We Are All Made of Scars.

my journey back to health - and becoming the G-Free Foodie

{originally posted 2013} I recently read this post by Shauna Ahern, The Gluten Free Girl and a similar one by my friend Mary Fran of  Even Curiouser (formerly Frannycakes). If you’re living with Celiac, trying to understand someone who is (yourself even) or just more about humanity, I encourage you to read both posts.

It occurred to me: what if I told my truth? Or, at least, the story of the lies I was telling myself? Could that help someone? Maybe. Here we go.

I’ve spent the last two decades of my life throwing up. In high school, it was 2-3 times a week, attributed to stress & a weak stomach. My weight fluctuated (mostly up) and stomach cramps were normal. I used to fall asleep in the bathtub regularly – largely because being immersed in warm water would relieve the pain in my gut.

In 1996, I flew, by myself, to San Diego to have gastric bypass surgery. There were a number of complications and I was scared as hell, but equally scared about ending up like my parents, both of whom were morbidly obese. Almost immediately, the vomiting went from 2-3 times a week to 2-3 times a day, often more. No matter what I tried, I was sick. Everyday.

I started taking medication to quell the nausea (almost no help), and my friends started carrying bottled water & gum in their cars for me. I’d say pull over so I could jump out of the car & puke, I’d rinse my mouth and we’d keep going. It was the new normal.

Once, while I was throwing up, I heard my dad ask my mom: “what did we let her do to herself?” Frightened that I was upsetting him, and that he wouldn’t consider bypass surgery, I taught myself to vomit silently.  Within that year, my parents both had bypass surgery. Without it, I’m confident I’d have lost at least one of them by now, possibly both.

I began to have additional GI problems, and a cast of doctors ran a litany of tests on me, prescribing medications as they went. None of it helped, I continued to be sick, now fighting a host of other issues as well. The upside, if there is one, is that if any of my friends need medical testing, they can call me for a real-life description and questions to ask, because I’ve usually experienced it at least once.

Your teens & twenties are hard enough without vomiting profusely, inexplicable weight fluctuations & skin conditions caused by GI flares – so although I was often the life of the party, surrounded by friends and seeing the world, I fought depression constantly. (Serotonin, the chemical responsible for regulating our moods, is made in the small intestine, and malabsorption can also cause depression. In short, if your GI system is a mess, your mind can be, too.)

With my health worsening (plus a bona-fide, movie-quality stalker & a number of other issues that better qualified me to be a guest on Jerry Springer than the Little Lebowski Urban Achiever that was expected of me) I became convinced that I would die in my early twenties. Not by my own hand, necessarily, but simply because no human body could possibly be this sick all the time and sustain life. I knew I couldn’t. When I woke up on my 23rd Birthday, I was genuinely surprised.

I felt ashamed, unattractive, disgusting even. I told myself that my friends tolerated all the gross parts about me because they loved the pieces of me that are funny, intelligent and strong. I allowed several people to treat me like hell because I felt like hell.

Multiple reparative surgeries occurred. I was still sick, my abdomen covered with scars.

I’d love to tell you that it all went away the minute I was diagnosed with Celiac & went Gluten Free. The vomiting did, and the rest of my GI issues got better over time, although I still struggle with ulcerative colitis, occasional nausea and my system will likely never function normally.  But the piece in my head – the one telling me I was gross, that I had to be tolerated, that I was unacceptable – that one stuck around for awhile.

Once my body was on the road to healthy, I began to address the rest of my life. I repaired some relationships, I buried others. I replaced the toxic people in my life with some incredible new friends. I hit up some therapy & hot yoga (consider this a recommendation of both). I got back in the kitchen. Life was better, but self-doubt still gnawed at me.

I made Winehead go with me to yoga one day, and she said she wished her abs looked like mine. I looked at her like she was insane, and then I realized: maybe I was doing it to myself. If she wasn’t disgusted by my scars or my weight, maybe no one else was. When I shared these thoughts with her & a few trusted friends, I understood how wrong I’d been. It was time to take myself on and change my own mind.

I immediately thought of Janet Jackson on the cover of Rolling Stone (Google it). It’s one of my favorite images of all time. The moment I saw that cover I was stricken by how beautiful she looked, and I also immediately told myself I could never take a photo like that, since it showed her abdomen fully.

What if I stood for the camera, scars showing, stomach out, and made something beautiful out of something I’ve told myself was ugly for so long? I almost had a panic attack just from having the thought. When I found the courage to discuss the idea with James (my friend + photog) and Winehead, I expected them to tell me I was nuts. Instead, James found a date on the calendar & Winehead offered to hold my boobs (she’s a team player.) We recruited one more hand model & a couple of other friends heard the plan and cheered me on.

