Sunday, May 27, 2012

Releasing the Past: A Note to My Parents

This post is the third in a series of posts about my upcoming weight loss surgery.  You can read the first post at and the second at

I’ve spent the day at my worktable making greeting cards and pondering what I’m poised to let go. My weight loss surgery has become symbolic of all I wish to release.  I release this burdensome layer of flesh because I no longer need to feel protected by it.  I release all the bad habits that perpetuate my weight – all of them – even those I enjoy, because they no longer serve me well.  I release fear and whatever damage has been done to my confidence.  I do all this out of self-respect and love, and a desire to reach my potential in all things. In this, I am supported and nurtured by the people who love me.

A year ago this month my grandmother died, and just as I predicted, her passing ended the only thing that kept my extended maternal family together. When she died, all connected to her were cast to the wind like so many leaves. We tumble outward into the universe with no reason to speak to one another, so I find it ever so important to speak these words that need speaking before the opportunity is completely gone.  I had a frenemy who lost that chance when her parents died and, in her anguish, projected all her pain on me.  So, I know the urgency, and I know the danger of waiting, particularly if, like my Leslie, you're the type of person who must get things off her chest.

These words are long overdue.

To my mother ~ Unless there is something I don’t know, there is no excuse for your selfishness. I believe that growing up neglected, abused, or abandoned takes away the ability to be compassionate. Recognition of that and consciously reclaiming compassion often opens the door to healing because we realize we may inflict the same pain on those we love the most.  Yet this didn’t happen to you, did it? You weren’t abused, neglected or abandoned. You simply got married too young and had babies. Then, you decided you didn’t want them any longer and over the next10 years focused your energies on dumping your responsibilities on everyone else.  It is a mother’s responsibility to take care of her children.  I turned my back on you over four years ago because your behavior whittled away at our daughter’s self-esteem.  Now, I pity your concrete heart. But what’s more … Shame on you! Shame on you for moving in with Curtis, driving off his family, the only one he’s ever had, and exploiting his perceptions to your own advantage.  You tried it with me once, years ago, but Leslie got in your way.  Now, Curtis is too confused and needful of you to know how he was used, but you!  You should know better!

To my father ~ I feel your loss and know how much you yearn to connect.  However, your adult life and the decisions you’ve made revolve around the support of your ego and consequently your selfishness. Just before last Christmas, I opened my heart to you and shared my worries, and you reciprocated by withdrawing for seven months, acting the role of absentee father once again. You’ve done this my entire life.  You turned your back on your children to focus on your second wife and her family, and when you did, you surrendered the ability to make demands, to reclaim any connection because you need it in your latter years.  You come and you go, and you are always focused on what you want, completely unaware of what you put us through as you stomp all over my feelings to gain access to your only blood granddaughter. I don’t want this kind of negative interaction. I have self-respect and need and want more from my relationships. 

I’m a bit more than two years away from 50 years old, and as I release my weight, my bad habits, and my fear, I release the last attachments I have to relationships that are painful and damaging.  It is a sad thing, true, and some of you reading this may not understand it, but I stopped being upset and confused about it a very long time ago. Now, I am simply closing the door for good so I can move on with the wonderful changes that are ahead of me.

It’s ironic that in this, I’m exercising the one ability my parents gave to me.  Although I do so out of self-respect instead of selfishness, I exercise the right to walk away . I walk away from bad health, bad habits, and bad relationships. 

And I will not look back.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


This post is the second in a series about my weight loss surgery coming up.  You can read the first post at

A year ago, I was reorganized out of my management position with an HR Management Consulting firm in downtown San Francisco.  Thereafter, I found myself using my body more than ever hauling things in and out of the garage for yard sales, selling my action figures at flea markets, and hawking my art at festivals.  These activities required more physical work than I’ve done in years.  It took the past year for my body to truly voice its displeasure.  Joint pain, knee problems, muscle spasms and on-going and increasing issues got louder and louder until finally, at almost 48 years old, I am unable to ignore them.

