This is a word that had very little meaning to me 18-24 months ago. I am not a survivor of an eating disorder: I am a supporter of my wife who found herself in the biggest battle of her life that neither of us saw coming.
Myself and my wife have been caught in a loop of losing and gaining weight for many years. This to me seemed the same as every other time- watching this super strong minded woman battling her demons, training hard, eating healthy to get to the happy place she felt confident! As the months went by, however, the changes were apparent. Each week confidence grew, and more determination came, but I started to see something else. This healthy lifestyle started to take over and I could see the control becoming less and less.
Rock bottom came when the diagnosis came through, the realisation the most strong minded women I knew had lost control and crashed. As a supporter of a loved one this is so hard to see. We experienced trust issues through secrecy, and becoming more distant through the pain, I felt isolated. It felt like I had no one to turn to, because it wasn't my story to tell! How could I talk about my struggles and our experiences to the loved ones around me when my wife hadn’t opened up herself. I wasn't the one suffering. This became another mistake as the pressure mounted. Everyone affected by eating disorders must talk to a loved one or professional, no matter their relation to it.
We finally made a stand. I never fully understood the power an eating disorder can have over you, the battle that must be faced to do something that most people can do every day without thinking. I had to educate myself and open my eyes to understand the triggers, Recovery plans, and what survivors had to say. I read about the support around me to have the strength to be that beacon of light to support my wife in any way needed.
From the time I spent researching I understood that the feelings of despair, loneliness, and isolation were normal: I just needed to find a way to turn these thoughts into energy to help win the battle. Educate myself into ways of being that support.
The two biggest things that ensured together we could beat the eating disorder is simple: reaching out and openness. Finally having the conversation with each other no matter how hard it was to hear or say, and taking the time to tell each other our thoughts and feelings every step of the way. Reaching out for professional help, ensuring we listened to the experts to help with the process. The support received from nutritionists, therapists, specialists was huge! These incredible people can truly help in every way needed.
Together we made a promise we would be open and honest with each other. Each night we talked about what battles we faced, how we felt. We cried together, screamed together, laughed together. The main thing was every emotion we had was with each other. We knew at this point we could not lose.
I decided to try something a bit different and go through some of the same challenges myself with making positive changes. I wanted to stop smoking, something I have struggled with many times. I figured if I can have the same battles and talk openly, we can be each other's support and battle together.
Positive change is the most powerful tool at our disposal, I am not a preacher, I am not qualified in any way in this area of work, but this worked for us and I’m confident it will for many others. Every morning we started the day listening to professional inspirational speakers. We made sure every day we started off the right way and made that stand of we will win, we can win, we must win.
We had two choices: we could roll over and allow these demons to control our life. We could give up everything that made us the happy couple who have been together since prom at school, allowing this to control our lives and begin to impact the four perfect daughters we have. Or we could look at ourselves in the mirror and say enough is enough. I will survive.
Recovery is not easy, and you will fall. We did on many occasions, but it is just as hard to live with an eating disorder or any other mental health struggle. So, there were again two options: fight, struggle, cry, fall and get back up to reach our goals and reap the rewards. Or Fight, struggle, cry, fall and stand still in the cycle forever. Neither option is easy but there is one clear winner.
We choose to fight together, reach out, find the help, communicate with each other and survive, face the storms together and push through. After what feels like forever, we are on the road to recovery. Will we hit bumps? Yes. Will we fall? Yes. The difference is that now we are focused and will win. The results have been huge, and happiness is coming back every day. We now want to help others who need it.
There’s one story that helped us the most and we still say all the time. We hope it will help anyone reading this.
An eagle is the only bird that when a storm comes will fly towards it. With every other bird, the fear takes over and they hide: they find a place to bury their head and stay there with their wings over their ears, waiting for the storm to pass.
Not the eagle. The eagle knows with every storm there is positive and negative pressure. If the eagle can fly into the storm and find the positive pressure this will be enough to raise them up above the storm and hold them there with very little effort until the storm passes. Does the eagle know it will get wet? Yes. Is the eagle scared it could be hurt? Yes. But the eagle still knows that if they stay focused, battle their fears, battle their darkness and find that glimmer of positivity, they will be elevated above with no effort.
Storms wait for no one: anxiety and fear come at us wave by wave without warning. We can run and hide and wait for it to pass, or we can become the eagle we all have in us and face the fears head on. With each win the battle becomes easier, and the positive energy becomes clearer.
I am not a survivor. I am the support for the women I love and experienced many emotions over the last 18-24 months till today. With the right help, support, positivity, everyone can be recovered.
It’s common practice to focus on all the things we don't have and the wonderful worlds everyone else lives in. We need to remember that everyone is fighting their demons, everyone is pushing themselves through hard times. But you are not alone, the help is there. It is not for forever, and this is a lesson to us all. To become the best we can be, we must experience the pains that got us there and use this to focus on the positives.
This whole process has made me and my wife stronger than we could have imagined. We are still on that road to recovery and now want to help as many other people as we can.
This is our story; the chapters ahead are unwritten, and we will make sure we choose what happens next.
The road to recovery is not easy, but the best thing we ever did was open up, speak out, get help and stay focused.
Be the Eagle.
Contributed by Shaun Thomson