The day of the shoot, I was so nervous I could barely breathe. I had big plans of spray tans & double workouts in the days prior, but Sam got the chicken pox instead. So there I was, looking the way I always look, 20 pounds heavier than I’d been 6 months earlier. Listening to Vanilla Ice would have been the only way I could have felt any less “Ms. Jackson if you’re nasty” – thankfully James turned on the Alabama Shakes.

KC-colorOnce we starting shooting, I couldn’t look at the pictures. Actually, I didn’t really look at them until days later. It was a tough night, I felt very raw and exposed (go figure.) But I spent most of that evening like I spend most of my life: surrounded by friends, while we joke, laugh & take turns holding each other up. It’s just what we do.

I love these pictures, not just because I’ve learned to love myself more, but because of the path & the story they represent.

Wishing you all the best on your path – and yes, I listen to Moby.


Photo Credit: James Collier. but you knew that.

33 thoughts on “We Are All Made of Scars.

  1. This is beautiful. You are beautiful.

    Thank you for sharing your story! Big hugs awesome lady!

  2. Thanks for sharing your story! It serves as an inspiration for others. You are beautiful inside and out!

  3. This is personal and beautiful, KC. We have all been there, silently critiquing ourselves and telling ourselves that no one could possibly love us (scars and all) if they knew the truth of that we dealt with. But we are wrong. It simply weeds out those not worth it.

    I love you!

  4. Wow, KC! You are one amazing woman! Thank you for sharing your story so truthfully. You are an incredible model of honesty and confidence.

  5. I'm so Proud of you!!! You are touching so manny Lives and helping so many people!!! You are a Inspiration K.c. And I Love and Support you!!

  6. I have always thought you were beautiful and talented since the first day my lil sis brought home this bubbly friend of hers. Hearing your story and seeing your amazing body is so inspiring. Exposing the hidden pain you carried around in your teens is a wake up call to talk to my teens and see if their smile is hiding something I might be able to love them through. Luv you KC.

  7. K.C., you are a beautiful lady inside and out, and have inspired me in many ways. Mostly, I love how you make me laugh and am always looking forward to our next class together. Thanks for putting yourself out there. Hugs!!!

  8. Good job, girl. The best thing that comes with getting "older" (but we are sooo not old yet) is self acceptance. And for the record….I wish I had your hair and your boobs :). Luv u.

  9. KC, thank you for being so transparent! You had me in tears. As a parent I pray that I never have to see my child suffer like that. The work you are doing to spread the word about cilliac disease is fabulous. There are so many silent sufferers and also those yet to be diagnosed. Thank you again for sharing your story!

  10. KC,

    I was touched and inspirred by your message. You have a ton of courage to write, picture & send this message.

    Thank You

  11. I love this post. As a girl who grew up with body image issues, and now a mother of 2 girls, it is so important to stress that there is no perfect body and to love the one you have. The older I get the more I realize it really is what lies on the inside that is most important. Congratulations on having the courage to share your story. You are beautiful, scars and all.

  12. We are all beautiful, because God made us. We must be brave, and have courage and listen to our body signals!
    Yes, I can sympathize with you, had similar problems, obesity all my life, stomach cramps, gastro issues, even the bariatric surgery.
    I finally put the pieces together. I am a neanderthal genotype, I eat no grains and i feel great and my weight is almost normal! Simple no grains!
    Congratulations for being so brave-you are awesome!

  13. KC
    Life should be easier but as my Dad always said, things happen for a reason. Yours appears to be a great role model, great inspiration, and tell a compelling story of strength and of self few of us are willing to admit. Thank You!

  14. KC,
    Thank you for your post. Loved everything about it and it has made me love you more. Thank you for coming out and sharing this with us. It has helped me with the fact that I have mommy scars from my two kids and that I am perfect just the way I am. Thank you for making it easier to be Gluten Free.

  15. Wow! You have no idea how much you have helped me. Your story is so similar to mine; however, I did not know "Serotonin, the chemical responsible for regulating our moods, is made in the small intestine, and malabsorption can also cause depression." No earthly idea, and have wondered for years why I am so darn depressed and nothing helps. I also had small bowel resection for severe diverticulitis at the same time as the bypass. My mother has been telling me for years that she thought I had celiac; however, some vague test run by my pcp indicated I did not have it. I have learned since then that the test needs to be much more specific than the test he ordered for accurate diagnosis. I will move forward with more in-depth testing for celiac, and I will also research ways to replace the serotonin that I am missing, perhaps via supplementation. I pray I can now begin to heal. Scars and all. This is my first visit to this website and this blog, which I happened to come across via a post on the friend of a friend's page. Now tell me this was not meant to be! 🙂 Thank you so very much for your courage and bravery and beauty. You have made a tremendous impact on my life today, and I feel this is going to be the beginning of my new life. Or, a return to living again. Blessings to you. With gratitude and best wishes to you always. Love, Elaine

  16. Amazing story of your strength and wicked determination. I have NO DOUBT you are changing lives. Thank you for sharing your beautiful you.

