I packed up my car and drove the 850 miles to Atlanta listening to music from my past and reflected on the previous year. I had all of my worldly belongings weighing down my back seat and trunk and thought that the sooner I arrived in Atlanta, the sooner the pain would stop and the healing would begin. The family I moved in with was nice – single mom, two kids a boy and a girl. I had a room and bathroom of my own and a car to drive the kids around in. My first night there I cried. I missed my friends and my family and felt really overwhelmed. The second night I cried because I realized I would have to create a new life in Atlanta all by myself while working 60+ hours a week in a job that only exposed me to two small people that were mostly interested in swimming and riding bikes. And I had become far more shy as an adult than I was in my younger years. What did I get myself into??
My first weekend in Atlanta I watched the first season of 24, start to finish. I didn’t really know what else to do. On Sunday I went to the nearest gym and bought myself a membership and signed up to meet with a trainer. Gyms intimidate the hell out of me and I thought doing the “complimentary” hour with a trainer might make me feel more comfortable. I ended up signing up to meet with a trainer regularly and was nervous and excited all in one. I had managed to only gain about 10-15lbs since my break up with Chris and I HAD to keep the weight down for the summer because I was my best friends maid of honor in August and had asked them to order my dress a size BELOW my measurements since I was so confident I’d have lost the rest of my weight by then. (NEVER DO THAT!!!!)
Because I was still an emotional wreck I binged on white bread and little baggies of chips, cookies, and other “kid” snacks that I could find at the house. I bought myself a lot of fast food and then showed up for my appointments with my trainer making excuses about why I wasn’t losing. I never got the impression the trainers I worked with were really invested in me, but I still assumed everyone judged me as harshly as I judged myself.
Two weeks after I moved to Atlanta I met Johanita. We became very close friends the night that we met – due to a series of ridiculous happenings and also just because we were such a perfect fit. Johanita was a single mom to the cutest two-year-old boy, Dylan. We were both live-in nannies and bonded over our need to be out of our “homes” as much as possible. Especially on the weekends! Thankfully she was one of the most adventurous people I have ever met. We spent our weekends hiking in the North Georgia Mountains, riding bikes along the Silver Comet Trail, camping, going to various parties, and events. We stayed busy. We stayed active. It was awesome.
That winter I met a guy, Justin. He wasn’t exactly my type, but he liked me. He didn’t judge my weight at all – in fact he thought I was beautiful – an adjective Chris was never able to use. I remember apologizing for showing up at his house once with my glasses on instead of contacts because I had felt so scrutinized in my previous relationship that I thought it was expected I look my best. It was refreshing to be with someone who simply wasn’t concerned about my physical appearance. Justin liked to eat and it quickly became something we shared together – wings, fries, chips and queso, pizza, sub sandwiches, more wings, beer… My friends wedding had come and gone so there wasn’t a tiny dress I needed to fit into anymore and the freedom I felt being with Justin made me let go of the part of me that wanted to stay in shape and continue losing weight for myself. I realized early on that we weren’t exactly the right fit so we broke up but then got back together – I was always pushing him away and then asking to get back together. Having someone support me was too comforting for me to end, when I lacked any feelings of self worth. It felt safe so I kept going back even though I knew it wasn’t quite right. We did this several times and just before we had been dating a year I found out I was pregnant.
At that time I had climbed from around 215lbs in August 2006 to 271lbs in November of 2007. Sometimes I wonder how shocked my family must have been when I came home to visit during that year. Putting on that much weight so quickly is so obvious. No one ever said anything to me about it.
Anyway – so I was pregnant. It wasn’t planned. It was horrible to tell my family and friends. I was both mad at myself for letting that happen (I’m well informed on how to prevent pregnancy and could have avoided it from happening very easily but didn’t) and also a little excited that I was going to become a mom. I had always wanted to be a mom. Justin and I held onto our shell of a relationship throughout my pregnancy – we even talked about marriage pretty seriously – but it just was not the right fit. I couldn’t fathom not having my child’s father in my life before he was born so we stayed together.
I put most of my energy into being excited about becoming a mom. I kind of felt like I was the only one that was excited about the baby that was on his way. Eventually my family came around and many of my friends were excited and supportive, but it was a far cry from what I had envisioned my first pregnancy would be like. I called my best friend Katie in tears on a regular basis. I was headed down a path that I had never considered for my life. Once my belly grew (my baby belly on top of my overweight belly) and Preston started moving around I felt connected to him and that kept me focused on him and staying positive. I’m not sure I’m conveying very well just how hard this time was for me. IT WAS AWFUL. (lonely, ostracizing, shameful, regretful, angry) But again this was a situation where my feelings on it were so conflicting because I was overjoyed and excited to become a mom and felt Preston deserved to have a pregnancy at least his mom was excited about.
