My last WTMNBN post left my story ten years ago, in 2002. I struggled with my self image and my weight for the next 4 years, shedding and gaining the same 20-30 pounds -- as if my body were part of some twisted bungee jumping adventure. Always bouncing around, never stable.
In 2006, my mom flew in from Illinois for a visit. It was a normal Mom visit -- filled with food, food, and more food. Mom loves the following things more than most things in life: onion dip, M&M's, Coca-Cola, bread & butter, and Taco Bell. Or McDonald's. This sounds cruel, but it isn't intended to be. I love my mom dearly. It's her lifestyle that makes me cringe.
She woke me early in the hours just before dawn on the day she was supposed to return home. She was in tears, her body hunched over, her arms wrapped around her belly. It didn't take long for me to realize this was more than an ordinary stomach ache. As the sun came up, we headed to the hospital.
My mom was rushed into a room that was roughly the size of a walk-in closet. Honestly, there are probably closets out there larger than her room at the hospital. There was nothing on the walls, no counters or cabinets, just stark white floors, walls, and ceilings. A rounded bench jutted out from one wall; as if seat and wall had been molded together from a single piece of Play-doh.
Later, the nurses told us that they had been out of rooms, so my mom was placed on a gurney in their holding room for drunks and other "crazies" that can't be trusted in a normal room. It made for an interesting experience, to say the least.
I watched my mom sleep through the next several hours, only waking to request something to drink or a warmer blanket. She was pale and weak; her face tired, her body slack. I had no idea why she was in so much pain, why her digestive system had blood in it, or what the possible diagnosis would be.
I was scared.
Hospitals have always petrified me. I've spent way too much time in emergency rooms, outpatient clinics, overnight stays -- you name it, I've been there. To this day, every time I walk into any type of medical environment I have to fight back a wave of nausea.
But this was more than my typical hospital-paranoia. I spent hours that day worrying that I might lose my mom.
After 10 hours of sitting and waiting and waiting and sitting and letting my mind wander rampantly through the land of the delirious and back, we found out my mom was suffering from diverticulitis -- a completely treatable disease caused by her years of atrocious eating habits.
I remember a few things vividly from that day:
- I was angry. Watching her lie on the hospital bed, I envisioned the same situation years into the future -- with my own kids sitting by my bedside. Me, missing out on graduations and weddings and grandchildren -- all because food was more important than family, my own health, or my future.
- This thought crept around my brain, and refused to leave: every choice we make to eat foods that are from a fast food place, too fatty, or fried... every time we choose to sit on the couch all night instead of being active... every choice we make that favors flavor over fitness -- is also a choice for a long, slow, painful suicide.
I stopped over eating. I stopped indulging in Ben & Jerry's. I stopped drinking soda. Stopped smoking. Stopped the secret McDonald's stops on the way home from class at night.
I started walking. Every day. I started researching heart healthy, nutrient rich recipes. I started truly taking care of myself, for the first time in my life.
I invested in the art of being me.
By 2008 I was healthier, stronger, and slimmer than I had ever been. My 35 year old body put my 17 year old body to shame.
And I wasn't doing it for vanity. I didn't want the skinniest, prettiest body. I didn't place an emphasis on how attractive I was.
I wanted to live. Plain and simple. For a long, long time.
The measure of my success was found in the energy I had, the laughter I shared with my kids, the ease with which I could run and play outdoors with my nieces and nephews.
If something was known to be unhealthy, I didn't let it near me. It wasn't difficult. I thought of my mom, lying in that terrible hospital room, I looked at my children, who deserved a mom that cared more about them than she did about food.
And I just did it.
It would be a perfect fairy tale if that were the end of my story. It is, after all, a beautiful "happily ever after".
But there's more to this story.
Today just isn't the day to tell it.