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On stage again: Old Love

After Virginia Woolf closed, I moped around the house for days.  I really really missed that show and that cast.  After about a week, I decided the best cure for a show hangover was another show, and so I auditioned for and was cast in Staged Right Theatre‘s production of Old Love by Norm Foster.

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Old Love is the story of Molly Graham and Bud Mitchell, two mature adults who find themselves navigating love and loss and relationships at an unexpected time of their lives.  Molly is recently widowed; Bud is long divorced.  Bud met and became infatuated with Molly many years ago, and now that her husband (his former boss) is deceased, he thinks the time is right to make his move.  But Molly has no memory of ever meeting Bud, and certainly is not prepared for him to ask her out to dinner while standing at her husband’s graveside.

Yep, it’s a comedy.  And a pretty funny one, once you get past the stalking angle.  Much of the story is told in flashback, with two other actors playing the younger versions of Bud and Molly.

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Old Love cast, L-R:  Nick Fressell as Young Bud/Young Arthur/Arthur Jr.; Allen Stone as Bud; me as Molly; Ilene Miller as Young Molly/Kitty/Kendra

The road of this production from rehearsal to performance wasn’t nearly as rocky as Virginia Woolf‘s had been, but we had some challenges.  First of all, the weather.  It was fucking FREEZING in our rehearsal space, which is only to be expected because it was below freezing outside.  We got hit with a couple of snowstorms; in Atlanta, that means everything comes to a dead stop.  So we missed a couple of rehearsals due to weather.  And our director got the flu, so we missed a couple of rehearsals because he was down for the count.

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Me as Molly, Allen as Bud

Generally speaking, though, it was a relatively drama-free production.  We even got a really nice review.  As mentioned in that review, though, we had to change venues in the middle of the run.  Apparently the church that lent us their performance space forgot to write down that we needed it for two weekends, and booked over us on the second weekend of the run.  So, while we were in the middle of opening weekend, the artistic director and the producers were frantically searching for another venue that could let us in at the last minute so we could continue performances for the second weekend.  They found one, thank goodness, and my family and friends who had tickets for that weekend were able to see the show after all.

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Molly can’t believe Bud has thrown rocks at her window in the middle of the night.

Remember I said “relatively drama-free”? Aside from the mid-run venue change, the chief drama happened on our Saturday performance at the new venue.  We lost power near the end of Act 2.  Instant pitch dark.  Nick and Ilene were onstage in the middle of a big scene and were utterly frozen.  They couldn’t even see enough to move off the set.  Amazingly, our audience came to the rescue by pulling out their cellphones and using the flashlight function to light the stage.  We finished the rest of the show by cellphone light.  And we even made the news because of it!

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Cellphones as footlights

Here are few more performance shots from the show. I hope you like them!

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Kitty (Bud’s ex-wife) fixes his tie.

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Molly and Bud people watching at a Christmas party

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Molly and Bud at the circus

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Virginia Woolf is dead. Long live Virginia Woolf.

The other day I mentioned I’d been absent from this blog for the same reason as the last several times I went AWOL for a few months: I was cast in a play, and what a play it was: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf by Edward Albee. As Martha. My dream role.

That was last August.  Our performances were in late October, early November.  What a rocky road this production had!

I was the second actor cast as Martha, because the first actor backed out after the initial read-through, telling the director she wasn’t “comfortable” with the subject matter. Who the hell auditions for and ACCEPTS a role in a play without knowing what the play is about? And a world-famous play at that?  Apparently this woman did. So the director called me and I leaped at the chance.  I had been waiting until I was old enough to play Martha since I first read the play sometime in the 1980s.  I had big footsteps to fill.

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Uta Hagen, originator of the role of Martha — 1962

I was not the only cast member change, however. The original Nick didn’t like the original Martha, and he backed out. The original Honey also left because her parents’ home had been destroyed in the Houston flooding after Hurricane Harvey, and she needed to go down there to help them sort out their lives. Only the original George was left standing.

