What I wanted my partner to know about my eating disorder but never said
Eating disorders can destroy relationships, so when we hear an uplifting survival story, we want to share it.
A loving gesture from Chris Weir, whose girlfriend, Emma Stokes, suffered from anorexia, has made the news for proving that living with an eating disorder doesn’t rule out a happy ever after.
Weir wrote a list of reasons he wanted Stokes, 25, to make a full recovery, which culminated in a wedding proposal. He handed it to her on March 7, 2015 — the day she left the private hospital where she had been receiving treatment for anorexia. This month, the couple got married, and Stokes credits her new husband and "best friend" with saving her life.
A relationship with an eating disorder is a massively personal thing. It's incredible that Stokes was able to recover from her anorexia as a result of her now-husband's gesture. I'm not sure his approach would have worked for me, but all that says is that eating disorders are complex and unpredictable.
It's too easy to look back and wish we'd done things differently. But I do wonder if my own recovery would have been easier if I'd felt able to say these five things to my partner.
1. I'm terrified
I might come across as hard as nails. I might reject you. I’ll probably tell you I hate you. But I’m actually scared of opening up to you. I’m ashamed of my secret. I’m afraid of being vulnerable. I’m terrified that you will reject me when you know the whole truth.
2. It's not your job to "fix" me
As someone who loves and cares for me, it's natural for you to want to do anything you can think of to keep me safe, to help me get better. I know you mean well. But attempting to manage my symptoms — whether that’s by monitoring my food intake, hiding the scale or accompanying me to the bathroom to stop me from purging after meals — won't work. This disorder is stronger than you, and my recovery will require more than symptom management. What you can do for me is give me a safe place, free from judgment, in which I can be vulnerable, take risks and learn from my mistakes.
3. Recovery takes time and is full of setbacks
You'll need to be strong to work with me — be with me — during my recovery journey. It comes with no time frame or guarantees. During this time, I want you to make your own well-being and emotional state as much of a priority as mine. Some sort of counseling can really help partners of people with eating disorders explore their feelings about the process and the relationship itself and to learn ways of overcoming the difficulties that go hand in hand with loving someone who has an eating disorder.
4. My eating disorder is part of me, but I’m so much more than it
Eating disorders are all-encompassing and destructive. I don’t blame you for feeling suffocated by this thing I’m battling. Please don’t forget that it’s only one part of me. I’m the same person I was before it came along, and I’ll be the same person when I finally overcome it — only happier, healthier and stronger.
5. I might never fully recover from my eating disorder, and that's OK
I’m not sure it's possible to ever fully recover from an eating disorder. Little traces of it remain. Keeping track of what I eat. Automatically checking calories. Ignoring hunger pangs during times of extreme stress. If you pick up on these things, pay attention, for sure — but don’t panic. An eating disorder is a serious illness, and it can take a lifetime to recover.
For advice and support, visit National Eating Disorders Association.