From Gravity to Gravitas

My unlikely journey from self-destructive to self-conscious behaviour.

All my life I thought I had to bear my own cross. I believed with all my heart and soul that being fat was not a choice but a predetermined outcome that came along with my genes.

When I was 15, I ate so much one Friday night, on a late June evening, that the very next day my pantagruelic orgy came back to haunt me.

I am sure it’s got nothing to do with the meaning of the word, yet I felt compelled to use this photo here.

When I opened my eyes in the late morning hours, I was transported into a world of pain, the likes of which I hope that not one of you, my good and faithful readers, will ever experience in your lives. It’s not that I have a monopoly on pain, far from me to make such a bold claim. Alas, my pain was not even that great, when I come to think of it. It was the fact that before I opened my eyes, I was still living on the tail end of a dream, oblivious to any nervous stimuli that my body was about to send back up the spine to my brain.

And when it did, I kinda did three things in a very rapid sequence: woke up, curled back, and fell off the freaking bed. One fluid movement to master them all. The pain and the shock accompanying it were so unexpected that I hit the ground like a sack of potatoes dropped by an Irishman chased by the English.

Apropo the Irish.

My eating habits had finally gotten to me.

I scrambled to get to the phone and called my buddies who hurried to our house. My mom was at work, and that proved fortunate for me as she was a nurse. My grandma was out buying some groceries. And there I was all alone, aching like a stuck pig.

Pig sticking in British India, cca. 1900. Apropos this sporting activity, the novel Captain Casse-Cou by Louis Henri Boussenard, set during the Boer War of 1899-1902, depicts the infamous British trying to stick their lances into some Boer POWs.

And so my friends dragged me one painful km to the Grigore Alexandrescu Children’s Hospital in Bucharest. By the time we reached the emergency room, my abdominal cavity hurt so bad that I had almost passed out.

One of my friends called my mom’s hospital, and she hurried to the one I was being kept waiting without being admitted. Once my mom got in, she pulled some levers, oiled others, and they finally admitted me around 2 pm. At this point, I barely remember a cretinuous doctor telling my mom that she might want to take me back home because my appendix was inflamed but in his opinion, not likely to give me any trouble until the following Monday.

My mother did the math in about 1 second, got up, told the doctor she was going to see the Director of the Hospital, and stormed out of the room. At this point, I kinda passed out, and I woke up later on a stretcher. My mom was holding my hand and caressing my head, I was finally being admitted to the hospital, and they were about to prep me for surgery.

I remember how anxious my mom was.

Francesco Rossi (1510-1563) – Madonna and Child, the young St. John, and an Angel, cca. 1543-1548. My mama’s expression when she was worried for me.

Apparently, I had developed a fever and they were concerned that my appendix was quickly becoming super-inflamed. By the time it got close to 5 pm, I was being sent into emergency surgery. I vaguely remember being wheeled into the O.R., where my mom had greased the anesthesiologist, thus making sure that her boy would actually woke up post-surgery.

BTW, if you live in a country where graft is part of the equation, and you have to choose who to ‘oil’ in the case of a surgery, always do the anaesthesiologist. He/she is the one holding your life in the palm of their hand, and no other.

The last I can recollect is the dude asking me to count back from 10 to 1, and I believe I reached 5 or 4, when the stuff kicked in, and I was out.

Fast forward to 11 pm Saturday night, when I came to, again in pain. The pain came from everywhere in my belly, but also from my upper limbs which were restrained in the spread eagle position and a couple of I.V.s were flowing lifesaving liquids into my depleted body.

To put things into perspective, the day before, this 15 year old teenager weighed 125 kg and measured 175 cm. Today, some 27 years later, I managed to scale back to 126.3 kg (update 124 kg).

But coming back to June 1994, 2 days after the surgery when they released me, I had lost some 20 kg. By the end of the summer, I weighed 75 kg.

They told my mom that the moment they opened me up, my appendix burst out and they had to cut it off so fast they nicked some blood vessels. They said I lost about 1.5 liters of blood. Talk about luck.

Not only they saved my hide, that team of fine surgeons, but they also gave me the only real chance at slimming down I had had up until then.

A monstrously obese young gent, whose mere sight would repel any notion of amorous conversation with the opposite gender, had gotten a reprieve, and was now so slim than all the muscle hidden underneath all that fatty tissue, was finally exposed to public view.

That’s me back then, when fate gave me a jolt in the right direction. Thats me again in 2022, when I gave myself a jolt in the right direction. I actually give myself a jolt every day by living a normal life whereby I try to keep my gluttony in check and respect the old Greek adage: Meden agan – without excess.

