Tuesday, April 1, 2008

My story

I wanted to re-post this blog with an update. As of last Friday, my weight was 178 pounds, down from an all-time high of 400 back in 2000. As noted in this re-post, I have no official record of that weight, but come on--I am five feet, seven inches, and I BUSTED OUT of a size 54 waist (that means my waist was more than 54 inches round) jeans! And a correction to the re-post: I reviewed my medical records again, and my highest weight on record was NOT 358 lbs, but 365! Denial. Amazing, isn't it?

I've had the much anticipated complete replacement of left hip, which has gone extremely well. It's still healing, but it's amazing how the pain I had in my lower back and left hip has lessened. But am I ready to take Jeet Kune Do and salsa classes yet? Nope. A lifetime of morbid obesity is the "gift" that just keeps on giving.

I have experienced the monumental re-surfacing of health issues that took the backstage position to the more life-threatening and painful events, namely, fibroid tumors/menorhaggia/chronic anemia and severe osteoarthritis of the left hip. Now that those very serious issues (along with morbid obesity), have been dismissed, these other problems have taken center stage. They are: a) the deterioration of my abdominal wall which is causing ongoing hernia problems that threaten to rupture as two others have done; b) a two inch split in the tendon that runs along the left side of my right foot and through the ankle; c)osteoarthritis of both knees.

Undoubtably, losing over 200 pounds has made a difference in both the treatment and recovery from my previous health problems. And it is making a difference in my current treatment, which includes a soon-to-be scheduled abdominal wall reinforcement surgery (one of the surgeons who did an emergency hernia repair on me in 2008 will be sewing some kind of material onto my abdominal wall so it will stop tearing) and I will be wearing a brace with arch support on my right foot that will hopefully allow the tendon to heal itself. I hope it does because if that doesn't work, I will have to have another surgery to repair. That would suck, royally. Oh, and my primary care physician gave me cortisone shots in my knees. That has helped, but it's not a cure. I'm doing some natural healing methods (herbs, glucosamine sulfate, MSM homeopathic arnica tablets and healing visualization) to deal with the arthritis in my knees. I haven't completely worn out the cartilidge in them like I did with my left hip, so I have some tissue to work with.

What causes an abdominal wall to be weak? Here's what did it for me: years of gaining and losing massive amounts of weight since age 6, being chronically morbidly obese for almost 30 years, getting pregnant and giving birth three times, and having several surgeries performed in the abdominal area: tubal ligation, gastric bypass, uterine ablation with D/C, hysterectomy,and two emergency hernia repairs. As for the busted tendon, flat feet, morbid obesity and putting extra pressure on my right foot to avoid causing more pain to my arthritis-weakened left hip.

All I can say is if you are morbidly obese, get help!

I realize that there might be people who come across this blog and wonder why I write so much about recovery from food addiction. Well, the answer I have to that question is to share my story with those who have never read it. And to those who know my story, this is why I continue to write about this stuff. I can't afford to forget what I was like before. My life depends on me remembering what I was like, and to be grateful for where I am today.

My name is Angela, and I'm a food addict. My highest weight on record was 358 pounds, but I know I was bigger than that. I busted the zipper on a pair of size 54 waist jeans, the only ones I could find in a big woman's specialty shop that would somewhat fit me. Those jeans are still in my closet because I never want to forget how far down the road I was with this disease. I'm grateful to be alive. Food addiction has nearly killed me three times already, and I've come to realize that life is not guaranteed, just because someone has managed to escape death by the skin of her teeth.

My first near death came around 1988. I was going through a divorce, my soon-to-be-ex was in jail for various drug charges and having an on-going relationship with a 14 year old girl, I had to move back to my parents' house with my three children (all under age 5 at the time) and all I could do was eat. Not just eat, but big-time binge. I was putting down heaping platters of food. It was the night after Christmas, and I had been eating leftovers for the traditional family holiday feast, one huge platter of food every hour. I lost track of how much food I ate, and even though a soft voice in my head kept pleading with me to stop, I couldn't. Not even my younger brother Ricky, who I loved dearly, could keep me away from the refrigerator. And he played football. At that point, I probably would have tackled him to get to the dressing and gravy, or the sweet potato pie with whipped cream.

