To the Man Who Will Eventually Love Me – Post #4

So, I do this writing thing from time to time and occasionally it comes out as what I can only explain as my sorry attempt at poetry. I had an amazing phone interview today with Bold Magazine (www.boldzine.com) and one of the unscripted topics we discussed revolved around dating. Let’s face it, dating is hard. No matter your age, size, color or gender, dating well, to put it mildly, just sucks. Navigating this weight loss thing is tough, but navigating my way towards love? Psh, that seems like an impossibility at times.

After my divorce back in 2015, I found that reentering the dating world was a nightmare. Most of the time the old cliche rang true: “Men only want one thing.” Other times though, men wanted to drop the big “L” bomb after only a few short dates. Luckily, the latter admittedly happened way less often, but those are the ones that creeped me out the most. But what I learned about myself post-divorce was a bit more unsettling than even the strangest of dating encounters.

First, let me preface this with one simple fact about divorce – Just like childhood, no one escapes a marriage unscathed. Even if you ended it as cordially as possible, there are still reasons it ended and there will inevitably be that proverbial “baggage” that gets left behind as you move forward in life. Most of my baggage resulted in a major lack of confidence and self-worth. Now, some of this I can easily blame on things outside of my marriage, but a number of toxic ideals I clung to were based on things that were uttered to me at one time or another throughout our almost 8 years together. Once it ended, I realized I had been playing these hurtful words on repeat and in surround-sound in my head since the moment they escaped his mouth. While I can say now my own behavior was equally inadmissible at many moments in our marriage, I can see now that this tendency to cling to negative comments not only led to the demise of my relationship, but also to the major collapse of my self-esteem.

In this poem, I highlight my struggles of feeling worthy of love and it chronicles my incessant desire to place unnecessary warning labels on my forehead that say “Buyer beware!” I wrote this in a time and place where I felt like “damaged goods” and truly unsure of whether or not all of my flaws left me capable of being loved. My hope today is to reach others who have ever felt the same way. I’m here to remind you (and myself) that you are not alone in the battle to find love – Both for yourself and from others. It is a battle I’m fighting every day and I can promise you it’s TOTALLY worth it.

 

Dear Man Who Will Eventually Love Me,
Hi there.
Where? Where do I start?
Well, my name is Chrissy.
And I guess the first thing you should know,
is that I am broken.
And when I say broken, I don’t mean that I’m a discounted, yardsale puzzle with a corner-piece missing.
I mean I am a weathered old window torn from a southern Baptist Church after a category five rips through its rafters.
I am, as I’ve so eloquently described myself,
a hot mess.
I think it’s only fair you should know that I have loved before.
Once for sure, maybe one other time after that.
Which I suppose begs the question, what is a maybe kind of love anyway?
Anyway.
Have you ever loved someone so flawed you lose yourself to their chaos?
I have.
I don’t know where my madness ended and his began.
Two bodies and lives tangled together.
We were a couple pairs of cheap headphones, jumbled in a single pocket full of resentment, bitterness and terrible choices.
So, I guess what I’m trying to say is I’ve made a few mistakes.
I’ve laid in the arms of another man, simply to feel desirable again.
I’ve drank to excess a time or two, grasping at razors hoping they were straws.
My insecurities know no bounds.
You should know that too.
I’ll silently beg you to tell me I’m beautiful, but my eyes will constantly whisper I’m OK.
And if I say that I’m OK, you should know that I am not OK.
And I don’t lie often. I despise liars.
But sometimes, my mouth speaks too soon.
It’s as if I’m trying to figure out what I’m really trying to say while the words are still falling off my tongue.
I’m sensitive.
Sometimes too little, but often far too much.
And I’ll ask you to hold me, sometimes multiple times a day.
Because I know what it feels like to lie in an empty bed, pulling a pillow close, aching to feel something other than alone.
And I am lonely.
Sometimes I’m lonely in a crowded room.
It’s the kind of lonely that creeps in at 2am and screams obscene reminders in my ear about that one time Marie “so-and-so” from sophomore year wondered a bit too loudly how your parents could possibly ever let you get
that
fat.
Yeah, you should know I’ve got demons.
I can’t even pretend we don’t know each other well.
I built a fort out of all those insecurities,
tacked some low standards on the the walls and
taped it all together with secondhand band-aids.
The accommodations in there are deplorable, but I guess it didn’t stop them from moving in.
I’ve posted eviction notices time and time again,
but it seems they mostly just sit there, laughing in my face,
drinking from my half-empty glass
and giving me excuses why it’s me that really needs them!
But, I guess if you really do love me, you’ll just have to learn to live with them too.
Or maybe you won’t.
I can’t blame you. They’re assholes anyway.
Anyway.
I guess I should also mention I’m sort of afraid of everything.
Well, mostly everything.
Because I’m not afraid of the dark and I don’t mind squishing a spider or two.
But let you see me?
Really see me,
In all my nakedness and vulnerability?
Those are the kinds of thoughts that beg me to sleep through day just to numb the ache, but then keep me and my midnight demons company while I wrestle the cold spots under the sheets on countless hollow nights.
So, I write this to you as a warning.
I’m an enigma, dipped in complication and hastily gift-wrapped in pure-fucking-delight.
I don’t know what’s wrong with you, because obviously you’re clinically insane.
But know this –
I make an excellent little spoon.
I’m a pretty cheap date.
And I’ll have a hard time remembering your birthday too.
So, man who will eventually love me,
Yeah, I’m broken.
But these broken pieces will always choose love.
Love,
Me

