An incredibly unfortunate idiom for the subject at hand, but there it is, that big thing, hiding in plain sight. Its very presence looms heavily. Everyone sees it, but no-one feels comfortable talking about it.
If you know me, or follow me on social media, you know that I struggled with disordered eating and was morbidly obese (except for a brief period of anorexia and bulimia in high school) all of my life until a little over 6 years ago. You might also know that for the past 2 years, I’ve been coaching others to healthier relationships with themselves, their bodies and food, along with overall balance, wellness and stable, healthy weight.
Why then, does my husband continue to fight his own battles with his relationship with himself and food?
Well, there it is then. They are his battles. As much as I’d love to go all Joan of Arc, and take one for the team, I can’t. Even if I could, It wouldn't help him make peace with all he needs to make peace with. Nor would it teach him to love and accept himself enough to do the work that makes healthy choices more appealing than falling back on comforting but destructive habits and coping mechanisms.
I get him. I was him. Nobody could do it for me, either. I had to do it for myself.
Is it frustrating? Of course it is. And painful when I see him struggling (and I always know when he is). And scary. I finally found the love of all my lives, and I want him to be with me for every remaining second of this one. Selfish? Yup, and I’m okay with that.
I’m in the unique-est of unique positions. I finally have a real understanding of what my parents- and his- went through, desperately wanting to help literally save a life of someone they love. But when your weight, appearance and what and how much you eat is under constant scrutiny, it feels more like judgement than love.
My parents wanted to spare me the pain of growing up fat, so started me in Weight Watchers when I was 5. Then a doctor (I’ve forgiven him) put me on an 800 calorie a day diet when I was in elementary school. I can still see that damned thing stuck on the front of the refrigerator. The depressing, single sheet of paper screaming “NO COOKIES, CAKE, PIE, CANDY, SUGAR OR SWEETS OF ANY KIND” at the bottom. What they did out of love was a message of, “You are not okay the way you are. You are broken and need to be fixed.” to me. Of course I “failed” -what 8 year old kid wouldn't- again and again over the next 40 years. Each time I did, the weight of the burden of shame and guilt I was carrying grew, mirrored by my physical weight.
So, what can I do for my husband, the one I love more than anything or anyone else in the world?
The first thing you learn in coaching school is that you can’t coach your family, especially your spouse!
But here’s what I can do. I can love and accept him completely, unconditionally and without reservation. I can encourage him. I can commiserate. I can be a soft, safe place to land and express emotions. I can provide healthy food that supports his desire to reduce his weight and his need for the pharmaceuticals he takes to control the dis-eases that comes from a lifetime of poor nutrition. I can share what has worked for me, when he is open to receiving it. I try to share in a gentle, loving and non- judgmental way. We’re human. Sometimes I mess up in my delivery, and sometimes he’s not receptive.
And I can be grateful. Because without me going through my struggle, and him going through his, we might never have connected as immediately and deeply as we did. We might not be sharing this beautiful life together. And I’m grateful to him and this process for the opportunity to deepen and strengthen my own practices of compassion, empathy and kindness with myself and others.