For husbands and wives, and the spouses that long to help them…

Trent and I, December of 2010, at my sister's wedding

“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…

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11 thoughts on “For husbands and wives, and the spouses that long to help them…

  1. Emily, I am so glad you chose Trent! You both are so brave. Your love for each other is beautiful and God-breathed. Thank you for sharing your journey. Today, after reading a post from April, I wrote about my own marriage. She shared the song, Dancing in the Mine Fields. I borrowed it. It’s a beautiful story of love and commitment. I think any married couple could own it. To listen, visit http://aprilfolkertsma.blogspot.com/2011/03/more-things-to-say.html or http://sweetwaterbluesky.blogspot.com/2011/03/dancing-in-mine-fields.html. I hope it blesses you! May God’s love and favor overwhelm your house!

  2. I was close to tears reading the whole time I read…mostly, I think hearing Trent’s heart and knowing it is God’s heart and all of the lies that lead to something like anorexia…though this hasn’t been my struggle–I have many others and hear my husband speak His love into it and hard things I don’t want to hear…I thank God for (h)His amazing patience and love that meets me in my mess and I am thankful for you two…so thankful {p.s. didn’t know Trent was on staff with Young Life, that’s how Jared and I met…volunteering with YL while I was teaching math!}

    • dear abby… i hope someday we can meet… you and your husband have such beautiful hearts. thank you, for reading our story, for your compassion for those hurting… love you, sister.

  3. Thank you for sharing your story. It’s helped me to get some understanding of it. You see, I am the opposite. Stress and eating go hand in hand for me. I am an emotional eater. I gained nearly 60 lbs after the death of my son – I was already over weight. I’ve lost about 40 of it – but lately more has gone back on.

    But there’s another reason your story hits me. I lived with a dear family for a year before I was married. The mom and I were like sisters. She died about 7 years ago from breast cancer. Her daughter & I have become close – even though she’s many years younger than I am. I promised her mom just days before she died that I would keep in touch with Kristi. She also has had an eating disorder like you. It started about 10 years before her mom died – the first time she had cancer. Kristi has told me I am about the only one that asks – I guess I’m blunt. 🙂 But I promised her mom – and I love Kristi too! Thank you for giving me a glimpse of this. I am going to share your sight with Kristi. BTW, she has been doing VERY good and looks wonderful!

    And the picture here of you and your husband is beautiful! 🙂 Have a good weekend.

    • dearest loni… thank you for sharing your story with me… my heart goes out to kristi… not only because i understand what it is to have an ED, but i nearly lost my mother to cancer too… (only i don’t know what it’s like to actually lose her… ) and i can understand how she used her ED to cope with the unbearable pain she had to face. if she wants to talk with me, that would be totally fine. otherwise, yes, urge her to subscribe to this blog because every week, starting april 4, i will be sharing videos/discussion questions to inspire hope and healing. love to you, friend. e.

  4. “Anorexia is an extremely superficial, selfish disease,”

    I am deeply hurt by this line, but can’t clearly articulate why… it makes me feel like I made a horrible, horrible choice as a child. As if I just “wanted to be thin.” I didn’t. I already WAS thin. I so desperately craved control in my life. Controlling food filled that need for me…

    Anyway, obviously I’m still struggling if I take things so personally, and that is MY issue and not an indication that I have a problem with anything written here! This post gives me lots and lots to think about. Thank you

    • Dear Jessie,
      It was a desire for control, to create my own ‘safe place’ that drove me too… and I don’t think people who haven’t gone through an ED can truly understand the true intentions of the disease. It’s a desperate cry for help, and I believe my husband recognized this, but was unable to comprehend it… That’s why I’ve created this place. In the hopes of bringing to light the thoughts behind the actions, and to help family members realize, we don’t mean to hurt them. We are just trying to survive all of the pain we’re processing. I’m so glad you shared this. Bless you. e.

  5. Wow… Emily, I have to say thanks for sharing this deeply personal story. I feel like if I had the chance to really sit and share with Trent that we would have quite a bit to talk about. It brings back a lot from my own experience with watching my wife go down that road where I could not follow. Just hearing it and the hope you found is encouraging to me.

  6. Leon, I am so glad this story meant something to you. I know my husband would love to sit and chat with you if he could. I’m so glad it encouraged you. I pray this site can be a vessel of continued healing for you and your wife. e.

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