Edward Otto Zielke
By Andy Armano
This series focuses on individuals who give to our community and make a positive impact on the lives of others. Often it is through our personal adversities that we discover who we are and transform the challenges into strength. This month Otto Zielke (Edward Oz) speaks with us about his personal transformation.
Andy Armano: You have overcome a number of challenges – any one of which would have been quite a bit. I see a good looking guy who has a calmness and confidence that I wouldn’t immediately guess you’ve had so much to overcome.
Edward Oz: I’m happy, sober, and healthy. Everything that’s come before has brought me to this place. My life is wonderful and I have so much to be grateful for. I am proud of my work at the Grand Resort & Spa. I used all my skills. And I get to welcome gay men from all over the world and be my funny self.
AA: Share with us some of the challenges you have overcome.
EO: I have dealt with food addiction and I’m a recovering alcoholic. And, my cousin perished in 9/11.
AA: I’m so sorry about your cousin.
EO: I was working on Wall Street at the time, too, just blocks away from Tower One where my cousin worked, so I was there.
AA: That must have been exceptionally traumatic.
EO: It was. He was probably the most outgoing, the most animated guy that you would ever meet. He did just about everything. He was at the point of his life where it was just taking off. My first thought wasn’t about me. It was about him. I walked that whole day trying to find him. I was walking the streets, I was covered in silt. After 9/11, I really started eating and drinking to numb myself.
AA: Can you share about your weight loss journey?
EO: I was about 300 pounds and I was developing diabetes, so I opted for bariatric surgery. I was working at JP Morgan at the time and I started gaining confidence as I lost weight. I realized how much the weight was holding me back because all of a sudden I was up for promotions.
AA: So you dealt with food addiction before the alcohol?
EO: Yes, I couldn’t eat anymore, and alcohol jumped into that place. I drank in mass amounts. I hit a bottom and came to Florida to get sober and lose the remaining weight. I finally realized I had to face that addiction and I came down to Florida to get sober and it worked for me really well. I was hiding a lot of different things, I was hiding all of the scars from childhood and 9/11.
AA: South Florida is a very image conscious place. Did you have any surprising lessons down here as you lost the rest of the weight?
EO: I had lost quite a bit of weight up north, but I was still over 200 pounds. When I started losing more weight, people in the community started to notice my weight loss and they thought maybe I was doing crystal meth or something like that.
AA: So some people assumed something negative? How did that affect you?
EO: Here I was, being very open about my healthy choices on social media, letting people know about this weight loss. Every week I was being accountable. So it really fascinated me that at the same time I was getting people that were saying, “How much crystal meth did you do last week?”
AA: How did you deal with that?
EO: I developed understanding and tolerance. They are on a different road than I am. Truthfully, 10 years ago, I probably would have been chiming in with them too, but I’ve changed. When you’ve gone through a transformation yourself, you have the appreciation that others have their own issues. I’m three months away from being 50 years old at this point. And I feel like I’ve, for the first time, feeling like come into my own as an individual and who I am. And I’m not afraid to express how I feel. I’m more authentic, I’m more honest with people.
AA: That is beautiful. I love it. Thank you for sharing all that with us.
EO: Thank you. I hope my story helps other people dealing with similar issues.