Today's Weight 173.5lbs
Around 5 years ago my friend Angela left her husband because of his inability to tackle his severe weight problem.
He was only 34 years old at the time, but he was clinically obese – he weighed 30 stones (420lbs) – and he had significant co-morbidities (angina, hypertension, diabetes). His hospital consultant had warned him that he wouldn’t live to see his forties if he didn’t do something about his weight. He’d already had the toes of one foot amputated because of his diabetes, and he’d been told in no uncertain terms that his future would be blighted by further amputations, renal failure and blindness if he didn’t get to grips with his diabetes, and control his sugar intake.
The guy (I’ll call him ‘Dave’) was a lovely gentle man, who my friend loved deeply. However, she found it increasingly difficult to tolerate his complete disavowal of his health problems. He didn’t work because he was effectively disabled by his size, and she’d come home every evening and find that whilst she’d been at work he’s eaten a truckload of crap - a couple of McDs, a deep-pan pizza, a pint of ice-cream etc.
Then he’d cry with guilt, self-disgust and fright (because he knew he was playing Russian roulette - with food instead of bullets), she’d comfort him and reassure him that she loved him, he’d promise to try harder, and then in the middle of the night she’d wake up and come downstairs to find him eating a whole cheesecake or a whole box of chocolates, washed down with a few contraband litres of full-sugar Coke.
She likened it to living with a junkie or an alcoholic – the sense of distrust because of the lies he told about what he’d been eating, the impotence about being able to make him see the consequences of his choices, the self-destructiveness of his behaviour.
The last straw came when she came home early on the day that followed yet another dire warning from his doctors, and found him sitting in his car in the garage, literally shovelling handfuls of chocolate into his mouth as fast as he could swallow it. The boot of his car was open and full to bursting with empty chocolate wrappers, pizza boxes, Coke bottles and take-out containers.
She stood there and forgot all about being supportive and nurturing. Instead, she shrieked her head off with anger and frustration, pelted him with chocolate wrappers and walloped him around the head with a plastic coke bottle for good measure.
She told him that he was selfish and inconsiderate because if he loved her he wouldn’t force her to witness his slow suicide. She said that if he couldn’t take care of himself he couldn’t expect her to keep on taking care of him, and that it would be nice if someone took care of her for a change. She said if he wanted to kill himself she wasn’t about to stick around to watch him do it.
Then she left him.
And stayed left, even though she was scared to death that he’d commit suicide or spiral down into an even worse depression or fry his brains with a diabetic coma.
Depressing scenario, right? But wait – for once there’s a happy ending.
This morning K and I ran into him at a mountain bike race. He was competing, and he came third overall in his age bracket. He looked fit and lean and very, very happy. He told us in the five years since my friend left he’d really turned his life around and lost 17 stones (238lbs). He’s been following a low GI plan recommended by his diabetes consultant, which is controlling his diabetes without any other medication. He’s off his angina and blood pressure meds. He got remarried last year, and his wife gave birth to twin healthy boys in November ’05.
He’s never been happier.
I didn’t think it would be diplomatic to mention Angela, but he raised the subject of his old life himself. He said the kindest thing she ever did for him was to withdraw her tacit consent to his behaviour. By being supportive and loving she allowed him to pretend he was helpless victim of fate, and allow him to abdicate responsibility for his actions.
He said he’d never once seen it from her perspective and, when she flipped and gave it to him with both barrels, it finally dawned on him how much his condition affected her too. He had to take a long hard look at himself, and he didn’t like what he saw.
Ironically, Angela was the one who died (two years ago in a black-run skiing accident), but I think she’d be thrilled to see how healthy and happy he is today. She never stopped caring for him (even though she too remarried), and she was always fearful that she’d get a phone call from her former in-laws telling her he’d popped his clogs. Now it looks as though he’s got a good few years ahead of him, God willing.
Angie always regretted her outburst, and thought she’d been really heartless and cruel. He disagrees, and thinks she saved his life.
Maybe there is a time and a place for tough love, after all. It probably wouldn’t work for everyone – I’m not sure it would work for me, for example – but for some folks it may be just the wake-up call they need.