23 years old. 300 lbs.

23 years old. 300 lbs.

I have been there. Those numbers have been mine. I did that. I became that.

I changed that. 

This week marks eight years since I had gastric bypass. This will probably be one of the most vulnerable posts I have written yet. I am discovering that now as we have finished having our children and I have lost the baby weight, that this chapter of my life is not finished. I now have to acknowledge my past, the damage I did to my body, the demon in my mind that allowed me to get to that point, and find a way to love who I am….for my beautiful daughters, for my sweet, sweet son, for me. 

To understand where I am now, you have to understand where I have been. See, I have done a really incredible job of running away from my past. I have literally moved two times across country from my past. I could not wait for the day I legally could change my name when I got married, not because I did not honor and love my family name, but because I hated the girl it represented.  There are few people who are active in my current life who know the details of who I have been. I have come to see that even my husband can never really understand, as he came into my life after I lost the weight. He will never completely know what got me to 300 lbs at just 23 years of age. I do not think most people can understand that. That reality is gut-wrenching and lonely. 

This is one of the few pictures I have of me from when I was 23.

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At 23 years old I found myself living alone in a one bedroom apartment in Peoria, Arizona. I had moved to Phoenix from New York two years prior. I had a great group of friends and was loving my career as a teacher. However, I was also clearly in a bad place in my own mind because I had allowed myself to go from being an overweight teen to a morbidly obese woman. The people at Dairy Queen knew my order. I understand that this is funny at first, but when you think about what the means and what my habits were, it is really sad. I spent all my time eating, or thinking about eating, or searching out foods to eat. I would purposefully eat the things that I knew were the worst. I was intentionally punishing myself. I knew I was not well and sought out medical help. I was diagnosed with having a Compulsive Overeating Disorder. Yes, this is a real thing.

The weight and the eating are just a physical manifestation of something much deeper. My anxiety or emotions or way of thinking was “medicated” by food. To try to start some path towards being healthy, I had to start the really tough journey of looking at myself and facing some things I did not want to face. I began seeing a therapist. This was not my first time with a therapist because I had begun facing this while in college. I thought I had it under control by the time I had moved to Phoenix and I was wrong.

I was one month post-op in this picture.

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At this time I also decided to start to look into weight loss surgery. I originally was thinking of getting a Lap Band, which in 2007 was still a very popular option. However, after attending the mandatory informational seminar at Scottsdale Bariatric, I realized that I needed to have the actual bypass done, as I felt that I needed to physically get sick if I ate foods that were not good for me, as in too many cookies or ice cream. Remember what I said about Dairy Queen?

At this same time I looked to the internet to hear other people’s stories and see if they were like mine. There were not many young women who had undergone gastric bypass that were sharing their stories. I decided to share my story in hopes of helping others. This is my first video on the topic. Turns out, over 2,000 people have watched this video. While looking at it right now, I see a comment that says “You are a very weak person for doing gastric bypass. You don’t even look that big.” If this person even knew how strong I have become.

I am sure I am not the only one who feels trapped in their own body. That this isn’t who you really are. You are someone else. If you could just get rid of the weight, the real person you really are could show.- Me. September 29, 2007

I documented my entire journey, until I had lost 122 lbs and fit my whole body into one of my pre-surgery pants. I can fit in 1 pant leg! I even documented what it was like immediately after surgery, in what has to be one of my lowest moments. As I watch these old videos, I am not proud of all the choices that I made at the time and I am sure there are people who were watching them who thought poorly of me, but I am so glad that I have them to show me how far I have come.

But, most amazingly, I have this video. I talk about meeting my husband. In this video we had only been dating a month. Watching it now, I can see how much I already loved him. I have matured and really grown into a different person since this video, as in I do not call people “asses” anymore, but I am still so grateful to have this time in my life recorded. I mean really, who loves everything about who they were in their early 20s?

In total I lost 140 lbs. After the initial shock to my system I leveled out at 120 lbs lost total and stayed steady there until having our babies.

Many people have said that I took the easy way out.

Many people have said that I did not earn it.

Many people say many things, but many people are not me.

Having this surgery brought these 5 people into my life.

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I met this incredible man because I finally had the confidence to approach a man that I had only dreamt about.

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I married this amazing man and we quickly had our three beautiful babies. I have two amazing girls who need to see their mama as a role model of health, strength, happiness, and who celebrates imperfection. I have this incredible little man who is going to grow up to be an actual man, who needs to know how to love and respect a woman for so much more than her body. Our children will know my story.

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I have finally met the woman who was behind all the weight. I am no longer trapped in my own body. I have felt what it is like to be the person who I really felt I was. I am so different than the girl I was, but in so many ways, I am the same.

That is hard.

It is hard finding a balance of embracing the good and the building blocks of the steps that make you, you, while acknowledging that there was a lot of bad, and some of the bad did not go away with the weight. Those demons are still there.

There is so much good that came out of me having had my 300 lb journey:

I know what it is like to be a person that people openly talk down about, as though you are not a person. I have been at the pool while girls loudly discussed whether or not my rear-end would fit in a chair. I have been the person who assessed the chair situation at restaurants because I did not fit in chairs with arms. I have been the person who awkwardly struggled with the seat belt on a plane but did not want to ask for a seat belt extender, so faked buckling it in. I have been the person who has lowered my own standards so far, and have done ridiculous, embarrassing things just trying to get someone to like me, or at least laugh with me. I have been there. Not many people have. This taught me empathy. 

