‘My doctor called my conditions the ‘trifecta of death.’ I knew I was the only one that could save my own life.’: Mom opens up about mental health along weight loss, sobriety journey

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“As I sat in my doctor’s office, faced with the reality of what I had done to my body and mind over the years, I knew I was the only one that could save my own life. Welcome to my journey as I climb up from rock bottom to losing 200 pounds and finding a new lease on life. Through this article, I would like to share my life before this journey, what led to me beginning this path, the struggles I’ve faced along the way, and what I hope people can take away from this. I didn’t simply start a new chapter, I began a new book.

An overweight woman stands by brick steps with her arms outstretched
Courtesy of Rene’ Laws

Life Before Surgery

Life before my surgery was painful and mentally draining. Every day was a challenge to both act like everything was okay and to get through the day. Everyday tasks were made more difficult due to my weight in almost every way. Walking from my car in the parking lot to the store was even a chore because I would have to take breaks along the way. Let alone the physical pains such as body aches, heat rashes, and back pain just from getting up in the morning. Being embarrassed about other people seeing me struggle and having to face my day-to-day took a toll mentally as well. Alcohol was my escape from everything and was used to drown the sadness and disappointment which added to the laundry list of poor health decisions I was making. My marriage was mostly surface talk at this time, and it seemed we were always tip-toeing around the actual issues and not communicating. I felt trapped in my own body, and it didn’t look like there was a way out.

I used to be a healthy and athletic teenager, swimming on the swim team and being outside any chance I got, but once I started having kids, I was gaining weight from my pregnancies and never losing it. I would go on to have 6 wonderful children, each pregnancy gaining more and more weight; I continuously told myself it was just baby weight, but after 20 years, it was obvious it was no longer just baby weight. I continually struggled to maintain any weight loss from diets I did over the past few decades which brought me lower and lower mentally each time.

A woman stands next to a man whose arm is wrapped around her shoulders
Courtesy of Rene’ Laws

It wasn’t until one of my annual checkups that things started to become very real to me. Sitting in my doctor’s office hearing the results of my blood work would be the turning point of everything. I was suddenly prediabetic, had high cholesterol, and had high blood pressure: the ‘trifecta of death’ my doctor would call it. I was stressed and panicked by these results when my doctor said to me calmly, ‘I wouldn’t normally advise something this drastic, but in your case, I think this is what will save your life. You should consider bariatric surgery.’

Physical Healing

The surgery center gives you a lot of information about what to expect before, during, and after the surgery. What they can’t tell you is how long everything takes to get accomplished and approved through your insurance company and to finally have the surgery scheduled. For me, it was a 6-month process from consultation to surgery. Everything from various physical examinations and tests to a mental health assessment. It was explained that you needed to be in some variation of health to undergo surgery as well as have the mental capacity to handle what was about to take place during this transformative process.

A woman sits in a chair wearing a Band-aid on the bridge of her nose
Courtesy of Rene’ Laws

I had no idea of the importance of the mental health component and didn’t really give much thought to that. As the surgery date approached and I had to begin my liquid diet, I was faced with the reality that I was going to have to also stop drinking alcohol and would not be able to re-engage in that activity until the 6-month to 1-year mark post-surgery. I told myself if I could quit smoking a year ago, I could quit drinking now. And I just did. Not dealing with any of the baggage that goes along with alcoholism would definitely come back to revisit me later in my health journey. It seems I did a lot of things backward, but it doesn’t matter how you get there as long as you arrive.

The surgery was a simple procedure and the diet regimen was completely scientific and all laid out with instructions and research that I had put together on the best vitamins, practices, snacks, and all the options I had before me so I dove in and dedicated all of my free time to my well being. I was singularly focused (one could say obsessed), but since the overall result continued to be positive weight loss, the method was working, and I stuck with it. While I was focused on the physical aspects of transforming my body through diet and a little bit of exercise, the pounds were coming off, but I still hadn’t dealt with all of the factors that went into creating this overweight miserable alcoholic. Less than a year into weight loss, a simple family visit turned into an entire episode on the side of the interstate which was when I realized I needed to get more than just my body healthy. I needed to get in my own head and figure things out.

