I had surgery three years ago today: July 28, 2016.
I've been about the size and weight I am now for two years—two years ago I was about five pounds heavier, last year I was about five pounds lighter. I'm feeling pretty stable and solid—I had a little weight gain earlier this year, watched (and didn't watch) things creep just above 195 before I realized I needed to and could focus on it and intervene. I've taken most of it back off. I definitely had some fear and anxiety when I realized that it was happening, but ultimately all that I really needed to do to bring it back down towards a more comfortable range was pay attention, show up, bump it back up my priority list again: make the time to feed myself in a stabilizing and pleasurable way and not just catch-as-catch-can, make the occasionally-difficult sensible adult choices that respect the limits of reality and reflect my priorities and preferences. I'm just a hair under 180 right now, and my preferred resting place is more like 175—I do think I'll be back around there by the end of the year, if not before. I do still periodically go "maybe I'll make a big push and lose another 15 or 20 pounds after that." That impulse is primarily about clothing—getting comfortably into the size ranges of more limited lines (right now I wear a 10 or a 12 in more "mainstream" size ranges, but I'm more like a 12 or 14 in upmarket/designer ranges, and not all of them make a 14. I'd like to be more of an 8/10/12 than a 10/12/14). I'd like a longer line on the leg, so I don't feel so stumpy when I put on ankle jeans. This will also probably, realistically, not make it far enough my priority list to be actuated until my life is a little calmer.
This year has been hectic. It's contained an enormous amount of uncertainty and soul-searching about my professional and personal trajectories, a lot of grueling hard work towards dissertation completion even as my other obligations persist, a lot of hustle in other areas of my work life too, several family medical emergencies, and a relationship that has some real hard spots in with its many vivid and sustaining joys. Among other things.
I see a very good therapist twice a week. I am still standing. In fact, I would say I am stronger than I was this time last year, stronger then than I was the year before too. Things feel in reach that didn't then—finishing my dissertation, moving on to the next thing, and also just the pursuit of certain kinds of personal fulfillment that have never felt available, even articulable to me.
One of the things that I have been thinking about in the run-up to this three-year mark is that I don't look like I looked two years ago. This is a little confusing: two years ago, I didn't have trouble recognizing my own face. It looked like my own. When I was fatter, I had, somehow, seen that face. I knew it was there. Other people didn't, but I did. I was surprised when people don't recognize me.
But I have a harder time recognizing myself now. Not just my pre-surgery face (although that too; in Berlin a few weeks ago an old friend showed me and my partner a picture of me with her older son years ago, when he was a baby—my partner didn't recognize me at first—it was alienating, but I wasn't exactly surprised). Even my face from two years ago looks different—sometimes only a little, but sometimes a lot. Last week, one of my closest friends said, "Don't get mad at me, but you need new headshots." She was talking about the professional pictures I use, the ones taken by my university department (I wrote about them on this blog, in fact). She's right—they don't look like me anymore. But neither one of us could put our finger on why.
I've gotten a fairly high-concept haircut, but it's not that. People tend to assume it's because I've lost weight, but I'm actually just about exactly the same weight I was when they were taken. I think I look younger in them (other people agree—but then when we look for the visible signs of aging, there's not much difference. I do have more grey hairs now, though—but really, I think it's a more ephemeral kind of youngness: something about the child that I personally was, intense and clenched and afraid and trying very hard and terrified of being looked at). I think I also look very tense. I think ultimately, the difference is a visible difference of selfhood. It's attitudinal. There's something about me that has settled in.
I have settled in. In some personal way. And in some new version of myself, emotional and physical. With that setting in I'm losing some of my acute consciousness of the experience of size shift—it's fading, coming to seem further away. I was sitting in Washington Square Park a couple of weeks ago and saw some friends I hadn't seen in ten years and jumped up and said hello to them and didn't understand until after they'd left why it took them so long to recognize me. I have a fuller and more present self with which to identify in the moment, and I seem also to feel less concerned with vigilantly maintaining my identification with my own past (I like to think of this not as a divestment or a denunciation, but a new trust in the simultaneous stability and instability of selfhood).
And I feel very grateful for the settling in—the parts of it that are about selfhood and personhood and the work that I have put into those things, and the parts that are about the post-surgical outcomes I've experienced and the work that I've put into them and the luck that I've had with them. Some people never get to settle in. This surgery is hard. All the clichés—"they operate on your stomach, not your brain," etc.—and then some. People have side effects and complications, people have disordered eating that's gone untreated all their lives, people have damage from stigma and shame. People have cross-addictions, or end up obsessed with food and eating and not eating and highly specific eating, running the same circles just in different clothes. This stuff is hard. And somehow, I have settled in. I have gotten what I wanted—not in a fantasy version where I never have to think about it again, where everything is perfect and easy without hurting or requiring effort, but in a way that approximates that pretty closely in the ways of reality. I can't afford plastic surgery right now and I have to periodically pay attention to the way I eat in ways that make me nervous and uncomfortable and I would love to be twenty pounds smaller and comfortable enough to go sleeveless and/or wear pants without covering up the bulges of my deflated belly, but all of those things are secondary to the fact that I live in my body, and identify with it, and feel comfortable in it, and accept its realities. And I have a baseline that works for me and my life.
I remember July 28, 2016 very vividly, still. My mother was recently hospitalized at the hospital where I had my surgery, and every time I walked in or out the door I remembered sitting on the retaining wall in the wee small pre-dawn hours of the morning of July 28, 2016, waiting. I did not know what I was waiting for. I know more about it now. I don't feel quite as the same as that younger woman as I did two years ago, or even one year ago, but she is still me, and I am still her, and I still remember those moments of waiting from an experiential perspective—they still belong to me, and to my life, and to my sense of self—and when I picture them from an external one, I think of the younger woman waiting on the retaining wall not with shame or refusal but with love and compassion, with appreciation for my fear and my bravery and my long hard preparation, and my willingness to take a leap into the unknown, to make the best decision I could and try to trust.
It's not over—because it's never over—but so far, the leap of faith is turning out pretty well.