the bathroom a big to do, so as you can imagine it really put a damper on any comingiling I had in mind. My love life would have to remain on hold.
Once my scars had healed enough I made a declaration that I wasn't going to wait any longer. I was going to make out with someone and I didn't care who it was. Okay, maybe I cared but seriously, no more of this never been kissed bullshit. If the person I had fallen for wasn’t going to give me a chance, I would find someone who would. The day finally came at an MIA concert while I was volunteering for the CMJ music festival. It was gross, and even though I had never kissed someone before, I knew it wasn’t gross because of me. Just sayin’, girl don’t slobber. Regardless I was relieved it had happened. A few weeks later and four months after my surgery a mutual friend of Lorenna and I had her 21st birthday on a party bus going from Brooklyn to Philly. On the bus, on my way to the bathroom, I locked eyes with a guy who was sitting with one of Lorenna’s old friends. I apparently made a ridiculous face at him, which is how I roll. His name is Ben and long story short, we have been married for over three years.
I never expected to find the person I was going to spend the rest of my life with so quickly. Honestly I wasn't looking for a relationship at that time and I didn't even believe in marriage. All I wanted was to gain experience and open that part of my life up. But as soon as I met Ben a part of me knew this was my guy. We were instantaneously best friends and soulmates. He was/is everything I have ever asked for in any journal entry or sob fest. I had spent so long falling for unhealthy people who didn't reciprocate my feelings and it was completely unbelievable that this incredible, hilarious, goofy, hot guy wanted to spend all his time with me. There was no pressure, no heartache, no drama. It was easy from the get-go and amazingly I never fucked it up.
Every part of my entire being knows that Ben was/is a gift. I had waited twenty-two years and had been through so much ridiculousness and pain. Even after the weight was gone and for a little while after the skin too, I felt hurt and alone. But then Ben showed up and that agony was gone. I never had to go through the horribleness of dating, or break-ups. My partner in life was here. To be completely honest it wasn't always easy for me to accept. It's a strange thing going from no experience to finding what most everyone you know is looking for, in a matter of seconds. There was definitely a huge part of me that questioned it all and lamented for the experience of the chase. And an even bigger part that didn't believe I deserved this kind of happiness. It took time for me to accept this gift. Ben loved me. He loved me more than I could ever imagine anyone loving me, and I loved him just as much. Through our constant honesty and growth together I learned to treasure how lucky and blessed we are. We are willing to work hard at our relationship and not a day goes by that I am not thankful for him, for us. It may be cheesy but it's truth, I love that kid more every single second of every single day.
A few months before meeting Ben, I went back to my surgeon to consult about the next two surgeries. While there she noticed that my back wasn’t healing properly and was more swollen than she would have liked. Everything was swollen and numb to me so I didn’t think it was that big of a deal. She told me she would fix it for free and to schedule an appointment and then we started talking about my arms and my thighs. After she gave me the run down of both procedures she looked at me and told me that I should lose more weight before proceeding. I couldn’t believe it. I am not sure why it hit me as hard as it did but I was horrified. Hadn’t I lost enough weight? Weren’t my thighs bigger because they were covered in a sheath of empty skin? That was the last time I saw her.
I never got the last two surgeries nor did I ever get my back fixed. To this day it is still perpetually swollen with scar tissue. This by no means is saying that I have accepted these things and am fine with it. I wear cardigans in one hundred degree heat just to hide my arms and unless a dress or skirt is long enough, will only wear pants or leggings. My back makes buying a pair of jeans more traumatic than it already is and becomes even more swollen and painful everytime I get my period.
Four years ago I started to develop a really serious yoga practice. For the life of me I couldn’t understand why my core was so weak, why so many poses seemed completely impossible, or why I was almost always in pain. I would get discouraged and upset until one day it dawned on me. Not only was my body overcoming major trauma, but I had heavy empty skin hanging off of me, a swollen and numb lower back, and a midsection that had been cut in half. Of course this practice was going to be harder for me. Of course I wasn’t going to be able to do certain things as quickly as others. It's been a hard lesson to learn but with the help of many incredible teachers I've finally, mostly come to terms with the fact that being able to do a pose doesn't matter. It's learning how to be mindful and in tune with yourself that matters. Yoga for me has been an experience of creating a relationship with and owning my body. It's a huge challange after spending my whole life trying to numb out, escape, shame, and deny my own existence. Every time I get on that mat I make a new commitment to myself that I will be there as best as I can and do what's right for me. Some days are easier than others and each time is different, but as long as I keep coming back to it, I know that I'm working towards a beautiful relationship.
Learning to love myself and my body as is, may be one of the most challenging things I’ve ever had to do. Even more challenging than losing the weight. I still haven't figured it out. About two years ago I started working with my meditation teacher, David Harshada Wagner to help further my healing process. In one of our sessions he asked me, what if, just what if I wasn’t able to ever get the skin removed. My response shocked me, "I’d want to die." WHAT? I couldn’t believe that it came out of my mouth and as he was pointing out the ridiculousness of that statement, I realized how far I still had to go with self love and acceptance.
I know that someday my time will come and I will be able to have the last two surgeries. Bathing suits, tank tops, and shorts are in my near future. But right now, what is most important is to learn that my body is perfect and beautiful in every shape or size. As long as I am taking care of myself and feeling healthy that's all that matters. I really, really hope that someday I can actually believe that as truth.