While our director auditioned for a new Nick and Honey, Edwin (playing George) and I began rehearsals. A few days later, Jamie (Honey) and Josh (Nick) joined us. And we were complete.

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Elizabeth Taylor as Martha in the 1965 film version

Then the real trouble began. Our director gave us strange line readings and odd blocking. He had us wandering randomly all over the stage with no real reason for the movement. He cut rehearsal short and left promptly at 9:30 or earlier every evening, often in the middle of a scene. And then would want to start the scene exactly where we left off when we returned the following evening, instead of at the beginning so we could build the emotion and energy again.

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Kathleen Turner as Martha in the 2007 revival

As actors, we became increasingly frustrated at these artificial restrictions and interruptions to our flow.  I mean, it wouldn’t kill anyone if we stayed an extra 10 minutes or so past the scheduled end of rehearsal to finish out a scene, would it?  And thus, the inevitable happened.

Woolf War I — the Bergen incident

One night, I arrived at rehearsal a little early.  Edwin and our director were already there, deep into a disagreement over the pronunciation of a word.  In the show, George delivers a monologue about his time in prep school when he went out with a group of young men, and one of the young men mishears the word “bourbon” and orders a “bergen” instead.  Edwin pronounced it with a hard G.  The director corrected him and said it should be a soft G instead.  Edwin disagreed and explained his reasoning (with the hard G, it sounds more like “bourbon” than with a soft G, and besides, everyone who’s ever done this play, including the original Broadway production, pronounced it with the hard G).  The director insisted.  I don’t know who raised his voice first, but voices were raised, and both men lost their tempers.  Much yelling ensued.  I bailed out the rehearsal room and literally hid in a corner until the argument was over.

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Imelda Staunton as Martha, 2017 London production

Sometime later, we were off book.  For those of you unfamiliar with the process, “off book” means we deliver lines from memory instead of reading from the script.   The first few days off book are always rough, and actors generally “call” for a line with some frequency — that means we’re asking the stage manager to give us our next line because we can’t come up with it on our own.

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Me as Martha; Josh as Nick

That’s the whole point, though: we ask for the line.  On purpose.  Unless you had our director.  At every pause, however minute, he jumped in and gave us our line, whether we asked for it or not.  We asked him repeatedly to let us struggle for it and call for it as needed.  He ignored us.  And thus occurred…

Woolf War II — Don’t give me a fucking line until I ask for it

Edwin, bless his heart, lost it one night after one too many unrequested lines given.  All four of us were fed up; Edwin was just the most vocal about it.  If I thought Woolf War I was bad, then this was bad times 10, because the director escalated it unnecessarily, yelling and screaming and tossing the script on the floor.  At one point, Edwin walked out and we all followed him down the hall as one of the producers was on the phone to the theatre’s artistic director about the argument.  I overheard him say, “Oh great, now the whole cast is leaving…”

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Clockwise from left:  Jamie as Honey; Josh as Nick; Edwin as George; me as Martha.  Yes, they’re all a foot taller than I am.

We didn’t leave.  We stopped at the end of the hall; we all took a few deep breaths; we talked to the producer for a little while who then mediated a conversation with the director; and then we went back to rehearsal. We finished out the night, the director left, and the cast went out for a drink.

That was the first time we had got together outside rehearsal: our first time to be able to talk as a group about our hopes and dreams and ideas and thoughts about this production without a member of the theatre staff within earshot.  It was an excellent bonding experience.

The next night our director didn’t show up.  We rehearsed anyway.  He didn’t show the rest of the week.  We rehearsed anyway.  A full week after Woolf War II, the artistic director told us the director wouldn’t be coming back and she would take over directing the show.

Directing ourselves

Well, that didn’t happen, exactly.  The artistic director came to a few rehearsals and gave us a few notes, but she was in the middle of auditioning, casting, and directing the show that would immediately follow ours, so we ended up directing ourselves for the most part.  Thank the theatre gods for Edwin and his extensive theatre training and background, not to mention his contacts throughout the Atlanta theatre community.  Several of his friends came to our rehearsals and provided guidance and direction and suggestions for improvement.  We fixed the weird blocking and changed the odd line readings.  On a personal level, I am especially grateful to Edwin’s friend Esther, who gave me invaluable advice and helped me through a few difficult spots with Martha’s character.

