Identity is such a tricky thing. Up until August of last year, I spent a good portion of my life being obese, the last 10 years being morbidly obese. What I hadn’t realized before I started losing weight was how much of my identity as a person had been shaped by my weight. In my mind, I went from being “the fat kid” to being “the fat guy.” There was no conscious thought put into this label, it was just an assumption about who I was that shaped the cornerstone of my identity. I didn’t realize how much it was a part of me until I had lost 70 pounds and had to go clothes shopping as things weren’t fitting anymore. Looking at a pair of size 40 pants, my mind said “Those are too small. They are made for someone else.” I went into the fitting room to try them on and was shocked to find they fit perfectly.
I felt lost. Who was this person fitting into smaller clothes? My mind still thinks I am the fat guy, and I no longer want to be, but who am I now? Who am I going to be when I have lost 60 more pounds? I don’t know. Oh crap, I don’t know. As a pastor, I know what the answer to that question is supposed to be on an intellectual level, but the deepest parts of me still haven’t accepted I am worth loving today — weighing 234 pounds — or that I was worth loving at 305 pounds. I enjoyed playing the likeable, earnest, fat guy role and played it well, and that role became my identity. But that identity now has to change as it is no longer true. I need to forge a new identity based on the truth of who I am, not what I am. I’ll be up front and admit I don’t have the tools at my disposal to do this well. I now know the consequences of confusing my “who” and “what” and I don’t want to trade one mask for another.
I am still mourning the loss of me. Even though I know intellectually I am healthier, even though I physically feel better, I have still lost a core piece of my identity. It doesn’t matter that it wasn’t good for me or healthy for me to take on that role, there is still a loss to my picture of who I am, and I worry this loss will plunge me back into the same habits that got me 140 pounds heavier than is healthy for me. Dealing with this has actually been more difficult than making the habit changes needed to lose weight in the first place. One of my sources of difficulty is thinking I had myself figured out; I had no expectation of needing to change the way I saw myself and how that self negotiates daily life. Now, on top of the work I am already doing in terms of my relationship with food, I also have to do this unexpected internal work. The mental four letter words are now flowing and I am getting mad.
Inside me is a flood of growing anger. I am angry at myself for letting things get so out of hand, angry at the way I now see how I was treated before as a fat person. Angry at how my own mistreatment of myself and others strengthened this misidentification. Angry that now I’m being treated differently based on the way I look. I am broken in my inmost being and I am angry I don’t have the tools to put it all back together. My anger gets misdirected and occasionally I lash out at my wife and two daughters and then I get angry at myself for lashing out, and what a crummy broken mess this all is. I called my doctor for help and told him, “I am having self-identity and anger issues around losing all this weight, does this make sense to you?” To which he replied, “Oh yeah, we see this all the time.” The doctor referred me to a mental health provider and I’m hoping they will be able to give me some tools and language to process this inner change of self and my understanding of who I am. It’s scary to have to reconstruct my identity but this is part of growing into the beauty of being made in the image and likeness of God. I don’t feel beautiful or worthy of love right now, but maybe at some point in this journey I can make a start.