June 24, 2011
My wedding day…well, let’s be honest….my third wedding day. Relationships until that point seem to have eluded me. Here is was marrying whom I thought was an incredible man and would provide for my three young children and myself. We had known each other nearly two years and I had no reason to doubt our love was the real deal.
We went to a beautiful down just outside the Wisconsin border in Galena, Illinois with just his mother and brother and tied the knot overlooking the hills and a pretty little lake. We had rented a beautiful honeymoon suite complete with Jacuzzi and a swimming pool just outside our door. People snapped pictures of us with abandon. As soon as the ceremony ended, I could not wait to escape and don my comfortable clothes. We jetted off for a romantic wedding dinner and to collect some photos of our simple affair.
When I quickly pieced through photo after photo, I was horrified by the vision staring back at me. How had I become this obese person staring back at me? Where was the sparkle that belonged in my eye? All I saw was tired sagging shoulders and swollen ankles. My heart sank with each picture as I looked down at my reality; a body that had seemingly changed overnight.
Sure, I had struggled with my weight before. Four speedy pregnancies in less than five years had blessed me with three beautiful children. I had logged endless hours on a stationary bike and meticulously logging my food entries to drop every bit of the post-baby weight eight years earlier. Slowly, over the years, the weight crept back on. All one-hundred pounds found their way back to my older and less deserving body. The result was I could not even make eye contact with my new husband on what should have been such a romantic occasion. I spent most of those tranquil honeymoon days fighting back tears wondering what to do.
I had previously researched gastric bypass surgery, but now I was determined this must be the right answer for me. I was gambling with high blood pressure, decreasing self-esteem, puffy ankles that never wanted to vanish and a body that resembled someone ten years older. With new-found resolved, I signed up for the requisite weight-loss seminars, attended my counseling sessions and earned myself a surgery date the date before Thanksgiving in 2011.
Any surgery is a gamble of outcomes. My surgeon was a kind, family man and a genius of all things intestinal. I felt prepared beyond failure. My husband and I knew the grim statistics for marriages undergoing the enormous strain of a partner experiencing such a physical and mental transformation. We were confident we had the ability to knock the statistics out of the ballpark and beat the outcome. Someone in the universe was laughing at us from a distance.
I worked as a middle school English teacher at the time of my surgery in 2011. It was my first year in a new building with new co-workers and a new boss. I had a shaky start to the school year when I fell and injured my leg right before school started and had to miss a few weeks fighting an infection in a deep skin abrasion. It was my worst nightmare that I was seen as weak in a new position. The confident woman I wanted to be had to be put on hold.
That experience was nothing compared to returning to work just before Christmas in 2011 as a new gastric bypass patient. My entire life revolved around my angry stomach. I could barely tolerate a teaspoon of peanut butter or a spoonful of yogurt. My emotions were a wreck, and I felt frazzled. Fortunately, life evened out and my confidence in my new position grew after the New Year in 2012.
My love affair with food and all things processed came to a screeching halt as soon as I had my surgery. I assumed the only battle I’d face would be accepting that food was now the enemy unless it was protein or a fruit of vegetable. In March of 2012, I quickly found the opposite to be true. I was enjoying a quiet Saturday at home, when I doubled over in pain and realized with certainty a kidney stone must be trapped in an awful fashion. I screamed my way to the emergency room where the only choice was to remove said stone. That stone was followed by another and a subsequent kidney surgery that had me down and out for a few weeks recovering.
During these unplanned hospital visits, my physicians were surprised to discover an uncooperative heart as well. Suddenly, medications were changed, EKG’s were ordered and I was diagnosed with sick sinus syndrome. My heart had stopped beating as quickly as it should the majority of the time and the only solution was to implant a pacemaker into a 38 year-old woman. I found myself shocked and saddened by this turn of events. Previous to gastric bypass surgery, I had been relatively healthy. Suddenly, I was preparing for heart surgery and a lifetime of cardiology care and a need for follow-up surgeries to have a declining pacemaker battery replaced. Sadly, I did not have a great deal of choice as I was tired, light-headed and feeling faint most of the time.
As I was adjusting to my upcoming heart surgery, unbeknownst to me, my marriage was already beginning to crumble. Someone forgot to supply my husband with the mantra, “in sickness and in health.” His mind and eyes were already straying. I successfully had my pacemaker implanted in July of 2012 and had lost 100 pounds at that point, but my husband had rekindled an old flame.
I started the new school year back at an old school I had taught at and my medical problems multiplied. In November of 2012 a simple backache resulted in an appendectomy. In December, I had back-to-back surgeries. In the first, part of my small intestine was removed for chronic digestive problems. Ten days later, one of my parathyroid glands on my neck was removed that had grown a benign tumor. I made frantic phone calls after that surgery trying to locate my absent husband. He was busy having an affair.
