As previous blogs have detailed – I was obese for the majority of my life. To summarize – at 5 years old I weighed 120 pounds. I graduated high school at well over 300. I am 5’5”. The way my body maneuvered in society largely impacted the way I was treated. As I am sure many fellow obese folks can testify – obesity is a form of monstrosity in our current society, and people are often quite eager to remind you of such. In school I endured an intense form of bullying by many of my peers – their words were sharp and I can spend hours recalling them before you, as cruelty is a blade that leaves scars. If it wasn’t through words it was through stares and slight microagressions (oinking or mooing when you walked by for example). I do not write this to miscontextualize – not everyone was so venomous. This carried on until I lost the weight – such reminders of my worth as dictated by my girth were reiterated. on streets, in the stores I worked, and sometimes in my own home. So I had attached quite a herstory to that skin fold that hung (it was not the only one, I have many more).
Somehow having the surgery felt as if I was supporting this hurtful and ignorant ordering of human beings based on superficial markers of beauty that are reiterated throughout society to – in my personal opinion – strip from us the confidence we need to be badass. To be strong in our skin. To know the value of our being. When we are separated from these things, and encouraged to consume more product to fulfill that hole that results from a disassociation spurred by ignorance, we are often not a whole force to be reckoned with. To categorize and compartmentalize human beings repeatedly is to separate us from one another, but it is also an attempt to separate us from our selves. In my case, and I do not take pride in writing this, it worked on many levels. I do not mean to simplify my experiences – it was not only treatment based on my body that injured me – as it rarely is for anyone, but that was certainly a key factor. Nor am I alone.
In writing this blog I have had literally dozens of individuals reach out to me to express similarities they’ve encountered on their life paths – even if the source wasn’t their waist line. I think reaching out was an attempt for them to have their pain seen as something real and valid as opposed to something that should be silenced in the face of appearing one-dimensional, shallow, or vulnerable. To each of you that reached out – I see you, and you are real to me. I thank you. It is for you that I am now writing this, and – while posting these blogs isn’t as easy as a mere copy and paste – it is to validate my experiences through voice. I am, quite simply, tired of hiding the various ways we struggle only to romanticize the times when we overcome as they are championed by popular conceptualizations of success. For example, my weight loss is often lauded. I worked hard for it and I laud it myself as a huge milestone that changed my life for various reasons – the size of my thighs or breasts or waist or arms actually being far less valuable to me than some of the other healings I experienced. There were far more victories in learning about my body and rediscovering it in tender moments when it failed me (largely due to a near invisible disability in my left leg that has caused some issues with my right leg due to the weight imbalance) than there was in looking in the mirror. During those times I had to nurture myself. When I was focused solely on the scale or measurements there was far less nurturing. There was only that imagined end goal, and sometimes – most of the time – I was incredibly cruel and unforgiving in regards to that. I want to take a moment to celebrate the discovery of one’s body as a vehicle that literally carries you in various manifestations, that astounds you, that moves you through this world to experience so many glories and devastations. I do not want to celebrate the body as that which comes closer to an imagined ideal. But to undo this ideological mindfuck we have to return to healing, which takes place on levels of the body, mind, and spirit. We can’t disentangle these, regardless of how easy it is to focus only on one.
I’m going to slip into a very particular discussion of healing now – the healing following my surgery in June 2016. As mentioned – this surgery was quite an existential-like crisis for me. I was also living in a small town in Pennsylvania where I had resided only a couple of years. I was also going through a divorce that was initiated in the beginning of 2015. The divorce kept me in Pennsylvania much more than I had previously stayed around, as going back to the city I love carried complex and conflicting thoughts and memories that felt overwhelming at best. So, the surgery was scheduled at a hospital in this small town, where I had precious little community as my existence was largely a work-based one and – let’s be real – largely rural Pennsylvania isn’t a metropolis of culture for folks that have always existed on the fringe. I was – very frankly – terrified of going through this alone. I also felt bound in this fear as I certainly didn’t want to burden anyone with the guilt of me being alone; it felt far too much to ask someone to take the week to spend with me. I desperately missed my home in Buffalo and the various communities I belonged to there. This fear reminded me of how home is so very much more than a house, and how healing is very much dependent on the feeling of some kind of space that is warm and real to you – where you can exist fully as you are at that moment. Where you can reach out to someone who intimately knows your many stories and no background is needed, because they’ll be able to weave the necessary threads to understand why your love, fear, pain, joy is so palpable at that moment. This longing for home, which I knew was not fully accessible to me in the ways it once was, existed in my mind as I moved closer and closer to the surgery. Would this physical healing just serve to remind me of how much I longed for a different place and, if so, how would that impact my mind and my spirit?