The Letter that Started it All – Post #3

So, I’ve decided to do it. I’m posting “The Letter.” This is the letter that started it all. I didn’t know when I wrote it anyone would ever see it. I never even went back to read it once it was finished. The words too real, too vulnerable.  This was written in a very dark and dreary place. Months after it was written, another heavy episode of anxiety and depression kicked in and my Mom, hoping to it might provide some emotional release, asked to read it – Maybe it could express what I had a hard time putting into words at the moment. I sent it, knowing it couldn’t possibly hurt worse than it already did. We had a long discussion after this, debating how to help save me. I was checked out and with my blessing, she was given full range to forward it to whomever she would like. This is the full length version of the original letter – Edited minimally for clarity. (It’s lengthy, so readers beware.)

To Whom it May Concern:

My name is Christina Dunham. I’m 30 years old and the last time I stepped on a scale large enough to weigh me, I was 525 pounds. As a woman who is strong, a bit stubborn and fiercely independent, this plea comes with the utmost humility and humbleness – I need help. Let me start from the beginning. 

Much of my childhood is vague and blurred. The ugly bits of trauma are stashed somewhere deep in my subconscious, held down with copious amounts of food and guilt. By the time I was six years old I was already considered morbidly obese and by the time I was 12, I’d already tipped the scales at well over 300 pounds. I no longer felt like a child, but a spectacle. As high school began, the weight began to pile on at an even more alarming rate. Diagnosed with anxiety disorder, it completely debilitated me both emotionally and physically. It became more and more difficult to maneuver in my world and was constantly in pain, but I was always hiding behind a forced smile. I was the likable, yet stereotypical “fat, funny girl” who always made a point to make you laugh first, because that way, you couldn’t laugh at her only with her. 

After a long, tumultuous relationship with my Dad turned incredibly sour, I found myself homeless my senior year of high school. Up until this point, I had been a straight-A student. My junior year I was accepted into our community college for dual-enrollment, planning to jump-start my lofty career goals. This plan collapsed underneath me and I ended up couch surfing the remainder of my high school career, scraping together enough credits in after-school classes in order to graduate on time. I lived off food-stamps, a meager part-time job and the good nature of friends. After graduation, I found the first full-time job that would hire me and a studio apartment furnished with nothing but outdoor furniture and a mattress on the floor. 
It was in all of these moments, food was my escape. In the early years, perhaps out of boredom, but then it turned ugly and it became out of pure necessity – Because even when all else failed, I still had the dollar menu.

By the time I reached 21 I was well over 400 pounds. I fell in love with the first man who loved me in spite of my weight, but it wasn’t enough to pacify my addiction to food. By 23 I was married and topped the scale at 500 pounds. For the first time in my adult life, I had medical insurance. By 24, I crashed dieted to 450 pounds to qualify for LapBand surgery. By 25 I was sick every single day. Nothing I ate stayed down and shockingly, I made it 403 pounds. Regardless of what I ate, I never made it below that weight. By the time I was 27, I gave up – On weight loss and on my marriage. In a matter of months, my husband left, I was consistently sick or in pain and I was utterly depressed, and my weight ballooned back to 460 pounds. I was alone again in a world that terrified me. I didn’t know life could get any harder. 