A woman lying in a hospital bed after bariatric surgery
Courtesy of Rene’ Laws

Mental Health Matters

My mental health had always been something I put on the back burner and did not pay much attention to, that is until this incident, which gave me the wake-up call I needed. I had a mental breakdown on the side of the interstate with my husband and 2 of my adult children in the car. I was driving and my husband was navigating using a GPS, and I felt the instructions weren’t coming fast enough for me to be able to maneuver the car. I felt overwhelmed, exasperated, and frankly out of control. Instead of slowing down or taking an exit to regroup, I pulled the car over far off the interstate and got out intending to switch seats with my husband and have him drive, but I just started walking along the woodline of the interstate. After this incident, my husband, who has always been my rock, told me that it was clearly time to get mental help because I wasn’t dealing with any of the stuff that had gotten me where I was in the first place.

A woman sitting in a car along her weight loss journey
Courtesy of Rene’ Laws

I researched and found a therapist and made an appointment right away. My family and my therapist have been my main support system throughout this journey, so I couldn’t be happier that I finally took that step. Until I got to that point of seeking and starting therapy, I hadn’t realized how stuck I was. I was losing weight but I was not positively progressing at the same speed mentally and that was inevitably slowing down my physical progress. Once I went to therapy and I learned to be more honest and vulnerable with myself and others around me, I realized it somehow unlocked a desire to continue being more mentally healthy and that my physical improvements and maintenance were within my control, and I hadn’t felt that empowerment before. A family member who is a doctor once said everyone should have a therapist, and I 100% agree.

A woman stands outdoors along her weight loss, mental health journey
Courtesy of Rene’ Laws

Inspiring and Informing Others

I had a picture in my head of what my body would look like when I was done with this transformation and how I would feel when I completed this weight loss process. I’m still working on the details of the body I want and I guess you could say in the same fashion I am still working on my mind and where I want that to take me. I’m not disappointed if I don’t meet anyone else’s or my own grand expectations. I’m finding that I’ve become happier with how my life is and who I’m becoming and less like I have to become something specific and more like I just want to be authentically me. I still have a ways to go, we all do. I have reached my goal of losing 200 pounds, I have broken down a lot of walls, have maintained my sobriety, and I understand and see myself better than I have ever before. I have fallen in love with the gym and actually enjoy working out!

A woman stands in a gym wearing a tank top with her hands on her hips
Courtesy of Rene’ Laws
A woman flexing her back at the gym
Courtesy of Rene’ Laws

I appreciate all of the aches and pains that come with the gym, and it gives me great joy to see all the great things my body can physically do now. My passion for working out has led me to want to pursue becoming a fitness trainer with a focus on nutrition and specifically weight loss so I can turn my experience into assistance. I have so many friends and associates who ask me how I did it, what I eat, what they need to eat, etc.. and I don’t have the knowledge, I only have my own experiences. Everyone tells me how inspiring my story is and how much it’s helped them, encouraged them, or gotten them off their a** and back to the gym but I would like to pair my experience with knowledge so I can inspire and help others. I would like to actually sit down with people and be knowledgeable on how they can change their life for the better.

If an alcoholic, cheeseburger, and pierogi loving mother of 6, who’s in complete denial about her mental and physical health, can completely turn her entire life around to maintain a healthy weight loss in a healthy way while also improving her mental health, anyone who truly wants to change their lives can do it. If one person reads this story and decides that they can do it too, then it would all have been worth it. I was the only one that could save my own life, nobody can do it for you. Even if it’s a chapter at a time, eventually you will have a whole new book.”

A woman stands with her husband in Washington DC
Michelle Burton at About to Snap Photography
A woman wearing a black dress stands against a glass railing
Michelle Burton at About to Snap Photography

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Rene’ Laws from Stafford, VA. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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