10.15.17 When I made up my mind
I began writing this on an American Airlines flight from McAllen, Texas to Dallas-Fort Worth Airport. I was returning from a book festival in South Texas. I write teen fiction and recently completed co-writing a creative nonfiction book for trauma survivors. My name is Beth Fehlbaum. My books are Courage in Patience, Hope in Patience, Truth in Patience (The Patience Trilogy); Big Fat Disaster, and Trauma Recovery: Sessions With Dr. Matt.
I know what I want to write in this defining piece; I know that I began creating a website for this “project” last night in my hotel room; and I know that what I am writing is likely to become a book of some sort, whether it be an exercise in self-reflective navel-gazing—something I’ll write just to see if I can do it—or perhaps I will, as I am wont to do, work out my shit through teen characters.
Or at least try to.
Or, maybe, I want to live this journey publicly; to force myself into what I have lost in a very important way: authenticity.
That word: AUTHENTICITY, is, for lack of a better term, my calling card. Jennifer Brown, who wrote the wonderful book, Hate List, is one of my favorite authors. She once said, “Beth Fehlbaum writes without looking over her shoulder.” In other words, I strive to be “real” in my writing—to not shy away from hard truths, from using real-life language; from being bold—not for shock value—but because I know too well the hell so many kids endure, and even though it’s been a good 35 years-plus since the day I stood in our living room, pointed a shaky finger at my alcoholic narcissistic stepfather, and announced, “Since I was 8 years old, he’s been molesting me,” that kind of dysfunction still happens in too many homes. Every time I visit a school, at the end of each presentation, I usually have at least two kids come up to me, lean in, and whisper their truths to me. I also teach teens. I see. I hear. I am told their truths, too. I respect their truths too much to shy away from subjects and the way I talk about them, which tells the truth.
I worked in therapy for a long time to learn to be “real” in my life. I want to be “real” with others. I fought long and hard to become an authentic person; one who refuses to play “Let’s Pretend,” as in, “Let’s Pretend Nothing Bad Ever Happened in Our House,” a reference to the years of sexual abuse I endured at the hands of my stepfather and my mother’s refusal to deal with it when I, a 14 year old, told her what had been going on for 6 years. The “Let’s Pretend” game includes the ensuing decades of telling myself that I wasn’t an anxiety-plagued wreck who soothed myself with food. . . even though “soothing myself” equaled binges fueled by an electric compulsion. I could remember the start and end, but what happened in-between was a blur.
The ending of a binge was—and to this day—is—notable for the inevitable overwhelming tsunami of shame and self-hatred for “eating the way I do.”
I thought I had this beat. I really thought so. I lost about a hundred pounds when I was first in therapy—early in the first decade of the new millennium. But I’ve been stuck in a relapse for months now, and that relapse began nudging at me within about a year of finishing therapy.
Snail-like at first, it crept up on me, occasionally sinking its claws in and hanging on like a stubbornly affixed tick, taking and taking while I acted as if regaining weight didn’t bother me much. If I didn’t mention it, or if I dressed in a certain way, I told myself that it wasn’t really noticeable.
I’ve been lying to myself about how bad it is. How much my body is struggling under the weight I’ve put back on it.
Binge Eating Disorder is a mind fuck. There’s just no other way to describe it.
In South Texas for the book festival, I, a person who was once so terrified of public speaking that I choked on my own saliva when I called into a country radio station to speak to the deejay on air, gave several talks for audiences of teenagers, their teachers, and school librarians. I’ve been at it a while—this public speaking thing—and I’ve been told by other authors who’ve been doing school visits for years that I’m pretty good at it.
When I’m presenting my program, I’m very honest about my connection to The Patience Trilogy (Courage in Patience, Hope in Patience, and Truth in Patience), and to my other teen novel, Big Fat Disaster. The Patience Trilogy recounts the journey of a teen girl, Ashley, and essentially portrays the arc of recovery from Childhood Sexual Abuse (CSA). I wrote The Patience Trilogy over the span of several years as I worked with a clinical psychologist named Dr. Matt Jaremko. He taught me about authenticity; about living in what I call “The Light of Truth.”
Matt taught me to love the parts of myself that are fierce, and honest, and true. These qualities are reflected in my writing and in my close relationships.
The fictional CSA survivor Ashley’s experiences of recovery very much parallel my own, right down to her fictional therapist, Scott “Dr. Matt” Matthews. The inspiration for his character is Dr. Matt E. Jaremko. I recently completed writing a book with Dr. Jaremko: Sessions With Dr. Matt: Narratives of Hope and Resilience for Victims with PTSD (releasing from Ayni Books sometime in mid-2018.) The intensive therapeutic relationship I had with Dr. Jaremko brought with it a sense of accountability, and that included what I put in my mouth and making a point to exercise. This feeling of being accountable to him on a weekly basis was never something we explicitly agreed upon; it came from inside of me.
Big Fat Disaster is the story of the very overweight Colby Denton, a binge-eating teenager whose life implodes when her so-called “perfect” family implodes. The disgust Colby’s mom feels for her daughter’s body type only multiplies when Colby turns to food to numb her emotions. If the disgust Colby’s mom feels for her daughter could be visualized as a steaming pile of cow shit, the disgust Colby feels for herself would be a 1-ton truck of that steaming stuff.
