Gift of Intimacy—Your Biggest Gift to Yourself
Intimacy is the best gift but can also be the scariest to give—at least that has been my experience. I’ve been married for 22 years and am only just now starting to live intimately with my husband. How can you be married to someone for over two decades and not have an intimate relationship? It’s possible, I did. How can you raise two kids together and not have an intimate relationship? It’s possible, I did.
When Intimacy Is the Eating Disorder
For a good part of my marriage (and even on my bad days now), my intimate partner was my eating disorder. It was the only thing I let close to me. It felt safe; I knew its routine. At first the eating disorder took care of me, or so I thought.
Deep down we’re all craving love. Life isn’t meant to do solo. But when you live with an eating disorder, you are choosing to live life in a very lonely way. Often what is so sad and ironic is you are living alone with your disorder; however, at the same time someone as close as your bed partner may be desperately trying to join you in a relationship. The problem is letting that person into your life should be safe, but it doesn’t feel that way. Even when you know this person can be trusted, letting him or her in feels threatening.
Perhaps you have never experienced intimacy before, as in my case. Or maybe you’ve been violated in a harmful way. Whatever the reason, you chose your eating disorder to separate yourself from others. In its infancy, the eating disorder develops to protect your soul from something.
When I was living in my anorexic state I didn’t want to be intimate with anything—not food, not fun, not relationships, and of course, not the natural expression of sexual closeness. For me, to withhold meant to withhold from any kind of experience that would bring me pleasure. I know I am not alone in this way of withholding parts of my life. I’ve met many other women (and men) with eating disorders who do the same.
Despite how the eating disorder starts, your responsibility in recovery is to find out how you can protect yourself today in a healthy way. The healthier I get, the more intimacy I allow in my life. Or the converse could be true; the more intimacy I let in my life, the healthier I become. Not sure exactly how it works but I can say as you experience more intimacy, you do feel healthier and stronger in yourself. As I describe intimacy, I am describing many levels, not just sexual intimacy.
It Takes Two
Intimacy is only going to happen if you take the risk to let it in. How do you begin? In baby steps. Improving my intimacy with my husband has been a challenge—for both of us. It takes two to be intimate. When one partner isn’t cooperating, it affects the other. Although I know I am just beginning to build intimacy with my husband, I have taken some simple steps: holding his hand, letting him massage my muscles, doing his laundry (since I don’t usually do it), and spending time with him (not away).
Afraid of Sex
Sexual intimacy is still a struggle. As I am learning to let in the pleasure of food, I am beginning to let in the pleasure of sex. I have found those two go hand in hand. I feared if I let myself enjoy these natural pleasures of food or sex, then I was going to lose control of my body and I was going to lose myself in the process. What I understand now is that fear of losing control is just a door you have to walk through. By letting yourself “lose control” you are actually gaining control over your life and your recovery. That door is hard to open, especially the first time. And even after you’ve opened it a few times, it can stick.
For greater closeness, healing of your soul may be the first step, or sharing your feelings with your partner, a supportive friend, or therapist. However, understand that achieving intimacy also takes action. Surprise him (or her) and recreate one of your first romantic dates, schedule an evening alone, offer a back rub, or create an intimate card expressing the top ten reasons why your partner is special to you. Make the effort to be intimate and intimacy will follow.
Remember, we all deserve this gift!
By Maggie Baumann, BA
Reprinted with permission from Eating Disorders Recovery Today
Summer 2006 Volume 4, Number 3
©2006 Gürze Books
About the Author
Maggie Baumann, BA, is a Master’s candidate at Argosy University in Orange County, CA, with future plans to become a licensed therapist. She currently leads an eating disorder support group in Laguna Beach. Reach her at email@example.com.