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Edwin, as George, laying down the law to Martha

Delayed opening

All this turmoil, unfortunately, resulted in the theatre’s decision to delay our opening by one week because we just weren’t ready.  Josh had gotten physically ill a couple of nights — we later discovered the water we had been drinking throughout every scene was, um, not good.  So he missed a couple of rehearsals due to illness. It’s a miracle the rest of us didn’t become ill.  Lines were still rough; the set wasn’t completely built and dressed; our costumes hadn’t been settled; the sound and light design was barely sketched out.  We did two previews to accommodate family and friends who were coming from out of town to view the show on its original opening weekend.  Those previews went really well and gave us hope for the following weekend and our actual opening.

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From left: Josh as Nick; Jamie as Honey; Edwin as George; and me

And then we went on

Opening weekend was almost anti-climactic after all the drama that preceded it.  We had very small houses, unfortunately, but we played our heart out every night.  You can read a review of our show here.

I’m not ashamed to say I think it’s the best work I’ve ever done.  My Martha was deeply deeply sad; she hurt people because she was hurt.  It was a challenge and a privilege to bring that out and present it to the audience.  I gave our patrons two acts that made them hate her, and one act that broke their heart.

The Sunday after our final performance, the cast went to the theatre one last time to strike the set, and then we went out to dinner.  I cried when we parted afterward.  I don’t usually get misty when a show ends, but this show was different.  My life is irrevocably altered; Jamie, Joshua, and Edwin are forever a part of me.

Goodbye, Martha, you poor misunderstood little girl. Playing you was an experience I’ll never forget.  Maybe someday I’ll get to be you again.  I’m willing if the universe is.

tap*tap*tap — Is this thing on?

It’s been a while, and I have things to discuss. My plan is to start blogging again with some regularity. There are books to review, and yarn acquisitions to drool over, and a few finished projects to brag about, not to mention the two plays I’ve done since my last post.

But today I want to show you something else.

You may recall that I had bariatric surgery in December 2016. Behold the before (November 2016) and after (February 2018):

89 lbs. lost, and just a few more to go.

March 2018

Ignore the messy hair, please.

Spouse took that picture this morning.  Yes, that’s a pair of trousers that I used to wear to work.  All my large-size casual clothes have been donated to Goodwill, and the suitable-for-work clothes are on their way to Dress for Success, a charity that provides business clothes to women coming out of shelters.

Foodwise, I eat pretty much anything I want to, recognizing that some foods are going to make me feel bad.  Like potatoes and pasta. And donuts.  And pretty much anything made with white flour.  Whole grains or nothing, baby.  Although I confess that last weekend I allowed myself to be wrestled to the ground by Girl Scouts who then forced me to hand over money for Thin Mints and Samoas.

And now, the measurements:

March 18, 2017 May 7, 2017 October 27, 2017 March 11, 2018
Bust 43 42 37 37
Waist 40 39 33.5 30
Hip 45 43 37.5 36
Thigh 25 24 20 20
Calf 17 16.5 15.5 14.5
Upper arm 14 13 11.5 11.5
Neck 14.5 14.25 14 13.5

I’m currently at 128 lbs. with a goal of 125. If I don’t lose these last three lbs., I’m still good.

Because going from size 18 to size 6 is fucking awesome.

Under 150!

The progress pics:

Latest FB profile pic:

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The stats:

  • Seven months, two weeks since surgery
  • Total weight loss: 69 lbs.
  • 33 pounds to goal

Physically I feel great.  Psychologically, I feel a little like an imposter.  I mean, I look at myself in the mirror and barely recognize me.  On the other hand, I feel attractive again for the first time in years, and have noticed men noticing me.  (Not that my husband has anything to worry about on that score, but you know, after all these years, it’s nice to be noticed.)  More than one person at work has commented on how “skinny” I am becoming.  They’re going to think I’ll blow away in a stiff wind when I reach my goal weight.

