An Open Letter to The Partners of Eating Disorder Survivors

My partner never had an eating disorder. When I first told them about my illness, I watched their eyes focus on me, giving me their full attention. My voice didn’t even sound like mine as I spoke the words aloud, “I survived anorexia.” They immediately grabbed both my hands in theirs and said, “This is important, and I want to hear everything you are comfortable with telling me.” Tears filled my eyes, I took a deep breath and began the story of my eating disorder and me.

I try to stay away from the concept of “perfect”. This is because I consider myself a recovering perfectionist and an aspiring good-enough-ist. But their reaction to my illness was perfect for me at that moment. They validated the significance of what I was sharing and gave me the support I needed to be vulnerable. 

Every partner is going to have different reactions to hearing about the physical and mental pain and suffering of an eating disorder survivor. To all these partners, I want to say thank you. For learning, for trying to support us in any way that you can. Because I and my partner had a difficult time finding resources to add perspective for eating disorder survivor’s partners, I wrote you this letter.

To the partners of eating disorder survivors,

Thank you for hearing us and validating our struggle.

You may not know anyone with an eating disorder, and I recommend you look to sources like NEDA and Beat to begin learning about how these illnesses are mental, even though they have physical manifestations. I can’t imagine how you’re feeling right now, the fear, the anger at the world and diet culture, the defensiveness you may feel over us.

To my partner: I want you to know I’m here for you. I am open to any questions you may have, and I want to have open conversations about mental health. Please be patient with me, because there are still some topics that I haven’t spoken about with others, and I’m not always going to be eloquent in describing how sometimes when I must sit down and eat, it just plain sucks.

I’ve spent recovery rebuilding trust and respect for myself, getting to know this healthy version of me, and growing to love it. Thank you for seeing me and loving this version of me too. It was scary to watch as my body changed and learn all these new self-discoveries. Before we became serious in our relationship, I was stable in my recovery, perhaps even edging into remission. But being with you taught me there’s a long way to go before I’ll have the privilege of claiming that title.

Turns out I’d gotten as far with the internal healing and accepting as I could alone, and our new relationship has already taught me humbling lessons about what it means to be vulnerable and lose control.

It’s beautifully terrifying to be vulnerable, physically and emotionally intimate with you. I haven’t been very connected with others, not really, not in a meaningful way, since perhaps before I was sick.

Thank you for learning about this huge part of myself, my eating disorder. I told you once it may seem like you’re dating two people: recovered me, and eating disorder me. Most of the time, you’ll get recovered me. But you’ve held me as I’ve stuttered through the occasions when my eating disorder rears its head. You’ve never had an eating disorder. However, when you listen to me and give me comfort, it means the world to me.

Feeling you accept me, after waging this internal battle to accept myself, is the best support I could ask for.

That, and seeing you goofily eat whatever you want, whenever the mood strikes. You are a great role model for food being fuel and culture and occasionally fun.

Eating disorders are rough. They’re confusing. You may be wondering how I can be in recovery and feel stable while still having occasionally tough moments. My eating disorder will always be with me, but recovery is all about making this voice quieter and recognizing ways to coexist and practice nourishing habits. It’s all a delicate balance. I appreciate you for taking the time to listen, learn, and fight alongside me.

All my love, An Eating Disorder Warrior

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