Loss-A Story of Bariatric Surgery & Divorce

November 6, 2012

Loss-A Story of Bariatric Surgery & Divorce
by Jasmine Myers
OH Username: princess j

I was the perfect candidate for bariatric surgery. I was going to shed 200 pounds, become a Victoria’s Secret model, and live happily ever after with my wonderful husband David.*  I successfully lost 200 pounds, but I didn’t become a model and I ended up getting a divorce. Did bariatric surgery ruin my marriage? To answer that, let me back up.

At 22 years old, I weighed 343 pounds, more than 200 pounds over my recommended weight. I’d spent a lifetime being overweight, losing a bit from each new diet trend only to gain back even more. At the time I made the decision to have surgery, I promised myself I’d follow every ounce of advice, heed every warning given me by doctors and nutritionists. I wouldn’t be a statistic; I wouldn’t gain back the weight. And I was true to my word, except I didn’t account for one little thing.

They told me bariatric surgery could put a lot of pressure on a marriage. I remember hearing the divorce numbers and thinking there’s no way that could ever happen to me. It wasn’t even something I needed to consider. That was the kind of thing that happened to other people, not to me. Not to us. Obviously, this was the kind of thing I still told myself when I was not yet old enough to recognize all of my perfectly imperfect humanness.

David and I met in the summer of 2001, just before a couple acts of terror would change our world forever. He lived only a few miles from the house where I grew up, but we met online. I was drawn to David because he made me feel so comfortable. I’d spent so much of my life trying to fit into a thinner girl’s mold and he seemed to accept me exactly as I was.

What I was, was obese. At the time we met, I was around 225 pounds. When we married two years later, I was closer to 275 pounds. (In case you were wondering, a hand-beaded size 28 wedding dress costs a small fortune.) We were married as the sun sunk into the hills on October 11, 2003.

Less than two years later, on May 2, 2005, Dr. Christine Gupta performed my roux-en-y gastric bypass surgery at St. Vincent’s Bariatric Center of Excellence in Carmel, Ind. It was my re-birthday, as they call it, and I was ecstatic and terrified all at once. As they wheeled me toward surgery, I met David’s helpless eyes and I sent out a silent plea. Help us get through this.

I’ve wondered many times what my life might have been had I not chosen to get that surgery. Many people have asked me if I’d still be married to David if I’d never lost 200 pounds. The answer is probably.

So, did bariatric surgery ruin my marriage? How you answer that depends on how you think about things. If you are the kind of person who blames the bearer of bad news, then the answer is a definitive yes. Gastric bypass was just the messenger and I’d venture to say that’s true for every marriage supposedly “destroyed” by weight loss surgery.

I’ve had many emails from fellow OH’ers asking, almost pleading, why my marriage failed. They want to know specifically why, and I understand. They are hoping for some sort of code they can plug in to reveal all the answers and prevent the demise of their own marriage. They want to put the blame on me, for getting a big head and thinking I was too good for my husband, or on David, for not being able to “handle” me as a thin woman. I wish it had been one of those things, that would have made it so simple. These are the kinds of reasons people understand a neat 2 + 2 = 4 that explains everything and guarantees it would never happen to them.

The truth is that David stood by me through the entire process. He was with me in the beginning when I weighed 225 pounds and when I hit my highest weight of 343 pounds. When I reached 142 pounds, he was with me then too.

So, what’s the deal?

People get divorced for a lot of different reasons. For me, divorce came down to a realization of choices. I grew up in a small Midwestern town. There’s a reason people call small town life “simple.” You know your neighbors; they know you. The cashier greets you by name at the grocery store and God forbid you do anything wrong, because your parents will know about it within the hour. What most people don’t say, though, is that what makes it so simple is a lack of options. If you want take-out, you get a pepperoni pizza from the pizza place or crab rangoon from the Chinese joint.

Choices complicate life. The more choices a person has, the more thinking he or she has to do. We begin to barter one business against the next to get the lowest price or the best service or the biggest size. Your access to choices (or lack thereof) helps determine your personality.

Being fat limits you, yes. But being fat may also cause you to limit yourself.

I don’t mean to say that overweight people scrape the bottom of the barrel to find their mates. In fact, you might not have even been overweight when you met and married. I was, but still this isn’t true for everyone.

What I’m talking about is the sudden shift that occurs when you go from having few choices to having many. It changes you. Drastically. When the world opened up for me, I discovered all sorts of new things about myself. I actually like – scratch that – love to shop for clothes, but I’ll happily wear the same pair of flip flops for three years. I am ridiculously addicted to Starbucks green tea lattes, non-fat, no syrup, please. I like to dance, drink cheap shots, and occasionally act like a fool while doing so. These are all things I didn’t know about myself back when I weighed 343 pounds and they’re certainly things David didn’t know when he married me. Yet, that dear sweet man didn’t stand up and say, “I sure as hell didn’t bargain for this!” and hit the door. Rather, he tried to find a way to incorporate all these new facets of me into us. And it almost worked, except that these things were only the tip of the iceberg.