By March of 2013, my husband’s infidelity was no longer a secret. I uncovered the truth and left him two months’ later. That summer, I was homeless, staying in a friend’s extra bedroom and began to experiment with alcohol. I underwent two hernia repairs that summer. The school district assigned me extra help in the classroom. My divorce was final November 1st of 2013. I have not seen my ex-husband once since that time. I began to date someone shortly after my divorce who I had been communicating with online since August of that year. He often worked out-of-town and I would drive to visit him on the weekends. We dated for nine months. I was very unfamiliar with the world of drugs having been a teacher for nearly ten years. Sadly, during the course of our relationship, I became very familiar with how quickly drugs could be a problem. My drinking also became a bigger issue. I found myself compromising my values on a more frequent basis. Our relationship was toxic from the start. It came to a halt in September of 2014 when he confessed he had been seeing his ex-girlfriend for months. He married her and has since had a child. I sincerely hope he is well and clean today.
In early 2015, I faced my biggest health hurdle to date. I was diagnosed with severe anemia. I began receiving iron infusions in the hospital weekly. After the third infusion, I noticed I was running a fever and feeling flu-like. The fever got worse over the course of a week. In the middle of the night on a March evening, I awoke to a 105 degree fever and knew something serious must be happening. That began a two-month battle of fighting a bacterial salmonella infection. I thought I had fought it off once and it returned. I was in the hospital for over thirty days and at home with a PICC line inserted in my neck for another two weeks’. The school district was furious with me. I spent four days in the ICCU fighting for my life while they figured out it was indeed salmonella. I was alone and scared. My family was disgusted. I returned home and was able to teach for five weeks. The day the school year ended, I underwent a total hysterectomy to try to prevent the anemia from returning and deal with endometriosis.
I was well enough to take a serving job at a busy bar/restaurant in July of 2015. It became normal to have three drinks after a shift. One night, I caved and had more. That became routine. I started drinking daily. I left that job in November of 2015 and had a second heart surgery in November of 2015 for tachycardia. The school district fired me for more missed work due to surgery in January of 2016. I was completely devastated to have lost the career I thought I would have for my entire life. I began to drink even more.
I worked as a chiropractic assistant from February of 2016 to October of 2016. I was making 1/3 of what I made as a classroom teacher. I was frequently late for work. Often after drinking, I would forget where my car was or how I got home. I blacked out more and more frequently. I was exhausted all the time. My health actually wasn’t terrible. Morally and emotionally, I was completely bankrupt. I had no idea how to stop drinking. I was pulled over in August of 2016 for turning into the wrong lane; the officer should have given me a breathalyzer, he didn’t. I went to an AA meeting in September, but I convinced myself I didn’t really have a problem.
The low point in my drinking is only remembered by my daughter. In December of last year, after going to see my friends’ band play, a stranger brought me home. I was blacked out. This vile man raped me in front of my daughter. The emotional damage he caused to both my daughter and I can never, ever be erased. Yes, I play a huge part in all of this pain by not dealing with my alcohol addiction to this point. I begged God after that day to give me the courage to kill myself. I couldn’t drink myself to death, I always blacked out before I could get too drunk.
On February 15th, 2017, I reached out to an ex who had brought me to that AA meeting last September. I told him I was in terrible shape. He didn’t respond. I don’t blame him. What did I do? I went out and saw that same friends’ band. Then I got in my car and drove home, once again in a black out. I was pulled over for a DUI, driving 19 mph in a 45 mph zone. I blew a .22, nearly three times the legal limit. I was taken to jail and had to stay fourteen hours in regular population. It was a life-changing experience. I vowed never to drink again. I’ve been able to honor that vow for 119 days.
Fortunately for me, when I left jail, I had family members waiting. In the four months since, I’ve lost about 15 pounds I can’t afford to lose. I just endured five more iron infusions for anemia again. I have reactive hypoglycemia. My BMI hovers between 17-18. I have constant problems controlling my bowels thanks to salmonella. I am searching for a new job.
What do I have to look forward to? A life FINALLY free of food, drug and alcohol addiction. I do a lot of volunteer and service work through AA. Church and God are forefront in my life. My family is present and I am honest with them. I have a loving boyfriend that is also in recovery and working to clean up the wreckage in his past. I would definitely not have gastric bypass again, but as my six year anniversary approaches, I want to get there with dignity and grace and not be disgusted by the person that hits that mark! I also really want to find some way, whether it be through a blog or writing a book to use my experiences to help others that are struggling with life after bypass. I want my second half of life to be one of purpose. I attached a photo of my dad and I from two weeks ago at my sons’ graduation.