F.E.A.S.T's Around The Dinner Table forum

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my wife and i celebrate 15 years of marriage this month and we've known each other for 20 years... ever since i've known her she's struggled with anorexia.  i tried for years and years to get help.  things got better when she got pregnant and when she was nursing.  then back to the restrictive eating and compulsive exercising.

she also has a history of trauma...abusive childhood, sexual assault survivor--the eating disorder is very much rooted in the trauma and eating in and of itself triggers flashbacks of how starvation was used when she was abused as a child.... i think self starvation helps her to feel like she's in control of her body and i can't blame her for that.  she alsh has done self injury as long as i've known her and to this day, it's been near impossible for her to stop self harming AND stop restricting. 

about 2 years ago it got really bad she started restricting after our son was born, and she continued to nurse him but wasn't eating the recommended amount of calories.  eventually she collapsed at work and was taken to the hospital and went through a long hospitalization and spent about a year in treatment programs for her ED.  her heart had to recover too.  Now, thankfully, she's doing a lot better with the eating (although still self harms and still struggles with trauma but seeing a therapist for that).  her weight is normal and she's still dealing with the cardiac effects but it's a lot better.  i think she has finally realized that our kids need their mother.  she still goes to therapy twice a week and keeps a food diary.  sometimes, food is such a trigger that she will just choke down an Ensure Plus instead of have a meal.  but she's choosing to take in the calories she needs however she's able to do it.

as a result, she's....well, healthier.  I've always been attracted to her and I have always loved her even when she was sick, but now her body has changed for the better.  at one point, her therapist told me to NOT make any comments that sound remotely like commenting on her weight gain, even if they seem like compliments.  and there's been a major lull in physical intimacy in our relationship for so many different reasons... her own mental health, my physical health problems, fatigue (for both of us), and i think she has felt unattractive maybe?  i struggle with communicating with her...it's awkward to just be blunt and say "can i touch you more."  i can't do things like hold her or put my arms around her because of my own disabilities...i'm not quadriplegic but i have very little movement in my body and can't move my arms or legs or sit up on my own.  if any intimacy is going to happen, she essentially has to make it happen and i don't want to make her ED worse by doing anything that could be construed as commenting on her body.


again i apologize if this is too awkward 

This is not awkward at all, Chester. With this disaese nothing is too strange or awkward. You are a great husband and all you write shows how much you love her.

I cannot help you with the intimacy part, sorry, but I might be able to help you with the compliment part. Most ED patients need to learn to accept cmpliments and not feel bad about them. It is good not to make compliments on her body because she will get that wrong. But you can make her compliments on all other things. For example I said to my d "I like the way you drive, I feel so safe with you in the car" or "I like it that you help me so much with the household work and your ironing is so much better than mine". You could make her compliments about the great raising of your children or about the way she talks so nice with the old lady in the neighborhood. Do you get what I mean?
When my d was used to accept these compliments I could also make compliments on her clothes that were not body related. I could say for example "that blue shirt makes your eyes shine more" or "I like that black dress that you wear". Step by step. Just to show her you love her and you think she is a great person.

When she is on a good weight now it is possible that her brain can start to recover even after such a long time. It is important to encourage her to keep going.
Keep feeding. There is light at the end of the tunnel.
Your wife’s history is very complicated. Given her history of abuse, her long history with ED, I am so pleased that she is doing better.
As yours and her issues are so complex, have you ever thought of discussing the intimacy concerns with a sex therapist? 
Generally when I feel appreciated and cared for is when I can feel more affectionate, but your wife’s history is very difficult and not common, so I really don’t know what to advise except that a professional who understands hers and your situation be there to support and help you. 

Congratulations on your 15th anniversary!
When within yourself you find the road, the right road will open.  (Dejan Stojanovic)

Food+more food+time+love+good professional help+ATDT+no exercise+ state not just weight+/- the "right" medicine= healing---> recovery(--->life without ED)
Chester, I remember when your wife first was hospitalized and I'm so happy to hear she is doing so much better. She is truly a brave woman.  Have you talked to her about these issues?  I would think that would be a good first step.

My daughter has trauma issues and while it is not the same, I too struggled with issues of when it is okay to touch her, etc.  I have found that simply asking her if I can hold her hand or give her a hug has been invaluable.  If she feels unsafe at that moment, she says no and I respect that.  We started with verbal things.  I never compliment her on her body but instead I will tell her "that color looks good on you. It bring out the color of your eyes."  My daughter has so many other things (other than looks and body) that make her attractive that I find ways to compliment her and make her feel good without focusing on her body or triggering things.  She is truly an animal whisperer.  I've seen her sit down and have wild animals flock to her to eat out of her hand.  I tell her how impressive that is and ask her to teach me how she does it.  You might try something like that.  I've also found that just saying "I love you to the moon and back" or something like that lets her know I care without being physical.  My daughter has taught me to knit and crochet.  She does beautiful work and I compliment her on that.

I grew up in a home with a lot of money but not a lot of contact with my parents or physical contact so I can appreciate how hard it is even without all the other issues.  It took me a long time to get comfortable with my husband (now ex but when we were married) touching me.  I don't know if you go to therapy with her but maybe you and she have a discussion with her therapist on how to jump start the physical intimacy.  My husband started by holding my hand and then progressed to an arm over my shoulders and then hugging me.  You have additional physical limitations but that too might be in your favor.  She will initiate when she feels comfortable or even when you ask.  My hubby came from a very physically demonstrative family.  They kissed and hugged everyone whereas my family was very restrained and the children were to be seen and not heard.  Those were huge issues we had to address when we first got married because he wanted to have his hands on me all the time and it got so bad I was having panic attacks.  We were able to work on it together and help one another find the right balance.

One thing my hubby did was notice things my daughter did and say things like "she is just like her mama."  He complimented me on handling situations with my daughter that he didn't feel he could.  That might too be something to start looking at.
It is good to hear that your wife is doing better. There is no doubt that most people with eating disorders struggle with comments about their body, however there are many nice things we can say to others which let them know how much we like them, see positive things about them. How this relates to developing intimacy with someone with an eating disorder and trauma is much harder, however you have clearly managed things in the past. Talking about how you are feeling is always a good way forward, she doesn't know if she doesn't hear it. Whether that should be via conversation or a therapist you are probably in a better place to say. 
D diagnosed restrictive AN June 2010 age 13. Initially weight restored 2012. Relapse and continuously edging towards recovery. Treatment: multiple hospitalisations and individual and family therapy.