Spending a small fortune each month at my favorite coffee empire and shopping in the juniors section aren’t usually the kinds of issues that crumble the foundation of a marriage anyway. It’s the other stuff, the things I began to realize in small flashes that grew larger and larger. I’d be driving to work and hear a song that reminded me of the young girl I once was and it would manifest as a lump in my throat that I could barely swallow even with a big swallow of Starbucks. I remembered the girl who wrote poetry on napkins or torn slips of notebook paper so I wouldn’t forget them before I got home from school. Or the girl who watched Dirty Dancing over and over again nearly every day for an entire summer at my grandmother’s just because I swore that devilishly handsome bad boy Johnny must be exactly the kind of man I was supposed to marry. I started to see my small world for what it was, and then almost simultaneously, I started to see everything else. The only thing I want to do with my life is write, and somehow I’d forgotten this. I need to live near the ocean, where my vision and dreams can go as far as the eye can see. I want a crazy, ridiculous, passionate marriage, and I’m attracted to the kind of deep thinking that challenges me more often than it accepts me.

These realizations and many others were earth shattering mostly because they didn’t match with the marriage I had, nor the husband I’d married.  At first, I wanted to take all these new aspects of myself and bring them into my old life, lay them at the feet of my husband for him to admire and adopt. But no one wants your “you-ness” imposed on them. Nor do they want to wait around while you sort through the different pieces and parts. What they want – and what they won’t say, of course – is for all the things they loved, cherished, and adored about you to remain exactly the same, while all the things they didn’t love just melt away (in my case) with the pounds. Most assuredly, they realize that this won’t be the case, at least not exactly. David didn’t expect everything to stay the same. In fact, he wholeheartedly hoped that I’d change, that I’d be able to do more than walk up and down a grocery aisle without getting so out of breath I had to sit down. He wanted us to go on long walks, to go on vacation, to enjoy life without having to drag me behind him like a cast iron anchor at the bottom of a choppy sea. He wanted change, but he didn’t expect, though, that the person I was – at a fundamental level – would change so drastically or that within a year of the surgery our ships would already be drifting slowly apart. I didn’t expect it either, but that’s precisely what happened. And the worst pain of all was when I realized that I had no one to blame but myself. I was the one who had limited my life. I had closed myself off in a box, building my world as fast as I could, and I told myself I wouldn’t miss all the experiences I never had.

Except, I was wrong.

I did miss it. I wrote about my hunger for life in cryptic poems, in journals that I’d then shove to the back of a drawer. I would flood pages with longing, then put them away and forget about it. After all, I could always eat away my sorrows.

That is, until the surgery, when I could no longer eat much of anything.

Gastric bypass blew my system of coping sky high. As I lost more and more weight, it became impossible to ignore the loneliness I’d been harboring for years. Honestly, I tried hard not to see. I wanted nothing more than to escape the realization that was dawning.

I was not the person I thought I was. Worse, I was not the person my husband thought I was. I was someone else that I didn’t know. It was like waking in the wrong body, in the wrong house, and looking around to ask, “Whose life is this?”

It was mine, carefully erected. I had built four walls to hold me in, and then I constructed the only life I could within those confines. I saw later that I’d built an anthill-sized life in the space of a football stadium.

I’ve always considered it rather cliché when people talk about “finding themselves,” but that’s exactly what I needed to do. I needed to figure out who I was without the fat. So, I left. We called it a “trial separation,” but it didn’t take me long to realize that the process of self-discovery takes a while, maybe forever. A few months after I left, I filed for divorce. Eight months after that, I loaded up my car and drove from our hometown in Indiana, where I’d lived all my life, to San Diego, California, a place I’d never even visited. I imagined it to be a place of endless sunshine, where nobody would know me as the girl that used to be fat, and I could be whoever I wanted to be. And I was exactly right.

Today, I live with my new husband who married me with the knowledge that I am still becoming the woman I always intended to be and with the understanding that doing so takes a lifetime. We live just a few miles from the ocean and I work as a writer. I’m living the dream I almost forgot I had. I still love shopping for clothes, wearing old flip flops, and drinking those delectably addictive green tea lattes, thankfully dancing, cheap shots, and acting foolish didn’t stick. I’m still trying to reconcile the old with the new and I add to my repertoire every day, but this time it’s with my eyes on a limitless blue ocean and a horizon that goes on and on and on.

*Name changed to protect his privacy.