I put on 32lbs while I was pregnant which is pretty standard – but when you start a pregnancy at 271 adding even more weight to that is really taxing on your body. I had a planned c-section which went very smoothly and was confident that nursing would help me shed the baby weight and maybe even a little more to jumpstart a trend of heading back down on the scale. Nursing did help! I lost all of the weight I gained during my pregnancy in less than three months. By the time Preston arrived my family really got on board and were ecstatic to welcome him to our family. Things were going well. Mostly…
My relationship with Justin did not transition well to parenthood. I had lots of experience caring for kids/babies and lots of expectations of him to go with it. He was dealing with his own demons and we were rarely on the same page. Before Preston was 10 weeks old Justin and I broke up. Shortly after Preston hit 3 months old I packed up everything that would fit in my car and drove through the night with Preston back to Illinois and moved in with my parents. Justin was devastated that we left but I haven’t once regretted my decision.
Preston and I hadn’t been home long before I started talking to Chris again. (BIG MISTAKE!!) He was only twenty-five miles away and my desire to have those intoxicating feelings with him again was strong. We spent time together and he apologized for the hurtful things he had said in the past about my weight and the expectations he put on me. The chemistry was still there. I was SO self-conscious about my weight because at that point I was somewhere in the 260s – down from where I’d been but way up since I had last seen him. We discussed my fears and he said he no longer minded the ‘weight thing’ (WHAT?!?!?). He told me his feelings for me were still there and he wanted to spend time with me to see where things went. Of course I took that to mean we were getting back together and I instantly dropped my guard down. Second big mistake. Several weeks later he was dating someone else and I haven’t spoken to him since. He broke my heart again. I allowed it to happen, I put myself in that position, I was already vulnerable enough being a brand new mom and a recently single mom at that. I should have known better but I didn’t. I was so angry with him. I felt so betrayed and ugly. In order to cope I ate. I had a baby to take care of all on my own, I was hardly making any money, and I was lonely and sad. So I ate and ate and ate. Of course I’d have my bouts of exercise and dieting but nothing lasted long.
When Preston was 6 months old I decided I wanted to go back to school and get my master’s in marriage and family therapy, just like my dad. So my family helped me study for the GRE, I applied to the only school that was workable for Pres and me to continue living with my parents and somehow by God’s divine plan I was accepted! When Preston was 12 months old I started taking classes. The program was two years and it was tough! It was tough on all of us. My classmates helped me with Preston (I am forever grateful to all of them for helping me make it possible). My mom and my sister took shifts with Preston as well when I was out until late at night seeing clients – I have yet to find the words to express my gratitude to them for helping me. People would say to me, “I can’t believe you’re doing this as a single mom and your son is so young”. I kind of can’t either – and I know without a doubt that my master’s degree needs to have a few names added to it because without those people it NEVER would have happened. The problem with grad school is there is a lot of sitting required; in class, in the car to and from (45 miles one way 4/5 days a week), seeing clients, observing other clinicians, studying/writing papers… It was two years of little activity. It was also so stressful that I used food frequently to cope with the stress. Again, I’d have my moments of trying to do better but it would never last. I graduated last May 2011.
I am now almost a year out from graduation. Preston is going to be four in two months! He can buckle his own seat belt; use the potty by himself, dress himself and most recently is able to put on his own socks and shoes! – these among many other things. He is becoming independent in many ways and the “child care” aspects of being a mom are far less overwhelming than they once were. Its all the other aspects of parenting that are now overwhelming – teaching about honesty, patience (I am a horrible model for this), sensitivity, and using an indoor voice (we struggle with this daily, hourly) among many others.
Parenting alone is very lonely for me. I want a relationship simply so that I can parent WITH someone. I want to roll over at 6 in the morning and say, “your turn to get up with him” while I go back to sleep. Every once in a while my parents will play that role (or my sister if she’s in town) – no they aren’t in my bed when I ask them to do it – but Preston stomps down two flights of stairs to get to my room so sometimes they’ll intercept him, that’s heaven . But most of the time its just me and him. We live in suburbia with a lot of married families, or divorced single parents that are at least put together enough to own their own homes; they aren’t living in their parents’ basement. I tell myself these stories because I feel so different than most of the people that live around here. The lonely feelings I have invade my body on a daily basis. I struggle some days to leave the house because the loneliness and pity party I have going on for myself are sometimes too heavy to get my ass moving. Those are the days I feel sorry for Preston that God chose me for him, those are the days I eat my feelings. This single mom thing is hard.
I’m so happy and feel so blessed I am Preston’s mom – he is so amazing, so creative, loving, loud, funny, adaptable, intelligent, and passionate. He likes star wars and barbies and loves to wear dresses and my scarves as his long beautiful hair. He is the perfect child for me. I struggle with the juxtaposition that this child is my most precious joy and yet the responsibility of raising him tears up my soul. So, we’re doing all right. I weigh far too much to think I’ll be around to meet my grandchildren someday and that will simply not do. I want to see Preston get married some day (or not if he so chooses). I want to see him graduate from college (he has no choice about this one . I want to be around a long time for my sake and for his. So now is the time to make the changes – eat better, move more, get more sleep, find contentment and happiness in my life, get on track financially so I’m not living in this basement in my 30s, return to church a place that fills me so much, and simply find a better way of living. My hope is that sharing my story and even processing my story for myself will hold me accountable to reach for the things I want and not get swallowed up by the things I don’t.