I now know what it’s like to ask a dry cleaner to get blood out of something. Last Wednesday as I changed from my suit and tie into my after-work uniform of a jeans and a hoodie I noticed a large red spot on the upper arm of my white dress shirt.
I took off my tie, unbuttoned my shirt revealing a black compression undershirt. As I took the dress shirt off I could see there was blood smeared all over my arm. I stood in front of my mirror and peeled the compression shirt off, feeling sharp pain as I lifted it above my head to take it off my body. All at once I unfolded, free from the under armour. The squishy tire of flesh around my stomach, held tight and pushed into a barrel shape by the shirt, now hung free. The folds of skin that had been held up all day now stretched down. There’s what the doctors call “the apron” – that part of my stomach from the bellybutton down, getting flatter, more wrinkled, and harder to hide as time goes by.
My chest – sigh. That’s not accurate. My breasts. The skin falls flatter than it used to, the nipples slipping lower, pointing at the floor. Yet, there they are. No matter how much weight I lose, or how much I target my chest with workouts – there is actual breast tissue there, developed prepuberty likely by the impact of childhood obesity on my hormones. There they are, creating two deep folds of skin under each arm where I used to have much larger rolls. Even when I stretch my arms above my head and reach as far as I can I can’t make that fold unfold.
There are wings of fat and skin that hang off my arms. I lift them up and wave my arms from front to back. The skin sways and slaps against the front of my arm and then the back. It hangs down for inches, the fat tapering off into a “V”. As I lift my shoulder, I see where the blood is coming from.
One of the stretch marks that runs from my arm, across my shoulder, under my arm and curves down the side of my stomach has actually opened up. And it’s my own fault. For almost a year now I could comfortably fit in XL shirts. My chest, my back, my stomach – everything fit. But not my arms. I find myself still buying XXL shirts just so my arms will fit. When I try to force them in to anything smaller the skin bunches up, hurts like hell, and slowly twists whatever I’m wearing as it bunches the fabric up under my arm.
This cut is my own fault. I’ve never bled before. It’s because I bought new compression shirts and I bought XL. The XXL weren’t holding my stomach and chest together the way they used to. They weren’t tight enough. I didn’t know if I was getting smaller or if I was just slowly stretching out the shirts, so I got a smaller size. Now I have a small bloody gash where the sleeve of the compression shirt dug into my arm all day at work.
I had talked to enough successful weight loss patients along the way to know that success came with these issues. Here’s what I hadn’t considered: sometimes people fail because they’re afraid of success and the changes it brings.
I’ve spent the last two years writing and talking about fearlessly facing change and taking control of a life that was out of control in so many ways. Meanwhile, everyday I was struggling with something I hadn’t really figured out until the last few weeks.
About a year ago I reached the point where I subconsciously decided that my body was getting worse looking with each pound I lost. About 75 pounds ago I looked like you expect a fat guy to look. When you unwrapped this present, you pretty much got what you’d expect.
That’s not the case now. Now, I have a body that was once stretched to hold someone almost twice my size. The more weight I lose from my stomach the more prominent my chest appears. The more weight I lose from my arms, the more the skin pinches and pulls, no matter what I wear.
Walking through the woods yesterday I was climbing up a little river bank and as I leaned forward to pull myself up I felt the weight of more than 30 pounds of excess skin hanging from my body. I’ve learned to to cover it up, to strap it in, and spread it out so I can generally walk around like a regular looking overweight guy – but that’s when it hit me. I’m worried about what success looks like. I’m worried about what true success feels like.
When I wrote the first book I said it was all about helping people get out of their own way. Well, yesterday, alone in the woods, I realized that I might once again be in my own way, and that’s kind of terrifying.
I tell people all the time that they’ll be disappointed if they head into this expecting the end result to be a “normal life with a normal body.” I’m not really sure why I thought I was any different, but I did.