Speaking of “skinny”, virtually every item of clothing that I wore prior to surgery has now been removed from my closet.  Some of the first round of clothing I bought at the thrift store to see me through this transformation is also on its way out the door.  I need to go through the stuff in the dresser again. Some of it — such as the exercise clothing — still fits, but I know there are tees and other casualwear that does not.

I really wish I had taken measurements before we started.  Oh well. Here’s the progress in inches lost since March.

March 18, 2017 May 7, 2017 August 10, 2017
Bust 43 42 39.25
Waist 40 39 36
Hip 45 43 41
Thigh 25 24 22
Calf 17 16.5 15.5
Upper arm 14 13 12
Neck 14.5 14.25 14

I’ve started to have some loose skin: a little on the underside of my upper arms and on the inside of my thighs.  Some sag around the lower belly, too, but that could be stubborn fat deposits.  I think it will all eventually regain elasticity and snap back.  Exercise and improved muscle tone should help, too.

I still have trouble with meat, unless it has been boiled/processed to a fare-thee-well in a canned soup. Fish is okay, especially shellfish. Diced ham is good in a salad. So I eat a lot of vegetables and salads and fruit and soup.  And shellfish.  And of course, the protein shakes, multivitamin, iron, and calcium supplements.

I go back to the nutritionist and the surgeon for a follow-up on Monday. I hope they are as pleased with my progress as I am.

50+ lbs down!

Yesterday morning, I weighed in at 165.6 lbs.  That’s a total loss so far of 51.4 lbs.

Measurements in inches:

March 18, 2017 May 7, 2017
Bust 43 42
Waist 40 39
Hip 45 43
Thigh 25 24
Calf 17 16.5
Upper arm 14 13
Neck 14.5 14.25

I had to buy new bras last week.  Because my bra size will continue to change, I bought several inexpensive ones at Target.  They’re comfy, but I don’t expect them to last more than the few months I’ll need to wear them.  Today I went through my closet and tried on every piece of clothing hanging there. About half went into the donate pile, including nearly all my pants and jeans. Of the remaining half, I expect most of it will be too big by the end of May.  I have enough dress clothes to wear to work and just enough casual clothes for everything else.  But it’s time to start thinking about digging through the racks at the thrift store.

Next weekend I’ll go through the dresser and try on all the T-shirts and leggings and other casual comfies stored there.

As far as food goes, I’ve involuntarily become nearly vegetarian.  I’m unable to tolerate most meats except fish or shellfish, so my protein comes mainly in the form of shakes and bars.  My nutritionist said the intolerance will probably resolve itself within the next several months, and it’s okay to use the protein shakes, etc., in the meantime.  She also suggested that I try eating dark meat chicken instead of white meat because the white meat tends to be too dry.  And she liked that I eat fruits and vegetables for snacks.  Much better than my pre-surgery snacks of chips or chocolate or donuts (although I did confess to the occasional small bag of Fritos or a single Rolo).

Weight Loss Progress

And it just keeps coming off.  As of the time of this writing (several days before the blog entry will be published), I’m down 44 lbs.

These two pictures were taken quite some time apart, as you can tell by the length of my hair.  The blue photo was taken at the beginning of my last major attempt at weight loss, in November 2014, so about two years before surgery.  The pink photo was taken March 31, 2017.  (Yes, I should have done photos right before surgery, but I didn’t.  We’ll have to make do with these and whatever candid or yarn-project-modeling photos I can find that were taken shortly before surgery.)


Front view.  I can see the beginnings of a waist again.  That makes me happy.  I still have the shirt and cropped pants I’m wearing in the blue photos.  I’ll do my best to wear them the next time we take a set of progress photos.

In clothing news, all but one of the items that had been banished to the upstairs closet because they didn’t fit have been retrieved.  Because now they fit.  The one item that doesn’t fit is a velvet dress suitable for holiday parties and dress-up occasions.  It’s still too tight.  Unfortunately, it’s doubtful that it will fit at the time the holiday parties and dress-up occasions roll around again, but at that time, it will be too loose.  Maybe I’ll ask my husband to take me out to a fancy dinner when it fits again, just to wear it one last time.  I’ve started weeding out the clothes that are now too large and too much trouble to have altered; they’re being sorted into piles to go to Goodwill, to bariatric support group clothing swaps, and to the business-appropriate clothing drive for women in shelters.