I was a large woman living a sedentary adult life which revolved around my career as an office manager or administrator and included a lot of staring at the computer.  Being heavy was annoying for as long as it took to walk from the BART train to the office.  That, and when I went clothes shopping. Ironically, I grew up dancing so was svelte and in shape as a young adult, but as the weight went on, I exercised less and less.  I had our daughter in 1997 and grew to my heaviest at that time. Then, I surpassed it, and at 43, I hit my heaviest at 340 pounds on this five foot four inch frame.  Just a month and a half ago I was 318.

Near as I can figure, somehow, somewhere along the way, I managed to hit the “off” switch to my body awareness and ignored the signs of this imbalance.  I knew I’d have to deal with my weight eventually.  I wanted to.  But I put it off repeatedly.  There was stress at work, stress at home, and a million other reasons to put aside making myself healthier.  I’d look in the mirror and focus on my face, and I avoided taking pictures for a very long time.  Time went on, and my poor practices became habits. 

Yet this cloud had a silver lining.  Being out of work, gave me the gift of time.  First, I decompressed. I tackled some things I’d wanted to do. Art things. Then, I slowed down and unraveled, put aside financial concerns and the drama that accompanies unemployment, and my stress slowly dissipated.

In this quiet, the universe began tossing messages at me.  Yes, I’d considered weight loss surgery some time ago, but I was afraid of it.  It seemed unapproachable.  Then, Leslie’s niece, Tami, had “the sleeve” done.  Leslie’s sister, too. They experienced different levels of success with their procedures. Despite some complications, Tami is down at least 100 pounds.  I bumped into a woman at one of our yard sales who was very happy she had it done.  And Lauren, one of the moms I’ve been scrapbooking with, has lost 100 pounds one year after her surgery, and she’s only a few weeks away from having her breasts reduced.

But why surgery? 

I’ve tried dieting. I’ve joined Weight Watchers twice over the last two years and lost and regained the same twenty pounds twice.   I’ve never been fond of the meetings, not unless the leader is very good at keeping it from becoming a bitch-fest, and even then I got tired of women piling heaps of self-loathing upon themselves for making mistakes.  I’m not heavy because I hate myself, and I didn’t attend Weight Watchers meetings because I need psychoanalysis.

I’ve never been able to make the shift to a healthier lifestyle because dieting completely overwhelms me.  I start with conviction, and then the day to day challenges kick in, and feeling overwhelmed with the struggle ahead, I end up caving in to my old habits.  I need a tool that will remain firm even when my willpower doesn’t.  I want to change my body’s chemistry so I can regain and maintain better eating habits for the rest of my life.

What I need is a complete reboot.

Now, we await word from the insurance company with an approval. Then, I get my surgery scheduled. In the meantime, I’ve stopped eating refined carbs and sugar, and am sticking with protein, veggies, and fruit.  I’ve lost 15 pounds doing so over the last month and a half, and I haven’t started walking yet.  I’ll do that when my body feels better.  Leslie’s lost almost 20 pounds eating the same way I am.  We know from experience that her body scars intensely, so bariatric surgery isn’t the answer for her.  She’s got so much more will power and even more won’t power than I do.  And, of course, we both have our daughter eye balling us like a hawk to ensure we don’t cheat even the tiniest bit.

We don’t want to disappoint her.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Remembering Thelma

Thelma at 19 Years Old

My grandmother, Thelma Marine Pascal, was more a mother to me than anyone. She was always there when I needed her, the last point being from 1980 when I was 16 until I moved out of her house in 1985.  Here is a list of some of my best, funniest, or most poignant memories:

  • When I was real little, she could be found in the garden wearing a wide brim gardening hat and her grey sweats. She needed those sweats to pick blackberries, because the thorns were so big.
  • She threw huge parties back then when the family was still intact.  They were usually on Sundays (I think) and she gave one lucky person a door prize.  It was always an eggplant themed basket of goodies.
  • She came to all my shows in dancing school.
  • She made me practice the piano, even when I hated it.  And I really hated it.
  • She never drank, but she loved to eat.
  • She really enjoyed country music, and thought Ann Murray was awesome, even though no one else in the family understood it.
  • She loved to read, and treated herself to trips to Barnes & Noble on the Boston Post Road in West Haven when she could justify spending the money.
  • Her idea of a vacation was driving five hours to visit her sisters in Utica, New York. She could hit 90 miles per hour in her Cadillac on the turnpike, and always left my grandfather at home.
Thelma and I
Reed Street, Milford

