Wednesday, January 16, 2019

A Return To The Why

I take a seat in the second row of lime green contemporary-style chairs in the center portion of the horseshoe configuration.  The Weight Watcher Leader, a colleague of mine at work, has suggested that I come early to this Sunday morning meeting. It was an incident at work that has brought me here. A “trigger” that has made me want to connect again.

I wait for some sort of feeling to take me back to my first Weight Watcher meeting.  At fifteen, I was sixty pounds overweight and my mother had dragged me to that first meeting.  I’d growled at her, tugging at my long sweater to cover my body, ashamed.  That was until the Leader, had signaled me out. “You’re too beautiful to be hiding behind mascara and that long sweater.”

No one had ever told me I was beautiful.

I realize now that taking me to those Monday night meetings for close to a year until I reached my goal weight, was the greatest gift my mother had ever give me. No gift (and my mother was a giver) had ever matched the support at those meetings. I wonder, is she looking at me now from above?  Did she know how much it meant to me?

I leaf through the WW magazine.Ahh, I think, eyeing glossy pictures of food, the recipes. Still, nothing emotional.  It’s as if I’m waiting to board a flight. I could be anywhere. 

As the room fills up, no one seems to take notice of me – why this thin woman in skinny jeans and a white t-shirt is wearing a WW nametag. A woman sits in front of me with a small infant in her arms. She chats up her seatmate. An older woman inches by me with a smile as she takes the seat next to me. A young couple arrive and sit at the edge of the horseshoe to find space for their baby sleeping under a thin Mickey Mouse blanket draped over the top of the stroller while another man goes for the corner seat in the row behind me.  All around me every adult age group and ethnicity is represented.

Being overweight has no barriers. 

And, in this room, no judgment.

Our leader heads to the front of the room. Her necklace, it's with ten small gemstone rings signifying each year of her goal weight, catches the florescent light above as she begins the meeting. Today’s topic is "The Why."

“Why are you here?” she asks the group. “What brought you first to Weight Watcher’s?”

“When I’m here, I’m not alone,” blurts out the blonde woman seated on the side row in front.

My stomach tightens and tears well in my eyes.  

Another woman chimes in: “We’re sick of ourselves.” And, another, “I just want to be able not to think about my weight. Not to have to try on three outfits before I find something that fits before I go to work.”

“Weight Watchers changes with the times,” another member quipped. Then, a confession from a gentleman in the back: “I gained over the holiday. I know what I need to do and now I’m here to get back into healthy eating.”

The comments become white noise as I try to control my emotion. I’m not alone…

I reach for a handkerchief in my handbag. I’m fifteen again at my first Weight Watcher meeting in the Synagogue on Sweetzer Avenue. As a "new member," I’ve moved away from my mother to the front row, taking in the brochure, realizing that this might be a way out of my pain.  Here,I’m not alone…

I’m brought back into the moment with a woman who says that she just “wants it over,” adding “I don’t want to think about my weight anymore.”

Another member pipes in: “I don’t want to have to think about ordering my salad dressing on the side.”

I raise my hand. Our leader eyes me. She knows…

Two other members weigh in on this woman’s comment. I wait to hear them. Then, our leader gestures to me to speak.

I stand and step away from my lime green chair so that they can all see me - the whole me.

“My name is Heather. This is my first Weight Watcher’s Meeting in forty-seven years,” I say.  I glance around the room. All eyes are on me. They wonder where this is going. Who is this woman? And how can she relate to us?

 “I’m here because I asked your leader, a colleague of mine, if I could come today.  You see,” I paused,  “we had this Christmas lunch at work. Our boss brought food in for our customers and employees. Now, you know as Weight Watchers your mind goes…how will I deal with this? Will there be something for me to stay on the program? Will I have choices?”

I speak their language. They knew then that I was the real deal and I sensed the warmth. 

“It was Chinese chicken salad, thank God,” I laughed. “I can do this.”

I relayed my story of how I’d dished the salad on my plate and walked back to my counter when a customer seated at one of the tables called out: “Heather, did you put dressing on your salad?”

How I’d been taken aback with a “No.” 

“She’s crazy,” the customer had muttered to the group around her. “What’s salad without the dressing?” she’d said, shaking her head. “Crazy!” 

I’d set my plate down on the counter and went into the back of the store. I needed a moment.  

My Weight Watcher colleague saw it all and came over to me. “It’s ok, Heather.”

“Can I come to one of your meetings? I asked.  “I need to share.”

She gave me a knowing smile. “Of course.”

“It’s never over, thinking about the weight,” I say to the group.  “Last night was my son’s birthday and I ate cake, bread, a martini – you name it. But, this morning, I’m back. Strawberries and oatmeal.”

“Here’s the deal,” I add. “I’m 62 and still in the game.  So hang in there,” I tell them. “It will never be over this weight thing. It’s checks and balances. But, is it worth it?” I ask the group.

I scan the room. I see myself in their eyes.  “I could cry,” I say, in a throaty voice as my emotions rise to the surface. I need to tell them that the hurt, the pain, never leaves you with this weight thing. Forty-seven years maintaining what I’d achieved all those years ago, and yet I’m still vulnerable. 

“Yes,” I tell them. “It’s all worth it.”