How Recovering From My Eating Disorder Fixed My Relationship
Gather around and get cozy because this is going to be a long one. The thought to write this blog dropped into my mind while I was recently on vacation with my amazing husband. It was the first time we'd been on a trip just the two of us in a long time and I had a lot of time to reflect. It’s been cookin’ in my head ever since and I’ll probably have a vulnerability hangover after this, as Brene Brown calls it, but here it goes.
Everyone who knows me (or even just follows me) knows I’m obsessed with my husband, Thomas. Our posts about each other are sappy and disgusting and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Sometimes I just stare at him and wonder how I got so lucky...I’m not kidding. I know, gross. Sooo, I tend to use my IG to explain my appreciation and love for him often because I feel incredibly grateful to have him as my partner in life and my family.
I can’t imagine going through the phases of entrepreneurship and being a developing musician without someone like him to support me. He listens to my frustrations, holds space for me when I’m upset, helps me learn cool riffs, and sends me plenty of adorable pics of our dogs when I’ve been at work all day long. Basically, he’s the shit. I adore our marriage and life we’ve started together.
However, it hasn’t always been this way.
I won’t speak for Thomas when I tell the story because he is his own person with different thoughts and feelings about what happened. I’d simply like to tell the story from my perspective about how powerful eating disorders are and why recovery is truly the only option to live a full life. This is about how an ED invades every aspect of your life and you don’t realize it when you’re in the thick of it. You don’t realize it until you’re in the burning building and everything around you is crumbling down. You don’t even realize you have a true eating disorder because you’re not technically “underweight” and no one around you knows how much you’re suffering. But that's another blog for a different time. This ones about love <3
Now onto the (self) love story.
I’ve known Thomas since we were in middle school. We developed a friendship in high school and began to date the first year of college.
Ya’ll. It’s hard to meet your person at such a young age.
I didn’t know he was my person at the time, but I will say that it felt comfortable, warm, and too good to be true straight from the beginning. I fell madly in love with him and was so happy to have him on campus and trying to survive ASU with me.
However, it was my first year of college, after all. I was trying to adjust to living in the dorms and being thrusted out of the comfort of my home where I could control my weird eating tendencies. I was trying to keep up with my obsessive exercise schedule. I was trying to pretend like I didn’t have a problem.
Not only is college a whole new world, but you’re trying to establish yourself as an adult, manage your own schedule, and you’re usually broke. On top of all of that, there’s the opportunity to party DAILY, which sounds really inviting when you’re experiencing all of the above stressors.
Like most college kids, I engaged in my fair share of partying and decided it was way more fun than trying to figure out my life, having a solid relationship, and hitting the books. Don’t get me wrong, I still passed and went to class, but it wasn’t my priority. I definitely wasn’t as excited about learning as I am now.
Also, with alcohol consumption comes dropped inhibitions and after about a year of being in a relationship (with the most perfect man ever) I decided it was necessary for me to fly free and not be “weighed down.” So I ended things. Or so I thought.
I wish I could’ve just ripped the band-aid off, but the truth of the matter was that I was confused as hell. I think this confusion partially comes along with meeting someone you’re crazy about at a young age. When you’re picturing marriage and kids at age 19, you tend to talk yourself out of it. You tell yourself you’re too young. You need to experience the variety and spice of life. He can’t possibly be THE ONE.
Perhaps he wasn’t at the time, who knows. I’m in the camp that everything makes sense in the end and the lessons I had to learn through this process were invaluable, but I do realize that I didn’t deserve all the chances he gave me.
I wanted to have my cake and eat it too. I wanted to seek outside validation from other guys but still have the comfort of knowing someone loved me. It sounds selfish and terrible when I say it like that, but that’s what my sick brain needed at the time to feel any sort of value. The unconditional love and adoration of one person simply wasn’t enough. I wanted adoration from everyone.
Of course, I had zero self-awareness. I swam in a pool of excuses and tequila to buffer all my discomfort with myself and my life.
What I didn’t know at the time was that my experimentation with alcohol and flirtation was a bandaid for the suffering I was feeling from my eating disorder and issues with body image. I didn’t want to feel my feelings or deal with what was going on, so I went to parties to meet boys and drink to the point of sometimes blacking out. I’d binge eat at night because I had starved myself all day, which also made getting drunk quicker and more dangerous.
This destructive cycle continued for most of college. All the while, Thomas and I were dating on and off because I couldn’t actually bare to end things completely. I always wanted him on the back burner. Truthfully, I just never came across other guys that I felt as connected to as I did to him, but I couldn’t bring myself to commit. I was addicted to getting attention from others.
