I am frequently asked by people interested in my experience as a bariatric surgery patient "what is the most painful part of the recovery?" The physical pain of even a laparoscopic surgical procedure is significant, but only for a short while. The chronic heartburn is an ongoing annoyance that can't be ignored. There are aches and pains associated with rebuilding the skeletal musculature after a period of prolonged persistent caloric under-nutrition, but they go away with physical training.
There's nothing as painful as the loss of friends.
I am now at a very low ebb socially. I had a collection of friends around me who were friends with who I was. I am no longer who I was. As they discover that I am not who I was they are falling away like Autumn leaves.
I can see how I could turn this experience into bitterness. There is a script I can follow here that relies upon the interpretation that most of my friends were invested me because I assumed the role of an inferior in our friendship. This theory fits the facts, but it is only a partial truth.
The rest of the truth is that I put myself in the inferior role. I taught my friends to treat me this way. They treated me as I asked. I did this. So, going to a position of superiority, that is, deciding that I am now too good/healthy/together for people like this is just more scriptwriting I'm doing to get away from my pain. Many of these people simply treated me the way I expected them to treat me, and I rewarded them for doing it.
Because of that, I decline the superior role. These aren't bad people, we had a bad relationship.
I no longer regard myself as a prima facie social inferior. I wasn't actually inferior before, but I did unconsciously use the cover of social inferiority as a way to cope with my frustrations. It is very difficult to cope with the social stigma of obesity.
As distasteful as it sounds on the surface, it was easy to regard myself as unable to compete on an equal footing with my peers. I thought it was easier to accept losing prima facie than to accept it as a result of taking risks. I thought it was easier for me to regard myself as a failure than to risk failure.
I took what I thought was the easier route of accepting the social stigma of extreme obesity as if it was a disability I could do nothing about. The truth is that the social stigma of obesity is overwhelming, but the best response is not resignation. The correct response is to practice meeting it and facing it.
Ask anyone who has faced this, it is much safer to concede your authority and accept a role as an inferior. There is significant social reward for doing this. This orientation is welcome in social groups of all kinds. I confused the welcome with affection and respect. I had nicknames that were derogatory to me. I paid to stencil them on my own 5XL t-shirts. I told people I hardly knew about my most personal struggles. I was merciless in my self-criticism, I was vigilantly parsimonious with my self-praise.
People like me this way. Keep me around long enough, I would find a way to make you feel better about yourself by comparison.
But, the cost. Oh my God, the cost is tremendous.
I have had a series of incidents in my life recently where I have been faced with frank disrespect from someone whom I care for. I can see clearly that the relationship in which I am in an inferior role has to end. I try to set the stage for a new relationship going forward, but I enjoy little success.
I know this can be done in a better way, and I am working on perfecting my approach. However, so far the communication just doesn't happen. The other party doesn't hear what I have to say, which is some version of "respect me."
There is a bittersweet quality to this process for me. These relationships in which I cultivated an inferior role can't continue as they were. If the other person can't meet me as an equal then it is no longer a relationship I support. This is all "good" in the sense that I am putting an end to something that needs to end.
It is as if I suddenly discovered that some debilitating allergic reaction was due to something in the pillows and cushions in my home. I go through the pillows, get rid of the problem ones and I am suddenly left in a home underpopulated with cushions. Life without cushions and pillows is hard even if the ones you had were causing you lots of problems. The difference is you can go out and buy new cushions. You can't buy new friends.
I had a lot invested in these friendships. I had much of my life and my plans for the future invested in these friendships. Yes, it helps that a part of me knows those hopes were ultimately doomed, but this still really hurts.
I have had friends who pushed back against my insistence on assuming the inferior role. My insistence on a contrived explanation for events and situations in my life (I fail because I suck) caused regular conflict with these friends. We did not see eye-to-eye, but a few of these people remained my friends anyway, dismissing my differing view as something they hoped I would eventually see-through. They are relieved now. Some of them literally jumped for joy when they realized I had come around. That is the sweet part.
The bitter part is that so many people I have worked hard to help and show love are perfectly willing to turn away from me as an equal. I set myself up for even more pain because I did so much for so many of these people. Some of them I introduced to their partners, others I recommended for employment, I helped some relocate their homes (yes, down to actually carrying belongings in off a truck), for many, many others I have devoted countless hours and hours of my time and energy to helping them with their goals. I have friends hundreds of miles away who have only seen me in their city. I can count on one hand the number of friends who have come to New York City just to see me in the 12 years I have been here...and I still have some fingers left.
The thing that saves me from complete despair is that these friendships have been taking up room in my life which is now open and available for new friends. I am rolling the dice here, I may be wrongheaded in my view of all this, I may have just isolated myself unskillfully, but there's also a chance that I am on the edge of a new life with friends who meet me where I am.
I hope so, because this un-cushioned seat sort of hurts.
I used to wonder why divorces were so common among those who have bariatric surgery. I assumed it was because the patient was psychosocially unprepared for their new life. I imagined hysterical newly-thin neurotics going around wreaking havoc and acting-out unprocessed feelings with those who supported them.
That probably happens, but it's not the whole story. Humans don't like change.
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