 

Measurements

HomCom 34 x 27 x 35 Fashion Mannequin Female Dress Form w/ Base, White

As of March 18, 2017:

  • Bust 43″
  • Waist 40″
  • Hip 45″
  • Thigh 25″
  • Calf 17″
  • Upper arm 14″
  • Neck 14.5″

Before anyone freaks out about the bust/waist/hip ratio, I always had a fairly straight figure.  Not too many curves,which is why dress mannequins never worked for me when I sewed my own clothes.  If I remember correctly, my measurements in my early 20s were approximately 33/27/35.  When I gained weight, most of it was gained in the belly, and there were times when my waist measurement exceeded my bust measurement.  Believe me, this is progress.

Weight loss check in

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Picture taken December 3, 2017

The stats:

  • Eight and a half weeks since surgery
  • Total weight loss: 34 lbs.
  • 68 pounds to goal

I never took my measurements before surgery, so I can’t tell you how many inches I’ve lost anywhere.  Next time my husband and I are in the same room with a tape measure, we’ll remedy that situation and have inches to report in the future.

What I can tell you is most of my weight loss has been belly fat, so several pairs of pants now fit that previously I couldn’t even button.  Some of them I haven’t worn in three or more years.  More clothes await me in the upstairs closet.  Drop another 10 or 15 pounds, and I’m in.

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Picture taken February 25, 2017.

What’s funny about that is every single item of clothing that I can now wear, including virtually everything I’ve been wearing for the last year or so, is labeled size 16.  And so are the clothes in the upstairs closet that I can’t wear yet.  Okay, there are a couple of 16W labels in the mix, but come on.  How can I have gained 40ish lbs. since moving to Atlanta over four years ago and STILL wear a size 16?  Vanity size inflation by the clothing manufacturers, that’s how.

Here’s another odd thing.  I don’t seem to have lost any in breast size, which is totally unexpected.  Ordinarily, when women lose weight, the boobs go too.  But my bra cups still fit just like before, although the bands are less tight.  That probably won’t last long.  We’ll see how it goes.

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Notes from the hospital

A quickie catch-up: surgery was on Tuesday morning. Both spouse and mom in attendance. Mom went home as soon as I was awake enough to talk to her.

To paraphrase Paul Simon, I have enough wristbands to get me through the door.

Yesterday was spent dosing myself with morphine. Once the upper GI showed no leaks, they switched me to liquid Norco. 

I’m sore and cranky and can’t wait to get home so I can take a shower. They’ve told me I can go; now I’m just waiting for the paperwork.

Turn and face the strange

Me in Harlem

Me at 54 — April 2016

I’ve been debating with myself about making this public.  Not that this blog gets a lot of traffic, but entries are open to everyone, including folks who wander this way from Facebook and know me IRL, and I never know who might be stopping by based on a Google search.  But I finally decided that since it’s such a major thing, and will affect everything I do from this point forward, it’s best to just put it out there so future blog entries have context.

I am scheduled to have bariatric surgery on December 27.

There.  Said it.  Whew.

People are always surprised if I tell them how much I actually weigh:  for good or bad, I don’t really look like I weigh more than 200 lbs.  But I do.  And I’m only 5 feet tall.

I’ve struggled with my weight for years: decades, really; and over time the pounds just kept creeping up and adding on, no matter what I did.  Several years ago, I had to go on high blood pressure medication, and blood tests over the last two or three years show my blood sugar levels are increasing to the point that I am now considered “pre-diabetic”.  Here’s the thing:  I can lose weight.  I’ve done it many times.  I’ve read all the books, tried all the diets, and lost weight on all of them.  But I can’t keep it off.  No sooner than I stop the regimented food plan and go back to my admittedly not terrific but not entirely unhealthy normal way of eating, the weight jumps back on.  I can’t keep it off without stringent adherence to a severely rigid food regimen.  And that’s no way to live.

