For new couples, the “first times” are often sweet things: the first date, the first kiss, the first time you meet your S/O’s friends and family. And then there are the less sweet, but just as intimate firsts: the first time you discuss your turbulent childhood, your divorced parents, or your first real fight and make-up. I recently had a different kind of first — opening up to my boyfriend about my eating disorder.
I have been recovering from an eating disorder for five years at this point. I have eliminated most of my disordered behaviors and become more mindful of my body’s needs. But I still have days that I have to fight my disorder hard so as not to relapse. As if the daily struggle to overcome the disease is not enough, the anxiety of sharing it with others is horrendous. For people with a history of disordered eating, the stigma that still surrounds it makes it difficult to discuss with family, friends, and significant others. Your partner has to accept you as you are, and the thought of a loved one not accepting you is heartbreaking.
I am recently in a new relationship, and it’s my first real relationship since overcoming my disorder. It has taken me months to say anything about my illness. I even went through a rough patch with returning disordered behaviors, but I did not say anything to my boyfriend for fear of what he may think, which was ridiculous, because so far, he’s the bee’s knees! He’s compassionate, selfless, and thoughtful. But I was scared to discuss my very prevalent issues with him. I wondered if it would be worth it, and I felt ashamed of my range of emotions. I was embarrassed, and I worried that at the simple mention of the words “eating disorder,” he would never talk to me again. However, I told myself, If that’s the way he reacts, my darling, he’s not for you. I had to remind myself again that it was the eating disorder making that assumption. He would never be so shallow or insensitive. He deserved my confidence.
Before I took the plunge and opened up, I made sure we were in the right place emotionally. He supports my goals and knows my dreams, and I, his. I had been telling him about my less-than-ideal family history, and while we were in a serious moment, I seized the opportunity to explain my eating disorder. He was listening intently, and I lead into the topic. I took a deep breath and thought of all the strong women in my life, and I opened my mouth and my heart to this man who deserves to know this part of me. When I finished my soul spillage, he thanked me for being so open with him. He told me he was happy that I did it. My heart felt so much lighter.
A few days later, we took it even further by discussing my original discomfort in discussing the illness with him and what he can do to help me in the future. I explained to him that I will appreciate his support and encouragement, but I must not become dependent on anyone while I’m in recovery. It’s perfectly okay to have a strong support system, but investing your recovery in a single person is dangerous and unreliable, no matter how great the person is.
By convincing myself that my illness was a secret to be hidden, I made myself believe there were parts of me I could not share; parts that were too taboo, even for people who love me. But this discussion changed my perspective. My survival, my fight — this is my story. It’s who I am. Over time, my relationship with my partner will also contribute to who I am. By sharing my recovery story with him, not only did I connect two important pieces of my life, but I deepened our understanding of one another, our relationship, and most importantly, myself as a whole, functioning human being. My disorder convinced me for years that I was not capable of loving or being loved, and sharing this part of me with him made the disorder’s voice that much smaller.