  17. First you are AMAZING, second you are BRAVE, third you are BEAUTIFUL, last I wish there were more people like you in the world. No one is perfect except maybe God but you have restored my faith in humanity and what is good in the world. You are a call to action to make yourself healthier one way or another so HUGE KUDOS to you. I hope I have the strength to make changes that will make my life healthier and the life of my family better. Oh and I mean EVERY word of this.

  18. KC,

    Wow! Thank you for sharing your story and sharing your energy with me and my business.

    I am so proud of you and your story. I want tell you you have a great abs. I wish mine was as strong as yours. But, in lieu of your story, I will accept what I have and be proud of it.

    Much love,

    Flavia Flores

  19. Thank you for telling your story. You know how it is with other and can empathize because you have been through it all. You are beautiful and God made you go through all of the heartaches to become a stronger and better person today!

  20. That is a good deal.worse.than how I figured out my condition. @ 26 or so, I was an OTR truck driver. I'd gotten fatter every year since starting. I had frequent heartburn, sometimes making it hard to sleep. Ive always loved spicey foods, but the heartburn didnt seem to coorespond to any type of food. Then GI problems started up. Heartburn, diarrhea, stomach Cramps, the works. I can tell you. Driving across country with these issues was crummy. Finally I started to get migraines. Again w/o apparent cause. So, I was griping to my sister one day who had long since been diagnosed w/ celiacs disease. Who said "congratulations little brother, you have celiacs". Thinking that all problems to a hammer look like a nail, I pooh poohed the idea. But. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. Plus, what sibling would pass on an opportunity to prove another sibling wrong? It was hard. Especially hard because all I had available was truck stop.food, snacks, and dry goods. But I kept vigilant.( As I must to this day) and slowly, gradually, and with many failures. ( damnit, I love BLANK, and want some because its BLANK day) I began to improve. First to go were the migraines, then the diarrhea, then the heartburn. I had to admit, I didnt want to believe it. But I felt. Better than I had in a few years. I still take a stomach acid reducer. And some gluten does slip in from time to time. But my friend's and family have supported my new diet and, lifestlye.

  21. Hi KC. There is a lot of similarities but some very important differences in my life. I found out I have a gluten allergy around the same time as I have a pituitary tumor removed, in my early thirties. I believe I have celiacs but won't be doing the painful test – the eating gluten to do the test being painful. I also had a terrible time at school and stress made it a million times worse. I gave up coffee in my twenties and that got rid of my migraines but I am still unable to handle flashing or strobe lights.

    So I am trying to sort out a system that cannot produce it's own hormones and cannot digest them…. And my doctors fail to believe – what I believe – that it might just all be linked. I'm so thankful there are sites like you who help me be able to eat NICE food! Thank you for your story and all your help and guidance.

    Blessings Frieda

  22. My daughter-in-law was just diagnosed with Celiac disease. I think you're beautiful and I really appreciated your story.

  23. Thank you for this outstanding article. I too have battled weight issues since childhood. Because of GERD that didn't respond to medication, even huge doses, I put myself on a gluten free diet (four yrs. ago) and it helped tremendously. As I slowly learned more about Celiac and gluten sensitivity it started making sense that other symptoms that I have had for years were tied into all of this also. It is a steep learning curve and only now at 66 I have finally been referred to an immunologist/allergist that seems to understand what is happening in my body. She has ordered the right tests to pinpoint immune problems that other doctors just brushed off as being genetic and nothing could be done anyway, so just live with it. I'm facing the future hopeful, that finally there are some answers that will help improve the rest of my life. Thank you again for sharing your journey with all of us. Thank you also for the wonderful recipes and videos that you share with us.

  24. Real friends never “see” my scars. I try not to, and have yet to be successful, although they are symbolic of having survived this disease. It’s funny, the scars I have from injuries and idiocy (and cat attacks – different story) have never, ever bothered me. These? Maybe it’s because they were not within my control, maybe it’s because it means there is something “wrong” with me.
    Thank you for sharing. I’m in such a large community of people who are nothing like me that it’s easy to forget I am not in this alone.

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