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Me at 19 — 1981ish

I had been considering weight loss surgery for a couple of years, but hesitated.  I even went to a seminar offered by a respected local surgeon late last year; when the seminar was over, they asked me when I wanted to schedule an appointment.  I said I wanted to think about it a little longer.  It’s a major surgery that rearranges your insides forever.  That’s frightening.

And surely the next diet would be the one that worked.

Six months later, having lost 10 lbs and regained 15, I read this article in the New York Times.  Go read it; then come back.

Okay, yeah,  it’s long, so for the TL:DR crowd, the gist of the article is if you are heavy and have been heavy for a while, your brain has reset your “normal”, and any diet and exercise attempt to lose weight and fall below that “normal” is doomed to failure.  Neuroscience, not willpower, baby.

That did it.  I called the surgeon the next day and scheduled an appointment.

In the doctor’s office, while talking about why I was there, I started sobbing.  She looked at me and asked, “Why are you so sad?”

Oh god.

“Because I’ve tried so hard, and failed so many times. I’m tired of living like this; I’m afraid of getting diabetes; I hate the way I feel; and I just don’t have anywhere else to turn.”

“It’s not your fault,” she said.  But it was.  It’s always been my fault.  That’s what my head tells me.  That’s what society tells me.  That’s what all the articles in all the women’s magazines tell me.  That’s what the sideways glances and rolled eyes from strangers tell me.

Excuse me, I need a tissue.

~~~~

Okay. So.  I leave the surgeon’s office with a plan.  Lots of pre-op clearances to secure: cardiologist; nutritionist; pulmonologist; psychologist; support group attendance; sign-off from my GP; blood work; upper GI — I’ve had more doctors’ appointments in this past six months than I think I’ve had in the past six years.  And there were delays.  Starting the process in May as I did, I expected to have everything taken care of by August or September and have surgery by late autumn.  But noooo.  First, I had to have more nutritional consultations than they told me the first time around.  Then the pulmonologist wanted to do a sleep study.  Turns out I have sleep apnea and they wanted me on a CPAP machine for several weeks before they would issue the clearance.

When I finally got all of the appointments out of the way and every provider said they had issued my clearances, I called the surgeon’s office.  The patient coordinator said she didn’t have the note from my GP.  I called the GP’s office.  They faxed it over.  A few days later, I called again.  This time they didn’t have the pulmonary clearance or the clearance from my GP.  I called the pulmonary clinic and my GP again.  They faxed the clearances.  A week or so later, I called once more.  “We don’t have the clearance from your GP.”  “For crying out loud, woman, my GP has sent that to you three times!  Do I have to hand carry it in?”  I called my GP one more time; they faxed it while I was on the phone; I called the patient coordinator and said,”It’s sitting on  your fax machine right now. Go get it.”

That was the middle of November.  They called me the first Friday of December and said surgery was scheduled for December 27.  *HUGE sigh of relief*  I was afraid it wouldn’t be scheduled until January and I’ve have to meet my deductibles all over again.

Last week I told my supervisor and boss, who were aware this was an upcoming thing, that we had a definite surgery date and we began the process of getting approval for me to take a month off work for recovery.  I bought all the vitamins and protein drinks I’m going to need for the initial week or so of the recovery process, and started planning out the very particular eating regime I must follow for the first several weeks.

Today I had a pre-op appointment with my surgeon to go over some paperwork and pre-op instructions; and a meeting with the anesthesiologist to go over some more paperwork and more pre-op instructions.  It’s really happening.  It’s really happening.

It’s really happening.

I’ve spent the last six months convincing myself to believe that my weight isn’t my fault.  That’s hard to say, much less take to heart, when I’ve spent the last 20 years telling myself it is.  And while I don’t expect to get back the figure I had at 19, I do expect to lose enough to see my collarbones again.  Eventually.

This is how I will do it.  I’ll keep you posted.

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