By Heather Price
First of all, it’s going to be hard. You are choosing to love someone who has a hard time loving herself.
But please, don’t let that deter you.
You have to accept that it’s not something she expects you to “get.” Take her scale away. Mark through the food nutrition labels in the pantry. It may seem silly and she will argue and beg you not to, but she will thank you later. Secretly, she knows her health is your priority even when she fails to make it hers. You may have to accompany her to therapy sessions, remind her to take her medicine, or do the grocery shopping. Sometimes you may have to pack her lunch so you will need to know her meal plan. You will also need to know her triggers, and who her support system includes. She has an entire team helping her pursue recovery: a psychiatrist, a therapist and a dietician. She will have good days and bad days but always know that even though the bad days may be scary, they won’t seem quite as bad if you’re by her side.
Tell her what you like about her. Dig deep and be original. Bonus points for not relating it to her physical appearance. Remember, she has an eating disorder and she is (mostly) unhappy with the way she looks. It will take practice and a lot of conditioning for her to be able to accept your compliments; for her to believe that you’re telling the truth. She’s either spent the majority of her life without them or the ones she has received have been insincere and ended in a broken heart and more self-hate. She’s been lied to, she’s been used, and she’s broken. Her heart is a fortress. You have to know that Ed (the oh-so-endearing name for her eating disorder) has destroyed a lot of her friendships and relationships and she will be apprehensive. She’s comfortable being with you; that fact alone speaks volumes. She may really like you, but part of her will be expecting you to run when things get to be too much. Prove her wrong.
Be friends with her best friends. Be friends with her family. These are the people that know about Ed and they support her recovery just as much as you do. Trust her when she says they like you. They like you for who you are and they love you for who she is when she’s with you. They appreciate you for staying with her in spite of her eating disorder, for not leaving her when everyone else did.
She doesn’t want your entire relationship to revolve around food. She wants to be trusted in her recovery. She wants you to ask her how her day was instead of what she ate. She needs the accountability, but don’t make it the focus. Help her see that she’s beautiful for more than her body. Let her know that you adore the part of her that’s nerdy and you appreciate the part that likes solitude. Let her know what your friends think of her because she will wonder. Find out her hobbies and encourage her to pursue them. (More) bonus points if they’re things you can do together. Watch “Game of Thrones” or “Arrow” and revel in the fact that you landed a girl that enjoys the same shows you do. Play a game of cards or suggest a Harry Potter marathon. Enjoy the moments where she sits on one side of the room reading and/or writing while you play your video games. Watch her get lost in her art. Buy her a new bottle of nail polish and watch her get irritated when she can’t make up her mind on what color to paint her accent nail. Take her to the shooting range. Play putt-putt, disc golf, or paintball. Make working out fun again. Run with her on Saturday mornings and then take her out for brunch. When you learn the way she prefers her coffee, don’t hesitate to make it for her. Show her that the “black-and-white/all-or-nothing” mentality she has known for so long isn’t how life was meant to be lived.
You’ll start to pick up on her isolation techniques. Respect her space, but keep her close and don’t let her slip too far. Look into her eyes when you ask if she’s ok because they will give her away every time. She will try to hide her tears from you; she may even wonder why she’s crying. Don’t let her tears worry you; know that the battle she fights inside herself is brutal. Accept the shocking reality that she wants to be free from her eating disorder but she doesn’t know what a “free life” looks like. She may lose sight of why she is fighting and she’ll want to give up. Encourage her to face her fears. Help her see she’s worthy of a life of love. Over time, she will discover how to love herself and how to let other people love her.
Love is always a choice. Even though this is a difficult journey, it will be rewarding. All it takes is one person to help her see who she is without an eating disorder. She can’t promise you that she won’t slip. She can’t promise you that she won’t relapse or end up back in treatment. But she can promise you that she will fight for recovery. She will promise that once she realizes that she is loved by you for all that she is, her recovering soul will crush you with the love you desperately deserve; it will mirror the love that you have shown her. Just wait, you’ll see.[divider][/divider]
Heather is a self-proclaimed nerd who enjoys reading and writing a little too much. She dabbles in art and could potentially be the most opinionated millennial in Columbia, S.C. She’s a banker with a degree in biology and she’ll eventually figure out what she wants to be when she grows up. She loves her family, her Chesapeake Bay retriever, long distance running and all things Southern.
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