Editor’s note: This post is part of the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program’s Stories of Recovery series. TLAP offers confidential assistance for lawyers, law students, and judges with substance abuse or mental health issues. Call TLAP at 1-800-343-8527 (TLAP) and find more information at tlaphelps.org.
I am supposed to be dead! I weighed over 350 pounds, had high blood pressure, borderline high cholesterol, borderline high blood sugar, atrial fibrillation, and was taking a daily blood thinner.
For God’s sake, I was a 53-year-old lawyer with over 25 years’ experience negotiating multimillion-dollar transactions, supervising major litigation. I should be able to figure out how to lose weight! Research? I needed to do more research! Surely there was an answer!
I had exercised before—pumping iron, playing tennis, jogging, among others. I had lost weight before on numerous diets including Weight Watchers, Atkins, Stillman, the Zone, Optifast, and dozens of others, but I could never keep it off.
How many times had I promised my family, my wife, my children, I would lose weight. For the last seven years I was fiercely determined to lose that weight. I started exercising, and not just low-impact aerobics, step classes, and yoga. I was going all out. I was doing spin classes, hundred-mile bicycle rides, marathons, and Olympic-distance triathlons weighing over 350 pounds!?
I did the Tour de Tucson Century ride and the White Rock Marathon. I did the Kings Trail Triathlon in Maui. Swam a mile in the Pacific. Rode up and down Haleakala Crater three times! Walked six miles in the hot lava fields. I don’t know whether I was closer to God or closer to a heart attack! But I didn’t lose weight. How could I? Food was my friend. Food was my partner. Food was my master.
A partner at a law firm I worked at learned I was doing a triathlon. He marched down to my office, beating his breast, and said, “Anonymous, I was a triathlete in college! You’re no triathlete!” I said, “Richard (not his real name), when you’re at the starting line, you look at the person on your left and the person on the right and ask yourself, ‘Can I beat them?’ When I go to the starting line, I don’t look to my left or right, I look inside myself and I ask, ‘Can I help him?’” My favorite saying at the time was by John ‘The Penguin” Bingham, who said, “The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.”
Sure I was nervous. I had no plans to “win.” I wanted to lose weight. I just wanted to survive. And being a lawyer, I could analyze the event, identify challenges, and craft solutions so that I didn’t die and hopefully wasn’t injured. I did the same in the practice of law. In law and in athletic events, I had fear and anxiety. What am I going to miss? But I plowed through.
I had learned to self-medicate with food. In my office and my bike jersey, I had a stash of candy and nutrition bars (a euphemism for a candy bar with fiber or protein). I could always find a vending machine. And at the office and at events there were bagels and donuts and cookies, and let’s not forget the pasta parties and client lunches and dinners. It’s called business development in the office and carbohydrate loading at the event. I now recognize it as binge eating.
I was looking up the word “restore” and found its origin from Old French “restorer,” and from Latin “restaurare.” “Restaurare” looked similar to another word … oh, restaurant — from French “restaurer” meaning provide food for, literally, “restore to a former state.” Something meant to restore me was instead destroying me. Can you tell I enjoy lawyering?
Still I found no solution. Nothing worked. I quit looking. I gave up. I had nothing left. I didn’t know anywhere else to turn except maybe stomach surgery, and for me that was not a good answer. I resigned myself to an early death.
Then on April 1, 2007, April Fool’s Day, I was tricked into going to a 12-step meeting for overeating. I went mainly to prove that it wouldn’t work. As an overweight person, family and friends give me credit for just trying a new diet. At the meeting I heard a few things: one woman said she’d lost 130 pounds in a year without exercise, someone else said “honesty will kill this disease!” and I was reminded “it’s one day at a time.”
I hated the meeting. I tried to run away, but people reached out to me in person and by phone. Two weeks later I was given a sponsor. I say “given” because I didn’t look for one. I was looking for something that would fail, not a program that worked.
Fifteen months later, without surgery, pills, or even exercise, over 150 pounds were gone. How did that happen? I was over 50, big boned, with a slow metabolism, so I thought. I tell people now that I have three college degrees but I’m most proud of my honorary Ph.D. in stupidity. I earned it.
Today I’m half the man I used to be and twice the man I ever was. I’m healthy. I don’t take any meds except a baby aspirin. There is wreckage from the past but nothing I can’t live with. Today I’m a better lawyer, better friend, better husband, father, brother, grandfather (three times, thank you). Who knew food was influencing me so profoundly and that getting honest and willing to get off my trigger foods and into fit spiritual condition was a more natural organic solution?
Today I attend meetings, not just in the overeating program, but a relationship program and Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers. I volunteer and provide service when I’m able. LCL and the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program have helped me learn to practice law imperfectly and mostly without anxiety. I’ve learned to ask for help from other members of LCL and from my Higher Power, who I call God. I was given this gift 10 years ago. It wasn’t just losing weight. It’s the whole new life and I have to learn how to live it.
I used to have a closet full of clothes in various sizes. I’ve given those away. Today, I have a life that fits like a custom suit, altered in all the right places. I must not take this gift for granted. Every day I express my gratitude for this gift. Writing this is an expression of gratitude. Even in these challenging times, it’s great to be alive, truly alive, and in recovery.
If anyone would like to hear more, or share their story with me, please contact TLAP and ask for my number. Call me. You’ll be doing me a favor. I share to remind myself what it was like, what happened, and what it’s like today to live in recovery.