My struggle was on the outside where everyone could see it. For many people, their struggles are on the inside, where they can hide them, but that does not mean it does not hurt the same. My struggles are now on the inside, as I am at a more “socially acceptable” weight, but the struggle, the mental battle, will forever be there. I know others have struggles.

I am perceptive and emotional about including others, treating others as a person, being kind, and having character because of my journey. This makes me a better wife, mother, teacher, friend, person. I am grateful for that.

I have learned to accept what is mine. I got myself into the situation where I weighed 300 lbs. I did that. It was not my childhood, or my parents, or my friends, or my lack of friends, or life. It was me. I fed myself. Yes, there were situations along the way that have surely impacted me, but at the end of each day I am accountable to myself.

I learned that one phone call can dramatically change your life for the good. You have the ability to make your life better. You do not have to be defined by your circumstance. You can do something about it.

And no one but you can change it. Not the well-intended friend, or the supportive family member, or the doctors. It is up to you. When you are ready, you will do something about it, but nothing will change until you really decide to.

However, my decision to have gastric bypass is not without side effects.

I have a lot of excess skin. A lot. I looked like I had 3 babies before I had 3 babies. Now my stomach looks like I have had 6.

I was unable to nurse my three babies. My body did not create enough nutrient rich milk to support my babies and help them grow. I still am deeply saddened by this reality. It may be completely unrelated but we will never know.

There are still many foods that I cannot eat. I have to think about sugar with every meal or snack that I eat. I still get sick from it. I am so grateful for this, as those compulsive urges are still there.

The most challenging side effect is that I still feel like the 300 lb girl. Whenever I am feeling insecure or vulnerable, my mind goes right to the emotions I felt when I was 300 lbs. I feel unworthy of whatever I am after. I feel as though no one else believes I am capable. I feel embarrassed of who I am. If you know me well enough, you may notice that when I am feeling at all insecure or vulnerable, I curl my midsection up into a ball and try to get as small as I can, because I want to hide myself, for fear of everyone seeing the mess of a person that I really am.

I had gastric bypass 8 years ago this Thursday.

I met my husband 7 months later. We will be celebrating our 5 year wedding anniversary next week.

We have had 3 beautiful babies in the past 4 years.

I could not wait for my life to get started and as soon as it did, I wanted it all to happen as fast as possible. It is time for things to slow down. I have to go back to the beginning. I have to finish what I started and face the demons that I have been hiding under pregnancies.

The baby weight is gone and that is a feat that I worked hard at. However, I still am not comfortable in my skin and have not reached the doctor’s original goal for me. I feel defeated by that. Our youngest is only 7 months old though, so I should probably allow myself some grace, but again, I still feel like that 300 lb girl.

I do not know what I feel like or who I am as just a woman in a body that she is okay with, without another human growing inside her. Those babies made me feel like my body was doing something amazing and I needed to feel that because at so many other times I had failed my body.

They say your 20s are when you find yourself and your 30s are when you embrace who you are. As I am approaching 32, I know I found myself in my 20s and I am beginning to accept who I am, now if only I would do a better job of embracing it.

My choice is a controversial one. I have heard all the opinions. But it was my choice and one I am so grateful that I took. My journey is my journey. I have done a really good job of hiding it from what my current life is and I need to stop that. That girl, me, is still here. She always was here. The way I felt, the emotions I grappled with, are all here. My journey built me into who I am. I need to start going beyond the weight and start dealing with the emotions. For my family, for my beautiful girls, for my sweet boy, for me.

10 thoughts on “23 years old. 300 lbs.

  1. I have witnessed first hand your struggles, some I share with you, some I feel responsible for. I have also witnessed a very beautiful strong woman emerge from that confused vulnerable unhappy teen. I have always enjoyed your writing,but tonight as I read this I am overwhelmed with pride. Pride in my daughter who faced her demons head on and has made amazing choices. You have a great family, their happiness is evident in every picture of them. I hope for you my first born, my daughter, that you continue to grow and learn how to deal with your demons, you learn to reduce your anxiety,and you finally are able to accept the good that comes your way, you have earned your happiness. I only wish I could have been able to have the insight that you have.. I love you with all my heart and soul. I am so very proud of you. I love you…mom

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you mom! I think the reflection is huge and knowing that my anxiety has always been here I just handled it with food before and now I don’t (which is good) so I need to find other outlets for it.

      I love you very much!

      Like

  2. Ashley, this post is as beautiful, inside and out, as you are. You are an amazing woman, mom, wife and teacher…..you have touched so many lives with your opennes.

    Like

  3. I love this post so much. I don’t know you but I want to hug you and tell you, you are perfect just the way you are! Every gorgeous inch of you! Your body is a power house of strength to get you through 3 pregnancies! I struggled through my 30s accepting me. By 40 I am so grateful and thankful and way more accepting. I wish the same peace for you!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ashley, after reading your blog I had a hard time breathing because of fighting the tears back. I thank God every day for you taking the initiative to approach my son. You have made his whole life worth living. Experiencing the kind of love you feel when you have children gives you the strength to battle anything. I know this, because I have experienced it myself. We are honored and blessed to have you in our family. I can’t think of a better person to be the mother of my grandchildren! I can relate to all of the feelings you have and are experiencing. Be reassured you will never be fighting this battle alone. We will all be there for you. Love, Rita.

    Like

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