He read from a white sheet of computer paper: a list of the ways I could die from my eating disorder. I sat on our green velvet couch and stared at the corner of the room as though I had the power to make myself disappear.
He said he worried about me when he was at work. He told me he didn’t want to come home one day and find me dead on the bathroom floor because my heart had given out.
My husband cried and begged me to get help, for me, for us.
He said if I didn’t, he couldn’t be in the relationship anymore.
I stared, like our cat, into the corner of the room where the two walls met. I stared at the side of his face with a blank expression. He left the room, and it was only then that I broke down.
I slept on the green velvet couch that night because I was a horrible person and I couldn’t bear the shame of lying next to someone who loved me. I’d taken someone who was happy and subjected them to this monster inside me, and now I’d be alone with the monster ... unless I made it leave first.
Recovery is a terrifying thing. Recovery is one of the most difficult things anyone with addiction will face. It haunts us with the promise of the life we want, the freedom we desire, and fills us with doubt that we won’t be able to attain it.
According to The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, there are nearly 8 million people in the U.S. with anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or a related eating disorder. This is 3% of the total population.
For every one of those 8 million people who struggles, there is at least one friend or family member that loves and cares about them. Thus the span of suffering caused by an eating disorder is wider than just the 8 million -- it impacts at least 8 million more friends, family member, and spouses.
Anorexia nervosa is one of the most fatal eating disorders. For females 15-24 years old, the death rate from anorexia is 12 times higher than the death rate for all causes of death for this age group. Without treatment, about 20% of those with eating disorders die. With treatment, the death rate drops to 2-3%.
Although most eating disordered patients doubt they can recover, the statistics show that it’s critical to get yourself, or your loved one, into treatment. Their life is on the line.
To be honest, I didn’t think I could recover. I’d had my eating disorder for most of my adult life at that point. I’d tried countless times to stop but always went to the food, the restricting, the overexercise, the binging and purging, the hating myself.
The reason I got better is simple: him. My partner loved me and intervened on my behalf. He didn’t do it perfectly. Hell, he didn’t really know how to do it at all, but he showed up and did something, because he loved me.
He knew I couldn’t go on like that and he knew it would destroy our relationship. He came to me with honesty and vulnerability. He printed out a logical list, but then he spoke from his heart. He told me he was sad, scared, and frustrated. He told me he didn’t know what to do. He pleaded with me to get help. He offered to help me get help. He didn’t just sit there and do nothing. He fought for me in the only way he knew how - he got vulnerable.
Being vulnerable is a challenge. Being vulnerable means we are capable of being wounded or hurt. It means we show up without our armor and risk emotional pain. It means we show up to speak honestly, with love, and that we articulate the things that are happening for us.
What he did for me in the living room that night took courage. He risked losing me, upsetting me, having me completely ignore him. He poured out his fears and concerns and asked me to get help. Looking back, I still feel shame at how I responded because I’m sure I hurt him. Still, he showed up because he loved me. Vulnerability is the best gift we can give to ourselves, our partners, our family, our friends.
The reason we don’t do it more is because we’re scared. We’re afraid of emotional pain, so we hold onto our armor. And because we hold, we’re not emotionally available.
I was holding so tightly to the guilt and shame of my eating disorder that I stared into the corner as though my partner wasn’t even there. That’s cruel. That’s the damage the eating disorder can do. It keeps us from real connection and vulnerability.
When you have an eating disorder, vulnerability can often be seen as weakness. If we’re tired or weak, the voice of the eating disorder is there to berate us, to tell us we’re worthless and all those other triggers that run in our minds.
However, the truth is that recovery requires vulnerability. It requires us to sit with the uncomfortable emotions we numb out with our destructive patterns. If we can’t face ourselves and be honest and true, then recovery feels like a path laden with walls and briar patches. Getting vulnerable with our own selves in our recovery is what heals us.
I went to an inpatient rehab facility for those recovering from eating disorders. When I was in the hospital, I remember one of the therapists saying, “If you can’t be honest with yourself, you won’t recover.” When we are honest and vulnerable, things begin to shift.
I know recovery is possible because I’ve taken the journey, sometimes at a crawl. I wish I could go back and give myself the courage to be vulnerable, but I’ve only grown into vulnerability after my recovery. It’s been a gift for myself and for those in my life because the more I’m honest and vulnerable, it allows an opportunity for greater connection.
In hindsight, my heart is full of gratitude for my husband confronting me with my disorder. My heart is full of thank yous because without him, I wouldn’t have gone to treatment and I wouldn’t have recovered.
If you’re struggling right now, please know this: hope is real and recovery is possible. If you need help, too, or someone you love does, Rehab.com has a comprehensive list of facilities in the U.S.
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