Like I said before, Binge Eating Disorder is a mind fuck.
I’m quite animated in my talks with teens, and that includes acting out a scene from Big Fat Disaster in which the morbidly obese main character, Colby, attempts to pull on way-too-small jeans. Think: what it looks like when someone pulls on panty hose that are either too small or the crotch stubbornly refuses to be elevated beyond mid-thigh level. I hike one leg up then the other, shimmy-shimmy-shimmy, arch back as if I’m trying to pull up the zipper, and even mime putting a coat hanger handle through the hole in the zipper and mention laying back on a bed to attempt to get that mother-effing zipper to agree to close over my stubborn gut. Haven’t actually stretched out on the floor to act that one out. Yet.
The girls in the audience—and I am including the adult women in that term—laugh and nod knowingly, while the boys’ eyes are huge, and it’s hard to tell if the grimaces on their faces are ones of trepidation or glee at watching a middle-aged woman contort herself into such shapes.
Then they all gasp in horror when I tell them that while Colby was doing her “jeans dance”—trying to pull on the only clothes her mom could afford after they lost everything—someone was filming Colby through her broken window blinds.
And the video ends up on Facebook.
And it goes viral.
And Colby wants to die.
These kids may not all have an understanding of Binge Eating Disorder, but they understand public humiliation and how greatly they fear it.
I follow this shocking plot twist with something like this:
I know the jeans dance looks funny. I want you to think about this: when you came into this room to take your seats, and you saw me for the first time, you made a judgment. Right or wrong, positive or negative, fair or not, you judged me based on what I look like.
We all do that: judge each other based on what we look like.
I told you when I introduced you to Big Fat Disaster that the book was about a Fat Girl. But it’s not. Big Fat Disaster is about TRUTH, and who we really are. When I set out to write Big Fat Disaster, I wanted to explore WHO we are under our skin. What is our worth? I wanted to figure that out, because at one time I was a lot smaller than I am now.
I had lost 100 pounds, and I began gaining it back, and I was trying to figure out WHY, after all the time I spent in therapy learning to NOT hate myself; to NOT have that voice in my head telling me I wasn’t worthy of love, that just because I regained some weight, I was NOW having those negative thoughts about myself again.
What. Is. Our. Worth? What and who are we under our skins?
So I make this speech about all of us being worthy of love and acceptance and value, and I give the impression that even though I’m a “big girl” again, I’m okay with it. And then I see photos of myself from this very same presentation and THOSE THOUGHTS: those self-hating “Oh my God I didn’t realize I was that big again” THOUGHTS are screaming loudly in my head and
Because in that moment, I have a real hard time hearing self-affirming words inside my head because of the hypercritical venom that is drowning them out.
But that’s not the moment I made the decision I have made: to have gastric sleeve surgery.
The moment I made that decision, which I’ve been mulling for a long time, was when my hips hurt so badly just walking through the airport that I am limping. And limping. And limping. They hurt when I walk down the hall at school, and they hurt when I lay in bed at night, and I’m tired of my hips hurting, and I know why they hurt, and I need to do something to take care of myself so I can live the life I want to live. I am inspired by the success my eldest daughter has had with gastric sleeve surgery: her transformation and improvement in her health is nothing short of miraculous, and the decision my middle daughter made to pursue the same.
Aside from the above motivations, this decisive moment also has to do with months of my husband shoving me awake—multiple times—when I stop breathing in my sleep. The sleep apnea that I had years ago—then no longer had, once I lost weight—until I hit some sort of weight threshold—is back.
I want to do something for myself to radically support my determination to break this cycle.
I call this website “The Biggest Liar” because that’s what Binge Eating Disorder is, to me. It’s The Biggest Liar. I when I am lost in a relapse, I am the The Biggest Liar to myself, because I pretend that what I’m doing is not a big deal…or I disconnect completely and pop back into my life when the shame seeps into my awareness.
I am writing out this journey—as I am wont to do—as a way of holding myself accountable and being authentic.
As I wrap up writing this, it’s October 18: three days after I began recording my thoughts on an American Eagle flight early the morning of the 15th. I’ve written and rewritten this to say what I’ve said here in a way I can look at it and say, “Now I’m being real. This is who I am. This is the person I found long ago, when I learned how to live without numbing what hurt or felt anxious to me, with foods I had learned were triggers. Somewhere along the line, The Biggest Liar convinced me that it wasn’t so bad, and I could eat like other people, and getting heavy was just part of getting older, or that the meds I take for my chronic migraines were the cause…of course it wasn’t 3 or 5 or 7 or 10 vanilla Oreo cookies…or was it more?
Yeah, I won’t lie.
It was more.
A few more things: I’m utilizing Leora Fulvio’s Reclaiming Your Life from Binge Eating—both her book and workbook—for writing prompts, as well as a couple of other books I’ll list under the “Books I Mention Here” tab. That’s where the majority of blog posts will come from, in addition to observations on this journey.
I honestly don’t care if anyone reads this but me. I’m putting this here to document the journey that I began today by consulting with Dr. Malladi, a bariatric surgeon in Dallas, and scheduling four months’ worth of appointments (and that’s just the start) that will lead up to the surgery, which I am hoping to have mid-March, 2018.
If anyone else is reading this and you are also on this journey, welcome.