  • She put up with all my strange friends, even the ones she didn’t like.  For example, she loved Jody and gave him pie. She fed him whenever she could.  But she couldn’t stand Gina or Mel for reasons that were her own. She was still polite to them, though.
  • She let me take out her grey Cadillac even though in the end I hit something and destroyed it.  I still don’t drive much.
  • When something terrible and unexpected happened in our lives, Thelma was the one who galvanized resources to clean up the mess.  There was always a mess, at least every couple of years or so, and she was always the one who cleaned it.
  • One summer when we did “Oklahoma” with the local community theater, she sat at her sewing machine with Miss Connie on a long Saturday afternoon and made costumes for all the chorus members.  They were different color prairie type dresses made out of cotton.
  • When I came home to her after dancing in class until 10:00 a.m. on a Wednesday night, she always had something for me to eat. She gave it to me on a teevee tray in the three season room.  We called it “the porch”. I sat there in patio type furniture next to my grandfather eating.  We watched television. Probably  “Magnum PI”.
  • On days when I got to high school and realized I was too stressed or burned out to deal with it, she never hesitated to turn around and bring me home again.
  • She pushed me to go to business school when I was focused on Broadway, which gave me excellent skills and then a career that pays over $100K per year.
  • When I was 20 and had plans to leave for San Francisco to be with Leslie, she asked me with big eyes if I was going to have my own bedroom. I told her “no”. Still, she let me go find my own life without judgment or harsh words.
  • Then a few months later, she came to San Francisco to check Leslie out.  They were friends until she died.
  • Leslie, her mom, and I lived in Connecticut for two years back in the late eighties.  It was a disaster, but Thelma really enjoyed having Leslie’s mom, Gloria, around to talk with while it lasted. 
  • We were all seated around the dining room table once, and Thelma gave us cheesecake.  She pulled it out of the freezer where each triangular piece was individually wrapped and frozen in aluminum foil, and she tossed each frozen piece out on the table like she was dealing cards.  I think she was over it … over everything by then.
  • When she was in the rest home, we arrived there one evening, and she told me I was late for dinner. Then, she asked her aide, “Buttons”, to go down to the kitchen and get the manicotti out of the oven for me.
  • When she was really sick and wouldn’t take her pills, only Leslie could talk her into it. Somehow, being a friend and present willingly gave Leslie more influence than anyone else.
  • Thelma met her great-granddaughter when Elizabeth was in fourth grade and nine years old. She was well enough to know who she was, but could never remember her name. She ended up calling her “Bridget” or “the girl”. 
  • Right up until the end, Thelma would get raging infections that dragged her to death's door and land her in the hospital. Then, she'd wake up the next day fit as a fiddle asking when breakfast was. She blew away more nurses that way.

Thelma and I on Fulton Street
San Francisco 1986
Thelma died in her sleep a year ago this June, and oddly, I feel like she’s still with me.  I don’t miss her the way I think I should.  Maybe it was because I got used to her being so far away in body and mind over the last five years.  Maybe it’s because she’ll always be with me in spirit.

Whatever the case, she was awesome in her way, and I appreciate everything she did.

Happy Mother’s Day, Thelma, wherever you are!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Positive Change is a Good Thing All Around

This is the first in a series of blogposts about my weight loss surgery. You can see the second post here

I’ve lost ten pounds in the last month incorporating the advice from my bariatric surgeon and the nutritionist I’m seeing.  The entire process is moving very quickly!  It took me longer to decide to have the surgery than it’s taken to get everything lined up. Now, I’m just waiting for the insurance approval before getting scheduled.  That seems ironic.