In November of 2015, I had strange bouts of unexplained chest pressure. Convinced it was my irrational anxiety getting the best of me, I ignored it for weeks. Finally, after feeling odd for an entire month I went to the walk-in clinic. All my tests came back normal. I explained to the attending doctor my symptoms one last time. Pressing my hand into my chest, right on the breast bone I explained that it just feels like a constant, uncomfortable pressure, as if something was pushing on me all the time. He sits on his rolling stool, calmly glides next to my bed, looks me straight in the eye and tells me these words I’ll never forget: “There is something pressing on you. It’s the rest of you.” I don’t remember much of the conversation after this, but do remember gathering my belongings as quickly as I could and sauntered to my car as fast as my body would allow. Breathless and exasperated, I fell into the front seat and sobbed. 

As I pulled myself together over the coming weeks, I tried to put this experience into perspective. Still having difficulty breathing, I watched what I ate very carefully. I lost weight rapidly and in 6 weeks managed to lose 30 pounds. Then the aches set in worse than before and my breaths became even more shallow. My friends were convinced this was not normal for me and noticing this steady decline, urged me to go to the emergency room. At their incessant prodding I once again found myself in a hospital bed, this time staring at an x-ray of what was explained to me was an enlarged heart. I was too big to fit in any of the scanning machines, but from what they could tell, it was likely “CHF.” Being in the medical field, I was familiar with this terrifying acronym – Congestive Heart Failure. What?!? But I’m 28 years old! 28-year-olds don’t have heart failure! I was told that it was extremely rare, but most likely caused by my severe obesity. I was referred to my primary doctor for follow-up the following week.

As I made my way in to see my doctor, I’d grown increasingly uncomfortable. Everything is difficult. He explains that we’d do some preliminary tests, but he’s sure this pain I’m experiencing is merely acid reflux, probably brought on by the way I eat. I go home, tired of doctors and convinced that I just must be crazy. The following week the fevers started. I ate ibuprofen and Tylenol like they were candy, just to find any sort of relief. I couldn’t walk to the bathroom without sitting down halfway there. I could only lay on my left side, if I tried any other position I was on fire. It went on like this for a week, but I refused to see any more doctors. My sister, checking on me, panicked and called in for reinforcement. My mom, rushing from out of state, drove me to the hospital the next day. Refusing to leave without answers, they finally admitted me on February 29th, 2016 – Almost 3 months after this ordeal began. At 7am the next morning, I was woken by a tech doing an echo-cardiogram, a simple ultrasound procedure. Within minutes, nurses and doctors rushed into my room. Terrified out of my mind, I asked what was going on. The doctor explained that I was going to ICU, I was going to be scheduled for immediate surgery – I had massive amounts of fluid on my heart, a condition I was later told was called a pericardial effusion. As I lay in the ICU, I vaguely remember being stripped naked by half a dozen sets of hands as they prepped me for surgery, but I do remember all the questions that rolled around in my head. How did this happen? Why was this not detected sooner? How serious is this? Am I going to die? As the surgeon appeared, my first question I blurted to him, “Did this happen because I’m fat?” A kind look in his eyes, he answered with a resounding, “No. This is a case of bad luck mixed with the incredible misfortune of being overlooked far too long.” 

It was on that day they made an 8-inch incision between my breasts, lifted my rib cage and cut a small “window” from the sac surrounding my heart. In a space designed for around 2 tablespoons of fluid, the doctor removed almost 2 liters of fluid off my heart. My surgeon told me had I waited another week, it was very possible my heart would have simply stopped beating from all the pressure and I would have been gone. For months, my heart was slowly suffocating and I was brushed off time and time again because all the doctors saw was just another fat girl with a heart problem. 

On the evening of my final day in the hospital, my mom sat at my bedside. Crying for the first time since this all began, I told her I wanted to be done. Done with fighting and done with life. I’ve fought and clawed every single moment of my life to make something of myself, but I will never win this battle. There is no light at the end of my tunnel, there is no silver lining in any of my clouds. She held my hand and we cried together. After a long silence, she told me something that still rings in my head: “Every cloud has it’s silver lining, sometimes you just have to add your own sparkle.” 

I tell you all of this, not to tell you how awful my life has been, but to paint a portrait of woman who has known heartbreak, rejection, pain and fear…But one who has also known perseverance, kindness, courage and determination. I am a full-time employee and full-time college student. I pride myself on getting up each morning and facing the day, determined not to let my body 500lb frame dictate who I will become. Unfortunately, I’ve come to realize that I just can’t do this alone. As my joints continue to wobble underneath me, as hygiene becomes near impossible and as I continually debate facing the world because I no longer physically fit inside it, I concede to my own limitations and ask for help. More than anything, I want to be a mother. I want to fall in love. Heck, I’d love to just be able to buckle a seat belt again. There are so many other seemingly meaningless moments obesity steals from me each and every day and I’d just love the opportunity to capture a few of those back for the first time in my life. I truly appreciate all your time reading my rather long-winded letter and I hope I’ve captured your enough attention to consider reaching down for a hand up. I know this is a long, tumultuous journey, but if life has taught me anything so far, it’s that everything worth living for is worth fighting for! 

