I was thrilled when I lost 10 stone before my big day. But then my groom made a shocking announcement…
By Donna Penny, 36, from Putney, London
I quickly dialled a number I knew off by heart and waited for someone to pick up the phone.
‘Hello, I’d like to order a takeaway please.’
A few times a week, I’d order in my favourite dishes from the Chinese. I’d pile my plate high and settle for the night in front of the television.
After watching a film, I’d polish off a family-sized bar of chocolate and a few packets of crisps.
I started to gain weight during my teenage years, and by the time I reached adulthood my love of food meant I weighed in at a hefty 25 stone.
My love of cream cakes, takeaways and chocolate meant I was a hulking size 26. I struggled to keep up with my children, Jamie, seven and Charley, 17.
And although I knew my partner of 12 years, Raymond, 31, loved me for who I was, my confidence was at an all time low.
Every time I looked in the mirror, I hated what I saw. I avoided going clothes shopping, because nothing ever fitted me, so I lived in baggy clothes. I’d get out of breath after just a few steps.
Soon, I confined myself to the house, too embarrassed to go out anywhere with my family.
‘Want to come to the park with us?’ Raymond would ask me hopefully, as he and Jamie grabbed their coats.
‘No thanks,’ I replied. ‘You go – I’ll stay in and do a bit of housework. Have fun’
As I watched them walk down the road towards the local park, I felt my heart twinge. I wanted more than anything to be able to run around with my young son, but it seemed impossible.
I visited the doctor regularly for various weight-related problems such as backache and knee pain, and every time I went, he would urge me to shed the pounds for the sake of my health.
I’d always leave the surgery with the best intentions. But I failed every diet I tried, telling myself that I would be better the next day, but it never happened. The worse I felt, the more I would eat. I felt like a big fat failure.
In January 2012, Raymond proposed. I was thrilled, after many years together and two children I couldn’t wait to be his wife.
There was nothing I wanted more than to marry him, but as I imagined what our big day would be like, my joy quickly turned into dread.
Every time he brought up the subject of setting a date, I’d make an excuse.
‘I can’t get married looking like this,’ I muttered to him. ‘Let me lose a bit of weight first.’
The thought of being a wide bride filled me with horror, so much so that I put all talk of the wedding off for two whole years until finally, I turned to my GP for help.
When he told me my health issues meant I qualified for a gastric bypass on the NHS, I was delighted. I’d be a happy, healthy bride after all.
I went under the knife in January 2014 and when I woke up, a nurse was by my side.
‘The operation was a total success,’ she smiled. I felt a shiver of excitement – I knew the surgery would change my life for the better.
The bypass meant I could only eat small portions of food without feeling full, so I swapped my huge meals for tiny, childlike portions. I was amazed when I lost a staggering four stone in the seven weeks after the operation.
My confidence started to improve with every pound that melted away, and although I was still sore after the surgery, doctors prescribed co-codamol to ease the pain as I healed.
I could finally focus on organising my wedding without the fear of waddling awkwardly down the aisle as a size 26 bride.
I excitedly booked the big day for September 2016 and looked forward to trying on a beautiful wedding gown. I went clothes shopping and for the first time in years, everything I tried on fitted me perfectly.
But nine months after the operation, I was asked to attend a routine appointment so the doctor could check on my progress.
‘You’re doing brilliantly,’ he smiled. ‘I think we can take you off the painkillers now, as you are more or less healed from the operation.’
Suddenly, blind panic consumed me.
‘You can’t, I’m not ready!’ I blurted out. And then I heard the lies tumble out of my mouth: ‘I need them, I’m still in pain.’
The doctor looked at me quizzingly, but didn’t push me on the subject. Instead, he wrote out another prescription and sent me home.
Once I got in, I sat down and tried to figure out what had happened. I realised that I’d unwittingly become dependent on the pills.
I tried to wean myself off them, but every time I stopped taking them I’d suffer withdrawal symptoms. I started to get cold sweats, and would feel really irritable.
Shamefully, I started to take it out on Raymond and the kids. I’d snap at Raymond over the slightest thing. Sometimes he would only ask me what I fancied for tea, and I would shoot him a look of pure hatred.
I started spending longer and longer in bed and when I wasn’t sleeping, I would stare out into space, in a world of my own.
Every time a doctor threatened to stop my prescription, I simply made an appointment with a different GP and concocted a new reason why I needed the tablets.
By April this year I’d lost a massive 10st 4lbs, shrinking to a healthy size 14. But while I should have been planning my wedding I was desperately scrabbling about trying to get my hands on more pills.
Finally, Raymond dropped a bombshell. I was lying down on our bed, trying to sleep, when he burst into the room.
‘We need to talk,’ he announced, looking flustered. ‘I can’t marry you like this Donna.’
I stared at him in horror while he explained that my behaviour was out of order.
‘For the last few months you have been completely different,’ he continued. ‘You sleep all the time, you don’t help with any cooking or cleaning. You’re not interested in our children or family life. You’re always zoned out, on another planet. I can’t talk to you about anything anymore without you biting my head off. You’re addicted to those pills you’re taking and until you get off them, I’m cancelling our plans. The wedding’s off.’
His words hit me like a ton of bricks but they forced me to accept the shocking truth – I was an addict, not a blushing bride-to-be.
‘I’m sorry,’ I sobbed. ‘I’ve let you and the kids down. I’ll sort it all out, I promise.’
‘I’m here for you Donna,’ Raymond said gently. ‘But you have to help yourself too. For the sake of your family.’
Raymond knew how important our wedding was to me, so he knew exactly what to say to get me to act.
I wasn’t angry – I knew he wanted to show me how serious he was about needing me to change.
It was the jolt I needed to seek help. I went to the doctor and explained what had happened.
He arranged to send me to counselling and helped me wean myself off the tablets. Meanwhile, Raymond cancelled our wedding venue. I was heartbroken, but I knew he was doing it to help me.
After a few months, I became free of my painkiller addiction.
‘I’m so proud of you,’ Raymond said to me one afternoon while we were messing around with Jamie. ‘You’ve done so well. How about we set the date to rearrange the wedding?’
I was thrilled, and we set a new date for our wedding, July 2017. Now, friends and family can watch me marry Raymond happier and healthier – as well as slimmer – than ever before.
I still can’t quite believe I became addiction to prescription painkillers. Now, I want to raise awareness about just how dangerous they can be.
I thought gastric surgery would give me my dream wedding body – instead, it left my wedding dream in tatters.
Raymond says: “That period was really difficult. After Donna’s surgery she ended up taking those pills and in my opinion she swapped a food addiction for a painkiller addiction. She looked amazing after her weight loss but she just slept all the time and all the parenting, cooking and cleaning was left up to me. I tried to talk to her about it time and time again, but I just couldn’t get through to her. It was really draining, and I honestly didn’t know how much longer I could cope with it. I hoped that if I cancelled the wedding she would see how serious I was. Luckily it worked, and she got the help she needed. We are due to get married next year and now I’ve got the real Donna back, our family is happy again.”