Finally, I passed out at some point on the living room couch, just like a wino. Around three o'clock in the morning, I woke up heaving. I knew I was going to throw up, and that it was going to be really bad if I didn't get off the couch. I was really dizzy and hung over from all the sugar and flour, and I had trouble figuring out how to move my body off the couch. Then I got a picture of Jimi Hendrix overdosing and choking on his own vomit, and I heard a voice yelling, "Angela, get up! GET UP! You'll die if stay here!" I rolled off the couch and crawled to the bathroom, barely making it to the toilet. While I was throwing up (and I was doing so very violently, so much that I kept hitting my head on the porcelain), I was thinking, "God please, make it stop, just make it stop! I'll get help! I won't eat like that ever again!" I'm not sure how long I was in there, but when I finally stopped vomiting and cleaned up the mess, the sun was bright and shining through the living room curtains.

It's funny how addicts call on God when they are in trouble, but never when they are putting food in their mouths. I know I didn't.

Over the years, I've also realized that I could have had a massive heart attack and died after all that vomiting. My electrolyte balance must have been way off, but I was too sick to realize that I was probably very dehydrated. I saw everything in blurry pairs; my entire body was weak and rubbery, and my head felt like it had a sledgehammer pounding away inside of it. The only thing I could do was crawl back to the couch and pass out again.

Not long after that, I went to my first Overeaters Anonymous meeting. And I somewhat made good on my promise to God. I have never, ever binged like again, and for that I am grateful. But it would take me years before I became willing to stop eating sugar, flour and portions of food that my body doesn't need. I needed to have a much more disciplined program to do that because I have absolutely no concept of moderate portions, and once I take that first bite of sugar or flour, I start fiending for more, just like a crackhead going after that next rock. I can't stop.

In the meantime, I ate, and ate. Instead huge platters of food like I did that one day, I would just graze all day long. The pounds kept coming on. I developed osteoarthritis in my lower back and left hip. In fact, the cartilage in my left hip bones wore off completely, and for several painful years, I had bone grinding against bone. Now my left hip is deformed, and on the x-rays they appear to be twisted almost like a pretzel. The only thing that can be done is to have a total hip replacement. Even my doctor was amazed when she saw X-rays. "You have to do something about your weight," she told me. "Your symptoms will improve considerably even if you lost only ten percent of your body weight." (That's somewhat true; my symptoms have improved a bit. I need either a cane or a walker today to get around these days, instead of being totally wheelchair bound.)

I had trouble with that part. I would lose thirty or forty pounds, and gain back fifty. It kept going back and forth like that for years. In the meantime, I developed massive fibroid tumors in my uterus, and in 1996, I began hemorrhaging every month instead of having a normal menstrual cycle. It was so bad that I couldn't go anywhere for two or three days. I kept bleeding through like a waterfall, no made what I did. I used so many super-plus products that it's a wonder I never developed toxic shock. Finally, the dam finally broke on August 11, 2002, exactly one month after gastric bypass surgery. I had been bleeding for almost four months, and on that morning, even the super plus products couldn't hold it. I was gushing blood all over the place. I was rushed to ER, and when I came to, I was surrounded by a host of doctors in white lab coats talking softly to each other. A bunch of tubes and bags of stuff were hooked into the IV on my left hand (they had trouble finding my veins,I later learned), along with all kinds of instruments and beeping monitors. I remember thinking, God, please don't tell me I've died and gone to hell with a bunch of white men. Then I looked over at my blood pressure monitor, and it said 64 over 40. I wondered if that was bad, then everything went black again.

Why didn't I go to the doctor BEFORE all that happened? Simple. I didn't want to hear the sermon anymore: "If you would lose weight, your symptoms would improve...." I began to be very derisive in my attitude toward the medical community. Damn doctors, I would tell myself.