It is with great joy that I report that this loneliness I feared so deeply did not happen. My dear friend, my soul sister, my baby bird Jenna spent the first 10 days following my surgery by my side. She drove down from Buffalo. In this time, when I could barely walk or stand, she cooked for me, helped me into the shower (quite the process given the drains inserted into my vagina that had to be draped onto a hanger and hung on the rod), and most importantly made it possible for me to have some semblance of independence. She drove me to the farmer’s market, where she would walk ever slowly by my side (very slowly), we painted together and planted for the summer solstice, we found a magical sunset spot that we would drive to at dusk. We picnicked in parks. This little piece of home came to me, was patient with me, and understood me well enough to know that if I was to heal I could not be coddled in demands to stay on the couch. Nor was that the only manifestation of home that traveled. My dear friend Ashley called me in the hospital – her voice beaming on the other end. Friends texted daily. My family sent cards. The love traveled, and it was necessary to my process – in all forms of mind and body and spirit – that it did. We were halfway through the year of 2015 and already it was one of the worst that I had known. While this time of play was inspired by a very wounded body, my soul needed it more.
Nor can I obscure the very amazing ways that I was blessed with a reminder of my worth and visibility by people in this small town that felt so cold to me. During this time my friend Jose took me grocery shopping, came by to walk my dog with me (at 80 pounds it was some time before I could walk her myself), drove me out to parks, and even walked patiently with me during my first hike following the surgery (granted, it was a month later and a baby path but damn it was I slow). Other colleagues made time to act as a support system for me without treating me as if I could do nothing on my own. Steve was quick to visit. Enica and I drank margaritas and giggled and got lost in stationary aisles of large stores, Akshaya lovingly made me enough delicious homemade food to get me through not one but two weeks and gifted me with a petit rose bush lives now in my bedroom windowsill. Kelly drove me to follow-up doctor appointments, helped me walk Serenity, and carried my laundry basket up and down the stairs for me. The faculty of my college sent me a gorgeous houseplant (also now residing in my bedroom). Many people texted or emailed me through Facebook. Colleagues from other departments followed my blog and emailed me. Faculty from my previous institution did the same.
I mention all of this here because showing up matters – regardless of the way you show up. Showing up fights those little demons that come out when we are alone, those demons that are in some way the result of the various cruelties, tragedies, and losses we live through. Healing can take place in solitude, I know because I am in the process right now and have been many times before. Yet something beautiful is born when people make the time. They validate you as a human. They, even if not overtly, speak to your special place in this world. These actions bite back against the many insecurities we have accumulated. They show us that not only are we real and whole and beautiful to these gorgeous beings who we have welcomed into our world, but also that our healing is not a matter that we alone are impacted by. That we have work to do here and others also wish for us to see it through. These actions, regardless of how small, are soul food. They are a powerful antidote to many of the poisons we are all in some way working through. I would have healed physically from this surgery were these gifts not offered to me – this I know. But the powerful transitions I experienced in the summer and fall of 2015 – some tied to my body and my surgery and others tied to various facets that are intra-related but not codependent – were easier for me to navigate, because I would often return to the many beautiful ways people do show up when healing needs to happen.
I know in writing this I probably left something out. If it was you -- please email me so I can thank you profusely. But before I close I do wish to say one more thing. Healing is an ongoing process. It doesn’t exist in a vacuum and, as I have said, it is happening through many levels and inspired by many things. I like to think that we are all always healing in some form or another – that is the nature of being in a world that is so broken and cruel. When you reach out – when you are present – when you say a kind word or send a lovely card or grab a cup of coffee with someone - you are likely assisting them in some way. You are part of their healing journey. You are a part of giving at least a wee bit of hope. When you do these things you are showing, quite literally, that someone is on your mind just because they are them and they’ve earned a space in your thoughts – and that is another act of showing someone that they are real and whole -- they are not the various things we’ve been programmed to categorize folks into. To those who have done and continue to do this for me – thank you. Truly. Thank you.
As always, please feel free to email me your stories.