Thomas always came to my rescue when I was in need and he just felt like home to me. Anytime I dipped into depression and my coping mechanisms failed me, I just wanted to be held by him because it felt safe. It didn’t FEEL like I was taking advantage of him, but deep down I knew I was.
Flash forward to years later. This cycle continued through our 20s but it was even worse because we were more serious and actually talking about marriage. We lived together and started a life together. We were happy. Or so I thought.
I hadn’t dealt with any of my issues yet, but paying for bills and working full time distracted me into thinking I was living my best life and I was happy. I was still partying fairly often (easy to do when you’re a bartender) and experimenting with different diets for “health.” You guessed it, another coping mechanism.
I became obsessed with health as a way to disguise my eating disorder and that’s when my orthorexia developed. I went from strict calorie counting to thinking most food was poisonous and writing a lot of it off entirely. I had a short list of foods I was “allowed” to eat. This worked fine to distract me until it didn’t anymore.
And then I got cold feet. Again.
That’s the thing about coping mechanisms. They’re useful. They help create a lovely facade. They help us keep on truckin’ through life. They help us pretend like everything is okay and we’re not suffering.
The truth was is that I was falling apart and my relationship was suffering as well.
I wasn’t willing to do the work on myself to make my relationship work. I put all the blame on him and refused to look at where I was lacking or where I had failed. My eating disorder had served as a way for me to have control in a life that felt so out of control. I wasn’t comfortable feeling feels, expressing emotions, and asking for what I needed.
I’ll leave out the details that involve other people because I didn’t seek permission to divulge their personal information, but let’s just say I decided to make this whole thing even more complicated and developed feelings for someone else. I was seeking something to make me feel better about myself. I perpetuated the cycle I had picked up in my college years of looking to others for outside validation.
This time it was even worse because I THOUGHT I knew myself and had it all figured out. Fake confidence will do that to a person. Looking back, it was almost like I was on a high horse because I was had convinced myself I was “healthy” and that was it. I then got addicted to the dysfunction of this new relationship and the rush of the drama got me high.
There’s plenty that I’m leaving out here because this blog is already long AF, but the point of this story is that having an ED leaks into EVERY part of your life. My need for validation and seeking outside of myself to make me feel things is what lead to the issues in my relationships. I’m lucky as hell that Thomas still saw the potential in our relationship, but there was a point in time where we both thought it was over for good.
When I was at my rock-bottom, or what felt like it at the time, I never thought I’d be able to make a change in myself. I was so frustrated with myself but I couldn’t comprehend the actual root of my issues because I wasn’t willing to go there. I was distracting myself with drama and alcohol.
It felt like my cycle of self-hate would never end and I’d be a “love addict” forever, just bouncing around from person to person, unable to trust and commit. It just goes to show that when one coping mechanism stops working, it’s usually human nature to seek out something more powerful.
I needed to step into my self-worth and cultivate a relationship with myself in order to experience the true depths of a relationship with someone else. I needed to realize that it wasn’t my partner’s responsibility to make me happy.
I couldn’t do any of this until I gave up on my eating disorder, found worthiness in helping others, learned to trust my body, and saw that there was so much more to life than obsessing over my looks. I dove into reading and listening to all the sources I could think of that would help me do this and I became obsessed with healing. I wanted to be better. Years later, I’m finally on that path.
So what did this whole thing teach me about relationships and validation? I know we have to land this plane. There’s been some turbulence, but we did it.
You will never truly be able to love someone else unconditionally until you give yourself the love you need first. You’ll always be searching and seeking validation from outside sources. Whether it be from swiping on Tinder, likes on instagram, or just general people pleasing to make people like you. I had to learn this the hard way and I’ve hurt wonderful people in the process.
I’ve felt a lot of guilt about this for a long time and I used to be ashamed to talk about it, but now I’ve come to terms with my shadow side. The side of myself that acted out in selfish ways, did a lot of lying, and disregarded other people’s feelings. The side that suffered from an eating disorder and used controlling with food and buffering with alcohol to cope. I look back at that girl and I realize how sad and unfulfilled she was.
The truth is that we all have a dark side. None of us are perfect.
Even though most social media accounts only show the highlight reel, you never know what’s going on beneath the surface. It’s better to become friends with your shadow side and maybe even see how that side of yourself served you at a point in time. Otherwise, it'll always come back to haunt you.