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Recognizing Strength from Weakness

on July 11, 2012

Almost 20 years ago, I was very involved in OA.  I worked a strong program with three or four meetings a week.  I abstained from compulsive overeating and binging for months at a time.  Without following a popular diet, I dropped 50 or more pounds.

Even more than working the 12 steps, I believed in them.  They lived in me and provided an excellent guideline for my daily choices.  In those days, I honestly believed that I could and would achieve long term success and remake my life into something far healthier physically, emotionally and mentally.

Not that maintaining abstinence is ever easy, but a program friend at the time struggled constantly and despite hard work and effort, never achieved abstinence for any significant amount of time.  I remember clearly the day she told me she was looking into having gastric bypass surgery.  I was dismayed!  I feared for her and, even more, felt badly that it seemed like she was giving up on herself.

A few years later, another friend made the same decision.  I had a pretty similar reaction.

I’ve said before that I resisted even considering having surgery myself for years and years.  Right now I can’t help but wonder how much of that was legitimate fear and how much was me comfortably living in denial.    I was talking to a friend tonight who lives the struggle daily with food and overeating.  She understands all the issues.  I shared with her that a year ago, I was broken down and as low as I’ve ever been about my obesity.   Even last year when I had my defining moment and decided to investigate bariatric surgery for myself, I felt like the moment came from weakness.  I don’t have word-for-word memory of what my friend said, but the gist was that it’s time to think about this choice differently.

She’s right.

It’s only in hindsight that I see the difference.  Making the decision, commiting to the plan of action, and all the many things that come with that action plan, aren’t acts of weakness, they’re examples of strength.   It’s kind of funny that it’s taken so long for me to truly internalize this realization.  Once I made the decision and started the process of consulting with the surgeon, doing all of the evaluations, talking to people about it, I never felt weak.  I felt stronger and rejuvenated.  The positive action changed everything.   The changes still happen on an almost daily basis.

To be honest, whenever I’ve been with someone suffering a different disease, I had reacted differently than I did with my program friends.  When my mother’s relapse took her so far down that she couldn’t get back to sobriety without going to rehab, I told her she was making a strong choice for her own well being.  I dated a man with bi-polar disorder.  He had a hard time accepting that he needed professional treatment and that the therapist and team were allies to his recovery.  I would never, ever have thought that Mom or my ex seeking treatment indicated that they were weak.

With my friends, however,  I reacted out of my own fears.  I didn’t understand that they weren’t “giving in” or caving.  They were choosing what they needed.  Their choices took guts.   I wish I could go back and contact those friends from long ago. I owe them amends.  I don’t know how to reach them, unfortunately.

At least for today I can acknowledge that I was wrong and that I definitely see things differently now.  I’m really glad that I’m acknowledging the strength in myself, too.

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6 responses to “Recognizing Strength from Weakness

  1. Tracey says:

    Mary, this was a great post for me to read today. Now that I’ve made the decision, I find that I’m not nearly so compulsive about food, even now, before surgery, I’m eating better than I have in months. I am at peace with the decision and exicted to finally have a tool to help me maintain my weight loss this time.

    Dan Heath, co-author of Switch (making change when change is hard) says we’re of two minds. One is the pleasure-seeking, pain-avoiding, emotional “elephant” and the other is the rational, logical, (and tiny) rider on top. So, the elephant wants to have his chips and ice cream, but the rider understands the damage that can do and wants to make better choices. Well, I feel like I’ve been riding the elephant bareback all this time. I’ve even been very persuasive without any reins for relatively short periods of time, before the elephant takes off at breakneck speed! I’m hoping the surgery will finally give me the reins to help train the elephant.

    Like in dog obedience training, you kind of pull up on the leash when you want to get the dog in line. At first you have to pull often. Eventually the dog learns without the pulling. So, this will be my leash or my reins. It really isn’t weakness, it is SMART. We wouldn’t build a house, or repair a car without the right tools, so we’re just being smart about getting the tools we need to get the job done.

    You’re VERY strong, Mary. And very SMART too! Thanks for sharing this.

  2. Skye says:

    I think pinkpelican said it the best it can be said. You are strong. You chose a hard road rather than to let yourself follow the easy one that would have probably lead to disability and an early death. You chose to face your obesity and challenges head on and that’s courage.

    It is often the same with mental health issues. If you need therapy or — heaven forbid — drugs to maintain or to get to a better place, well you are weak. You need to be able to just cope, put your happy face on, and pull yourself up by your bootstraps.

    The world is full of smug people who haven’t had to face someone else’s exact challenges and so feel free to judge. No point in dealing with them head on. A blog like this may help someone who thinks that surgery would be the weak choice rather than the strong one. And inspiration is always useful, even if one doesn’t face the same challenges: your positive attitude and happiness inspire me every day!

    So thanks for writing this blog.

    • Mary Stella says:

      Skye, that’s exactly how my ex was about therapy. He thought he would be viewed as weak. It was really difficult for him to make the decision to seek treatment.

      I appreciate you coming here and sharing your story. You have a lot of strength, which I hope you see. You also have a keen insight into your own challenges. Not everyone has that same self-awareness.

  3. pinkpelican says:

    I think this is a common reaction, and part of it stems from the cultural/societal belief that obesity is a function of being weak-willed; that losing weight is as much a matter of exercising will-power as anything else.

    I know that I resisted the idea of weight loss surgery for some time, and that I had to overcome the feeling that I was “too weak to do this on my own.” Other folks I know who have had the surgery, or have contemplated having surgery, have dealt with the issue of not being able to do it on their own, & the feelings of weakness associated with this. Doesn’t seem to matter how “strong-willed” a person is, whether or not they have an eating disorder, it’s just this bone deep conviction that obesity should be able to be overcome with sensible eating, exercise, & simple resistance to what is bad for you. Even knowing how hard it is, how complex obesity is as a physical condition; even knowing that I am not a weak-willed person; even knowing all of that, I had to work my way through my feelings of failure at having to take this step.

    I still see this attitude on forums, people who think that bariatric surgery is a cop out and that the people who choose this route are failures taking the “easy” road. You can explain to them all the reasons why you chose bariatric surgery, all the complexities of obesity, all the personal problems & challenges that ended up requiring surgery to combat this physical condition, & they still think you are copping out.

    I have learned to develop a thick skin about that. I plowed my way down those roads, and I know it was not a cop out. I know I was not and am not weak willed. I know I needed tools that I did not have inside of myself, & that there’s nothing wrong with me or weak about me for not having those tools. So when I have a chance, I share my story with others, because somewhere out there, a stranger might read my words or hear my words and those words might resonate for that person when that person most needs resonance. For the others who believe that I’m a failure, that I’m weak, that surgery is a cop-out, well, they’re entitled to their opinions & I no longer worry about that. They don’t know me, they don’t know my struggles or my achievements, and their judgments of me are both faulty & irrelevant. I don’t care what they think.

    Because I’ve learned that I’m not a failure, that I’m not weak, that by taking the steps I did, in the face of fear, of self-doubt, of crippling social attitudes & conventions, I made one of the strongest, bravest decisions of my life.

    You have done the same, and I’m proud of you and your strength, and your willingness to continue to tell your story to those who want to listen, to learn more, to consider that perhaps conventional wisdom & social opinion might be wrong.

    Go you!

    • Mary Stella says:

      Tracey, I need to remember to order that book. Thanks for sharing this story again. You’re smart, too, and you’re operating from a position of strength for yourself!

    • Mary Stella says:

      This is such an eloquent sharing. I’m proud of you and your strength, too. You’ve helped me a great deal with the experiences. I very much appreciate that you come to this blog and share your story.

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