"They probably think that the reason I catch a cold is because I'm fat. And if that's the case, skinny people shouldn't ever have colds!"

That was the logic I used to keep me from seeing a gynecologist. And it nearly cost me my life, for the second time.

I believe my latest brush with death is related to the first one. All that binging and vomiting must have torn my abdominal cavity. There's no way to prove that at this point, however. But I sense that it's the truth. Gaining and losing weight over and over for twenty years probably put even more stress on the tear. My gastric bypass surgeon did tell me he repaired a small hernia during the bypass operation, but that conversation didn't even register with me until after I came home from emergency umbilical cord hernia repair surgery two weeks ago.

In the almost six intervening years between gastric bypass and today, I've had numerous vomiting episodes, mostly because I would eat stuff that I shouldn't have been eating in the first place. More ripping and tearing of that hernia. Finally, the hole was big enough for my intestines to begin falling out. Again, I made it to the hospital just in time.

Is the third time "a charm", as the old saying goes? I hope so; I'm not ready to die yet. For today, I'm abstinent, and that is by the grace of God. I'm anywhere from 100 to 120 pounds down from my highest weight on record, and within twenty pounds of my lowest post-gastric bypass weight. This time, I want get past that 200 pound threshold. I haven't been under 200 since junior high school. But it's a one day at a time thing, and not only that, it's a one day at time walking with my Higher Power (who I call God) every moment of the day, and using the tools of the program so the addiction won't take hold of my brain and lead me back into the food.

That's my story.


  1. Just wondering if this was meant as a joke. Because if not...well, I won't say until i hear your response.

    "I remember thinking, God, please don't tell me I've died and gone to hell with a bunch of white men. Then I looked over at my blood pressure monitor, and it said 64 over 40. I wondered if that was bad, then everything went black again."

  2. It wasn't a joke. It's what I thought, coming out of a thick fog of morphine and other drugs. That was my initial reaction to coming to consciousness and not knowing whether I was alive or dead. Now, as an African American woman, I have had a heightened awareness of who is around me, and what their race and gender is. If you are a white male, I'm sorry if my honesty is offensive to you, but there is something very threatening about being surrounded by white males while in a semi-conscious, very vulnerable state. Let's just say that there are both historical and present-time reasons for that. That has been the reality of my life, and yes, I've been threatened by groups of white men on a few occasions. My reaction had some precedents.

    There is a bit of unintentional irony in there, however: "...bunch of white men", "...everything went black". I was referring to the fact that I went unconscious again. I didn't see the contrast until you quoted those sentences. Funny how that happens. At some point in the future, none of it will have the racial connotations that it does now. That's my hope and prayer, anyway.

  3. Thanks for the answer. I'm not a white male. I'm a white female that somehow happened on your blog. ;-)

    When I read that sentence, it was extremely jarring. I thought, here are these "white men" saving her life and her first thought was a negative one about white men. I guess I'm just tired of having racism in my face. For whatever reason. (and you have stated some good reasons)I just wish we could get to a place where race wasn't such a dividing factor in our world. But I have to admit, I am racist, too. In some very subtle ways. So I get what you are saying.

  4. Anonymous,

    I think we are a critical point in our society's development. Race is a factor, and it is in all our faces because we have to, both individually and collectively, deal with it. It won't be erased by wishing it isn't there, and the process of cleansing and healing from racism isn't pretty. In fact, there is the potential of very deep-seated emotions boiling out of control and doing more damage than good. I think we (meaning Americans)are acutely aware of that potential, and we shirk away from the issue because of it. But we can't allow our fears to control us, nor can we bury our heads underground and act like the problems do not exist, as we have been doing for years. That future that you and I wish for? It can happen. It will happen.

    This one of the many reasons why I am a member of the Baha'i Faith. I don't know if you are a Baha'i or not, but one of the many foundations of my faith include the elimination of all racial prejudice, not just in the U.S., but from this planet. Some might say that's an overly optimistic goal. I say we have to do it, no matter how difficult it is. The preservation of humanity, as dramatic as this sounds, literally depends on it.


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