“I first noticed she had a problem when I made popcorn,” Trent recalls. “I always added butter to the popcorn. She refused to eat it, and got very upset at me and popped another bag for herself. I thought, ‘It’s just a bit of butter…’”
It was our first year of marriage, and Trent couldn’t understand what had happened to his straw-haired girl. “I don’t think it is something anyone else can understand. I think it’s spiritual mostly. I don’t think you can rationalize why someone struggles with it, because they’re starving their body by choice, and that’s not something you can, should, or want to understand—understanding it justifies it, and I couldn’t do that.”
The decline was slow but steady. Being at work, Trent didn’t see the girl who’d stopped eating breakfast and started skipping lunch; he only saw the girl who ate pizza voraciously with him at supper. But then I stopped being able to sleep. “The insomnia really affected both of us,” he says. “Emily would cry in bed, and, having read that insomnia was a sign of anorexia, I mentioned that to her. She blew up at me.”
I began to sleep on the couch, catching four hours before rising to exercise. I would drink close to nine cups of coffee while at work, eating nothing until supper. “I wanted to help her,” Trent says, “but there wasn’t anything I could do besides pray because it was a decision she had to make. The quality of our lives was going downhill, but she had to see that.”
One day in autumn, in our third year of marriage, when the sun had flung its yellow strands across red and orange trees, Trent and I attended a family luncheon at his Grandma’s farm. Trent was worried, knowing I never ate lunch. As I dished up my plate he whispered, “I’m so proud of you.” I shot him a dirty look. “This is my meal for the day,” I hissed. His heart sank hard.
“Anorexia is an extremely superficial, selfish disease,” Trent says. He recalls an anorexic acquaintance—a 12-year-old girl—who was jealous of the kids on World Vision commercials, because they were skinny. “The third world suffers anorexic symptoms, not because they have the disease but because they can’t afford to eat. They die, longing for food. And yet there are girls dying because they’ve rejected food. That’s why anorexia is selfish and can’t be understood by someone who’s truly starving.”
Everything changed, six months after the family luncheon, on a trip home from Calgary to Edmonton. In spite of spending a weekend with friends; in spite of spring sunshine and games of bocce and a trip to the zoo, Trent and I were fighting. I had eaten nothing that day, as per usual, and was so angry I tried to drive the car into traffic.
“I decided I’d had enough, because Emily was going down a road, so to speak, without me,” says Trent. “She was letting anorexia make the decisions.” It had been three years. Three years of not sleeping. Three years of not eating. Trent was finished. And so, he gave me an ultimatum: it was him, or food. I’d have to choose.
I chose Trent. “Right away, she started trying to eat,” Trent recalls. I met with a mutual friend and discussed what to have for meals, then began eating three times a day. The meals started off small—a hard-boiled egg with a glass of orange juice for breakfast, and a salad for lunch—but slowly, over time, I gained the courage to eat more.
Then, we left for Korea. I quit my job at a non-profit Christian newspaper, and Trent gave up his position as staff of Young Life. Together, we made new beginnings in a foreign land. As I learned to trust my body and eat when I was hungry; as I stopped worrying about weight and began to enjoy food again, sleep came more easily. And eventually, over time, after we moved back to Canada and bought a little house in Ontario, I began to want to have children, again.
Relapses are common, and often, part of the recovery journey. If you are a husband or wife watching your spouse battle the healing process, I hope you’ll find community here, amongst the broken. Each Monday, starting April 4, I hope to share a video and discussion questions from FINDINGbalance which you and your loved one can complete, together. There is no shame in being transparent, for God is in the weak, making strong…