My first appointment with the bariatric surgeon was on March 30.  I was very nervous and experienced a week’s worth of drama and “deep thought” prior to going.  The doctor has a good bedside manner, however, and in spite of having to wait an extra hour for him to finish his rounds, the appointment was a good one. I felt better.  The real action started after I saw the nutritionist. She helped me understand some of the changes I had to make to get my metabolism working in the right direction and to get used to new eating habits. 

You see, this surgery isn’t a cure for morbid obesity.  It’s a tool.  Without the institution of new habits, better habits, the surgery itself will eventually be useless. 

I’ve elected to have “the gastric sleeve”, which is one of three recommended surgeries for obesity.  First, there is the usual gastric bypass, wherein the stomach is made smaller, and a portion of the small intestines are bypassed. So, you get less food in your stomach, and your body, particularly after surgery, doesn’t absorb all of what you’re eating.  The nutritionist today told me that eventually the body adjusts to this, so what you eat really does matter, particularly in the long run.  Second, there is the lap-band. You’ve probably seen this one on television. The doctor puts a band around the top part of your stomach, limiting how much your stomach can take.  Weight loss is very gradual because first you have to heel before the band can be tightened. That is done by slowly injecting silicone or something that makes the opening to the stomach smaller.  There’s actually a port right under the skin on your belly for that purpose (which kind of creeps me out).  The last one, “the sleeve”, is when the doctor actually removes the largest part of your stomach leaving a small “sleeve” or sort of thumb size pouch.  You can’t eat as much, not near as much before you are full, so what you eat REALLY matters if you’re going to get the right amount of nutrients.  The surgeon considers each of these a permanent procedure.  He’s going to do the procedure laparoscopically.  He’s an expert.  And he’s going to do it through my belly button (which also kinds of creeps me out).

I was able to make positive changes to my diet and consequently how I felt right away.  About two weeks before seeing the surgeon I did a food diary that blew my mind. I was eating whatever I wanted which amounted to lots and lots of carbs, and I felt like crap. But I was trapped by the carb loop, eating and being hungry shortly thereafter … eat and repeat.  Awareness of that helped me make change. I had to see it for myself.  So, after visiting the surgeon, I eliminated processed/refined carbs and sugar from my diet completely.  I lost four pounds.

When I visited the nutritionist next, I learned more good things.  I learned how important it is to eat at the table, that the body loves habits, and putting a placemat around meal time helps.  I also learned that eating in front of the television or computer is a very bad habit because it interferes with your brain’s ability to put food in the right place.  It also keeps you numb to your body’s signals.  I’m chewing my food to liquid and putting my fork down in between bites.  I learned about “trigger foods” or the foods to stay away from because habitually you go back again and again for more.  It is very important to eliminate snacks between meals, as well, because of the insulin and hormonal cycles around digestion.  When you eat, your body creates a surge of insulin.  Then during the next few hours, hormones kick in to properly digest.  When you eat all day or graze, you never give yourself a chance to properly digest!  Too much insulin!  And then you’re not supposed to eat right before bed because it messes up the sleep hormones.  I never knew any of this, not in a way that became personal, but boy it sure rang true to me.  Today, I weighed in at the nutritionist and have lost a total of 10 pounds creating new habits around food.

Leslie is totally on board with this, and in fact, she’s lost 16 pounds in a month and a half doing the same thing I’m doing. She won’t have the bariatric surgery, but she’s on the right track, and is in full support of us all making positive change to our eating habits.  Elizabeth is completely on board, as well, and has waited for us to make this change for a long time.  She’s very proud, and that feels great.

I think one of the biggest miracles in all of this is how eating around the table positively affects our family.  Elizabeth has been super busy with the drama club at school. She’s working the spot light for their musical, is in rehearsals most of the week, had Star testing, and is still jugging the homework and usual end of the year pressure.  But when we all sit around the table, she talks, we talk, and it’s like we all get grounded somehow. Then the rest of the evening is harmonious and pleasant. 

I can’t get over it.

This positive change is a good thing all around!

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