Over 500K viewers will tune in tonight for the season finale of the Bachelorette. My husband and I watch it together as we mock this simulated imitation of relationships. Because we know that love is nothing like the idolized world of fancy vacations, fantasy suites and a constant stream of passionate lifelong (or so they claim) commitment and mixed with dramatic unrequited love.
Love is actually much more beautifully complicated.
Especially when you love someone with an eating disorder or mental illness.
Beautiful and complicated.
What do you do when you find your soul mate, the one you love, the one you just know God has put in your life? You do what you dreamed of doing, you marry her and live happily ever after. You have children and you grow old together. It is beautiful and simple and as easy as they make it seem on reality shows.
We were nothing like that simplicity.
Everything was out on the table, my struggle with an eating disorder and my reoccurring bouts of deep depression. In the midst of dating, I went away for months to live in a locked unit trying to get well. Many told him to break free, to find the good Christian girl without the baggage. To find the one who would “let go and let God”, because I clearly wasn’t. And really, what kind of future could he expect if this was how the dating life was going to be? Yet, he continued to stay.
I was a gamble. A risk. But isn’t it a risk every time we love someone? There are no guarantees of this “fairy tale”. You see it on the Bachelor this infatuational love that feels good. This finding of your one true love so that your life is complete. And that is 100% a mirage.
We all come together as one with two broken and fractured souls.
To deny that is to be unrealistic. When we begin to look for our completeness in another person we are drinking from a well that will never satisfy. I am not saying, love and marriage aren’t beautiful and God ordained. They are. And they are beautifully complicated for many. At least our story was and I know many others are as well.
They sent him flowers.
I was lying in the ICU unit of a hospital after trying to unsuccessfully take my own life. I should have been dead. I wanted to die. The depression a black tar that left me deep in a pit. There were no signs of my impending destruction, as I was a master of wearing the mask. Working, smiling, and doing what the world expected. But inside, inside the darkness and the incessant thoughts of shame and self-loathing overwhelmed me to the point of madness.
And by a miraculous twist of fate, he had a stirring in his soul that something was wrong with me. That he must wake up. That he must go to me. He listened. His listening took him to the house I was living in only to find me lying in a pool of vomit nearly dead.
He was the hero. He was the one they sent flowers to. There are no flowers sent to you after you unsuccessfully try to take your own life. I understood.
Once again, he was told to run.
To leave the crazy girl who couldn’t seem to cope. Because really, what if you had children and she did this? What if she did this and you were left as her caregiver?
And he stayed. Because he believed something different than what the world was saying. He believed that underneath the illness was the woman he loved. The woman he laughed and cried with. The woman he continued to believe was his soul mate. Maybe he was the crazy one for staying?
And to be even more unconventional, he asked me to marry him a mere seven months after the suicide attempt. And three months later we walked down the isle as husband and wife.
I felt the heaviness in the room at the church that day. Felt the thoughts of those who were saying he should have ran and that none of this made any sense. I saw the fear in their eyes and the uneasiness in their “congratulations” and he did too. And we let it go and chose to love. There was no guarantee of a mentally healthy future. No guarantee of a forever. No guarantee of a recovery for me. No guarantee of an “us”.
But is there ever? What is it about love, and more specifically the idea in the Christian community that because we love God all will be well? Yes, all will be well AND very very difficult. You need God to make it through a marriage, a mental, illness, and life.
It was BECAUSE of God, because of our faith that we were able to make it through.
Not make it perfect, but make it through. I wasn’t looking to him to complete me, and he wasn’t either. We both came into the union with scars and brokenness as everyone does. Mine was just a bit more problematic than the average struggle going in to marriage.
And this month we celebrate eighteen years of marriage. There have been no hospitalizations or relapses for me. I entered the maintenance stage of recovery within the first year of our marriage. Some who looked in from the outside said, yet again, he was the hero. That it was the marriage that healed me.
No. It was God that healed me. An eating disorder is not a choice, but recovery is.
And WE did the work. We went to hundreds of hours of therapy and we early on worked through the complicated mess that is love and marriage while also letting the professionals treat my eating disorder. We entered the marriage with not only my grosses parts of my brokenness exposed, but his as well. While I was sick it was easy to allow me to be the one with the problems, for me to be the one that needed help, and for me to be the one that needed fixing. And through the work that we did, we found a common place that was equal parts mess. My mess clinical and diagnosable, but both of us entering the union with or own pain.
Had we not done the work early on, had we not been forced to be rigorously honest because of my illness, someday down the road we would have been forced to, or we would have chosen those moments to run.
Because the mountains we have faced, that any of us face in the union of marriage can be excruciatingly difficult.
We have been through miscarriages, job difficulties, deaths, and financial pits. There have been times of horrible hurt and other times of heavenly beautiful love. And had we not gone through the darkness of our struggles early on, I wonder if the other situations might have broken us?
Love, even love between two Christians is beautiful and difficult. To believe it won’t be is to fool yourself. We know we are and oddity, that many marriages wrought with mental illness don’t survive. And I am also not in any way minimizing the difficulty that these marriages face. A stark reality as many marriages don’t recover and the struggle is horrific and sometimes tragic. But what we do know is that there is a magnetic pull in the direction of hope. I hope you will hear our story and find a grain of hope as one couple that made it through.
It is possible.
We had to do the work, we had to fight our way through with the help of a good therapist and for me a fantastic psychiatrist. We had to lean heavily on our faith community and our heavenly father. And despite the fears of the naysayers and those who didn’t believe we could make it, we believed anyway in our beautifully complicated love.
And we are so glad we did.