Sincerely, 
Christina

So, there you have it. This was the beginning of a journey that started out of utter humility and desperation – And looking back, I don’t think there is a thing that I would change. Some people have asked why I didn’t do this sooner or why it took me until 500lbs to make a lifelong change, but as any addict can tell you, you HAVE to reach rock bottom – And that’s different for everyone. All I hope to achieve with sharing my story is to inspire those who have reached the bottom and remind them that healing, health and happiness are all possible and you are allowed to have them simultaneously – Just be open, honest and willing to do whatever it takes to claim your own victory.

My story has only just begun, but I’m finally excited for a future full of possibilities!

 

When S*** Gets Real! – Post #2

Continued from Post #1:

As I sat in that van on my way to Premier Fitness Camp, my head was in a million different places. Part of me wanted to run far, far away – But the other part knew I wasn’t gonna run anywhere and that was the problem! The two hour drive took closer to five with traffic and I got a lot of time to think about the decision I’d just made. I asked a LOT of questions. My driver Tony, who was also a seasoned trainer at the camp, was gracious, kind and forever reassuring. He spent the entire trip answering the same questions I was asking, then rephrasing, then asking over and over again. “Where am I going? What does the routine look like? Are there other people there MY size?” I felt like I was being shipped off to one of those childhood fat camps and I imagined all sorts of horrible things that would happen there, just short of a full lobotomy.

26196066_10157653247713973_6807086699878191729_n

By the time we arrived it was well past 9pm and Tony, who I learned also lost a staggering 150+lbs, helped check me in for the evening. (Shameless plug: https://www.instagram.com/mindfulandfitcoach/) I firmly believe it was his passion and encouragement that got me through those first few hours. I recorded a video that night to mark the beginning of my journey, because as terrified as I was, I knew it was the start of something HUGE. Now, I haven’t had the bravery to ever watch it again, but I do remember I cried harder than I had in recent memory. (If I figure out how to edit a bit and find the willpower to watch and share that initial breakdown, I’ll be sure I share it here first!) I’d never felt so confused, excited and scared all at the same time. I was utterly lost and didn’t know what to expect from moment to moment. This was the first of many long and lonely nights.

The next morning was a Friday and I joined the group at 8am for breakfast. Newcomers always come in on Mondays, so I stuck out even more than I had anticipated. People were kind, but I could feel the stares. You’d think I’d have been used to that sort of response to my presence, because after all, people over 500lbs don’t typically go unnoticed when they enter any room. I snuck in quietly, found a mostly empty table and ate my first of many meals in the dining room. I was relieved to find breakfast was palatable, but how could anyone possible live on this little amount of food? I was deeply saddened and worried how long I could possible last in a place like this. Food was my go-to. I always said that if there was an emotion, there was a food to feed to it – And I had plenty of emotions to go around.

26001137_10157624869108973_5039497633546865121_n

I realized quickly how unprepared I was for this journey. Someone of my size doesn’t typically own a lot of clothes, let alone workout gear. I meandered through my first four days eating meals only and not partaking in exercise activities, simply because I owned absolutely nothing that was appropriate for exercise and was flat broke. Here I am, I thought, stuck in a gorgeous five-star resort in Southern California, surrounded by primarily extremely wealthy people and I’m walking my first mile in worn-out ballet flats because that’s all I owned. (Notice the shoes in the picture above?) To my surprise, The Doctors show graciously stepped in and offered to by me my first real pair of tennis shoes, professionally sized and everything! It was from here, I no longer had an excuse not to participate. The next day I officially began the hardest and longest battle I’ve ever had to face.

To say that I remember my first full day of workouts would be a lie. What I can tell you for certain, is that I’d never hurt in so many places and for so many days in a row ever in my life. I hurt in places I didn’t even know had the ability to hurt. I spent much of the first month taking the edge off with nightly doses of Epsom salt and ibuprofen. This wasn’t the “Biggest Loser” mentality, by any means. Trainers were patient and extremely kind. They modified nearly every workout to fit the limited capabilities of my frame. These were world class people who I would soon find out would be some of my biggest supporters! People ask me pretty often if the camp or the show ever put limits or requirements on my weight loss in order to continue my stay. The answer is a resounding no! In the beginning, even I had asked what was expected of me to lose. The answer was always the same: This will NEVER be about changing a number on the scale, but how you feel inside your own body and mind. I can tell you now that it took a very long time for that lesson to sink in and I’m consistently reminding myself of that very valuable little tidbit, but I’m so proud to say that I’m a little closer to understanding that a little more every day.