By late August of the same year, I was trekking by myself and crossing the Carpathians from Busteni to Predeal and onward to Rasnov in one day. That’s some 23 km in a single day, and 1,000 m altitude differential. By the end of the school holiday, I was chasing girls in the Bucegi Mountains.

I was slim, tanned, happy, in excellent shape, healthy, and hungry for life.

And by the way, when the school year commenced that September, a new guy entered the corridors of the I.L. Caragiale National College. Whereas before the girls would never notice me, or did so with disgust, now they were flocking to me like I was made out of honey wine.

And boy, was I surrounded by a fine pick of the crop. We were just 5 boys in a class of some 30 girls. Me, I could not care less, given that I was raised by two fine women, and the only male presence in the household was an asshole of an uncle.

My grandpa, a fine gentleman from a different age who taught me History is Everything, had died in 1988, 1 year and 1 month before the Romanian Revolution.

But coming back to junior high-school, I was really happy to be young, slim, and surrounded by young ladies and a few good chaps, some of whom – I am told – are now the pillars of Romanian society.

That was my first life-changing experience. Unfortunately, and although I managed to hold on to a healthy weight for the next 7 years, by the time I finished my Bachelor’s, I had put on a hefty 15-20 kg. And that was tragic because life was going to become even more hectic and unforgiving for a young chap who had shunned cigarettes in college only to pick up smoking in University.

So, yeah, I let myself go, I let myself go really badly. I started smoking so goddamn fast, going from a rabid anti-smoker who used to tear up his mom’s smokes and give shit to his crew of friends, to full chain-smoker, that on my first day I smoked 2 1/2 packs of cigarettes in 4 hours.

I remember this clearly because as life would have it, I was at my first job, handing out leaflets for a car and home alarm company owned by one of my asshole of an uncle’s friends. I was doing this at a trade fair / air show, and chain-smoking on the tarmac, while shaking hands and introducing the company to people, that I lost track of how much I smoked. All of a sudden, I lost my breath, and fell down on the ground. The folks around me called me an ambulance, which came and revived me. They told me that I had had a syncope due to chain smoking, you know like alcohol poisoning but with tobacco.

Talk about being addicted to stuff.

So I guess my life’s story has always been about dealing with addiction. First, food. Then, tobacco. And if I did not know better, I might have really started to hit the bottle. Oh wait, before I went West, I was kinda heading that way too.

I remember in the early 2000s, I was swilling eau de vie so early in the day and on an empty stomach, that I had managed to add ulcer to my other ailments. Talk about walking down a path of self-destruction with gusto and gravity.

Fast forward into the future, after smoking 2 packs a day for some 13 years, I quit cold-turkey in 2012. This led to my putting on some 7 kg. And finally, after reaching 142 kg at the age of 42, I decided to arrest this self-destructive behaviour.

Simply put, I told myself that Ya basta, enough already, I am taking back control of my own life.

So, in the last 8 months, I have walked, exercised and watched my eating as much as I could, to the point that I bought a scale and a digital measuring tape, I installed an app on my iPhone, and started a spreadsheet documenting my road from Gravity to Gravitas.

So far, I lost 18 kg. It’s all about willpower, folks. It’s about doing the right thing more often than not. It’s about marching in the rain, sleet, snow, wind, cold, hot and shitty or sunny weather, every day. It’s about not caring or allowing for sickness, state of bowels, or disposition. It’s about putting your right foot in front of the left, rinse, and repeat. It’s about marching on despite your muscle pain. It’s about pushing your body all the time without giving it a reprieve. It’s about punishing it, for your 42 years of gluttony and excess and addiction. It’s about setting goals and working relentlessly to achieve them, without paying attention to others.

It’s about not caring what people say, think or let on. It’s about setting an example to your own self. It’s about teaching yourself an important lesson.

Where there’s a will, there is a Way.

It’s about telling yourself that being a glutton gets old pretty darn fast and that if you liked to eat, now you must acquaint yourself with the bill for your overindulgence.

It’s about self-motivation but also about being a natural man, who can run, walk, chase game, exercise, stretch, reach out, jump, climb a tree or a mountain, dive down, skydive, ride an e-scooter in Italy, swim across a gulf on the Tyrrhenian Sea, etc etc etc.

It’s about being normal. A normal person is able to do all these things and many more. A normal person is able to outrun anything they cannot outfight and the other way around.

Being fit is being healthy. Being healthy makes life worth living.

Mens sana in corpore sano.

But perhaps the most important lesson one learns along this path of self-discovery is the importance of willpower over the weakness of the body.

People judge people on the merits of this important distinction. If a person looks like they lack willpower, then others will realize this, and treat them accordingly. Our actions speak for themselves. And no matter what we say, actions will always matter. Whereas words will fade away.

Acta non verba. Actions, not mere words.

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