25446179_10157596576688973_8264299487610945277_n.jpg

 

…………………..

 

Stay tuned everyone for more on my early adventures at PFC! Also, give me a shout out on Instagram and let me know what parts of my journey you’d like to hear about next!

The Very Beginning – Post #1

December 8th, 2017 was a day that forever changed my life. This was the day that I made the decision to save my life. But let me back up a bit.

I’ve been overweight my whole life. And by overweight I don’t just mean I was a pudgy kid. I mean I was well over 300 lbs. before I even reached 7th grade. I remember being in a women’s size 20 at the age of 10. I often joke that I started out as a 10 lb. baby and never looked back. Basically, I am an overachiever. Now, don’t let the numbers fool you. I was well-liked, had plenty of friends and excelled at school. I was a pretty well-balanced and successful kid, aside from the number on the scale. There’s certainly reasons that caused my massive weight gain, but we can leave that for another blog.

By my 30th birthday in November 2017, I tipped the scales at close to 525 lbs. I was in constant pain and found just moving from room to room winded me. I avoided stairs like the plague and was constantly exhausted. However, this didn’t deter me from the rest of my life. I worked a full-time job I loved and attended college full-time as well, taking online classes to finish my psychology degree. On the outside I was the smart, funny, fat girl. On the inside, I was in constant fear. Afraid that one night I’d fall asleep and never wake up. I was terrified of who would have to find me and how on earth they’d get my body out the door. These were only a couple of my very morbid, extremely real fears that constantly took up space in my brain. So, in one of these episodes of fear, I penned the letter that later got forwarded to “The Doctors” and eventually brought me to where I am now.

Within days after sending this letter to the show I received my first phone call from the producers and another four days after this initial call, I was in Los Angeles filming my first segment of the show. The first few days of filming consisted of “back story.” The most memorable shooting moments included me, sitting uncomfortable facing two cameras, being asked some of the most probing, personal questions I’ve ever been asked. It was terrifying, painful and humiliating. I likened it to someone ripping off fresh scabs and tearing open old wounds and scars then poking at the open, festering wounds repeatedly, all while filming the entire ordeal for the world to see. It was bearing the ugliest, most insecure parts of who I am and allowing my vulnerability to shine from all of the most unflattering angles. In my head, I was painting a portrait of this poor unfortunate soul that needed to be saved – And I didn’t need saved! I couldn’t be saved! I was doing just fine on my own!

Fast forward to the in-studio portion of filming. There I sat under the bright lights, the faces of perfect strangers in an audience looking at me with pitiful eyes and feeling sorry for me. I was a deer in the headlights. I struggled to find coherent words that expressed my gratitude for this ill-advised gift. I had been offered 6 months at an all-inclusive fitness camp in beautiful Southern California. While the cameras rolled I timidly agreed to go, but not a moment after I stepped off the stage the water works began. I absolutely lost it. I sobbed, angry I was given this ultimatum. You see, with this 6 month gift comes a cost. There was no financial assistance while in camp. To put it blatantly, I had to walk away from everything. My home, my car, my job and all my other financial obligations. I had to sacrifice everything and let countless other people down if I wanted to take this opportunity. I sat in the dressing room, hysterically crying because I knew that if I said yes, everything I’d worked so hard to build for myself would be gone. Not only would it be gone, it would financially destroy me in the process. No credit. No car. No job. I had nothing in savings and without a steady income, no way to keep my life together. But as I sat there sobbing, a more terrifying thought came to mind: What if I go back home and nothing changes? I realized that I was living on a dead end street and very, very soon I would reach the end. I would have my credit, my car and my “stuff,” but I would die without ever having children, ever seeing another continent and without ever experiencing true love. What good is “stuff,” if we’re not around to enjoy it? It was on that day, I realized I’d asked for change. I had asked for something huge. I wanted to save my life and yet because it wasn’t packaged exactly like I had planned or dreamed, I was going to turn it down because it might hurt my credit. Through tear-filled eyes I agreed to go that very night. I loaded my bags into that van and headed towards my new life. It was the longest 6 months of my life…

Stay tuned for how incredible living at an all-inclusive fitness camp can help change me inside and outside!