Before my pregnancy, I was in the best shape of my life. I was working with a personal trainer three times a week, and we had worked together to develop a clean and healthy diet. My husband and I were both at healthy weights for our height, and we both had an incredible amount of energy. Within in months of finally getting to a place we were both happy, I became pregnant with our son. My husband and I both gained a bit of weight with the pregnancy. During the pregnancy, we promised each other that we would get back to our regular eating habits as soon as our son was born. I am sure people are snickering reading those lines because anyone that has had an infant knows how hard it is to eat healthy in those early months. Not only are you exhausted with a new baby, but we had a child that was born sick.
Our son was born early, and he didn’t leave the hospital until he was almost seven weeks old. If anyone has spent any length of time in the hospital, they know there is no such thing as eating healthy in the hospital. There is some serious irony in that statement. A hospital is where you go to get healthy, and yet the only food available in the cafeteria is high calorie, high fat, and highly processed food. At the hospital we stayed at with our son, there was even a McDonald’s attached. None of the weight we gained during my pregnancy came off while he was hospitalized. When he was released from the hospital, we came home to a child that was still struggling to eat and had an unidentified illness. We slept very little in those early days, and we ate whatever we could put in our mouths. Family and friends made meals, and we both indulged in a lot of sweet treats that friends delivered to our door.
Then after seven weeks home our son became very, very ill. He was sent via ambulance to Children’s hospital, and he was intubated and placed on life support. We were back in the hospital, and this time our son was on the verge of dying. Our family brought us food, and we were back to eating the crappy hospital food. The stress and uncertainty of his condition caused both of us to start to stuff our faces. There was no other outlet to contain our emotions, and we needed comfort in anything then. Over the weeks we were in the hospital, our son improved in his condition. However, he was diagnosed with a life threatening and incurable disease. The magnitude of the illness had likely caused damage to his brain, and we were told that it was going to be a long road to recovery.
As we dove into treatment and education of his disease, my husband and I set aside our own needs and health. Again, we ate whatever was handed to us, and we started to drink more alcohol than we should to cope. Our weight was the least of our priorities, and we focused less and less on ourselves. The years have gone on, and every time a diagnosis has been added to my son’s chart, my husband and I have both turned to food and alcohol to manage the stress. It got to a point after almost five years where neither of us recognized who we had become. We were exhausted we had no time talk or connect, and our relationship suffered that we longed to feel connected again.
We got to a point where it no longer became an excuse to turn to a food or alcohol, but it became a need to focus on the pain and grief we were feeling. Diet and alcohol can only mask the feelings of pain, and eventually, you have to face the overwhelming sadness. I can’t speak to my husband’s pain, but for me, there was self-blame that I caused my son’s illness, the pain of his suffering, and the fear of his future. Each day I felt trapped and paralyzed by the grief, and the only way I could escape it was a cookie, a muffin or a glass of wine. Escape can only last so long, and I realized I had to come to terms with our lives and stop living in denial. My first step wasn’t to stop eating or drinking, but it was to seek help for the feelings I was experiencing. I made an appointment with a therapist to process the pain of the last five years and to help sort through the anxiety and panic I was facing every day.
It wasn’t easy to ask for help, but I realized I could no longer stay on the trajectory I was on. I was either going to be grossly overweight or become an alcoholic, and I wanted neither of these for my life or my child. Through therapy, we were able to do cognitive behavioral techniques to control my panic and intrusive thoughts, and with proper medication, my brain was able to stabilize, so I didn’t feel the need to reach for anything other than myself. As I took control of my pain and feelings, the need to eat food that was unhealthy or to drink completely evaporated. I was able to establish boundaries with food and alcohol that I had previously lacked, and my husband and I both started to make better choices. As a team, we supported one another’s choices, and we encouraged each other to make better choices. We found foods we both liked to eat that were healthy, and we substituted healthier alternatives for comfort foods. Neither of us had any “goal weight” when we started the process. Our goal was to be healthy for ourselves, for our marriage and our son.
Since we started this process, I have found we are both more engaged in one another’s lives. We talk more about what is going on in our lives, how we feel, and what we want for each other. We spend more time holding each other, hugging and kissing. We have found a way to reconnect after years of being completely separated. It is easy for me to see how so many marriages fall apart in the midst of high stress, and I am grateful we both chose to help ourselves and help our marriage. We still have a long way to go before we get to a place where we are connected, but I do not doubt a team we can manage this together. Grief has a way of taking over your life, interrupting your diet, your choices, your self-esteem, your friendships and your marriage. I want happiness for myself, for my husband, and I want to be healthy for my son. We are no longer allowing grief to dictate our views on life, and we chose every day to make choices that are healthy and positive for our future. With help from a licensed clinician, support of my family, friends and most importantly my husband, I am no longer paralyzed by fear of what the future holds for our family. Whatever will be will be, and no matter the outcome, I know that we will handle it with grace and love. I will love my son for every single day he is here and for as long as we have together. Life is far too short to be stuck in grief and the negative consequences it ravages on life, and I want to encourage others to take whatever steps they need to get help.
If you are feeling desperate, alone and full of pain, I highly suggest you reach out and ask for help. It is not easy to seek professional help, but for our family, it was the only way we could get through the darkness. Find someone you can trust to confide in, seek out a pastor or minister, or make an appointment with a therapist. There are ways to take control of your pain and your grief before it destroys you. Read books on grief, journal through your grief, meditate, light candles and calmly sit, and be inside of your heart and your pain. The only way you can ever recover is by feeling your feelings and moving through the feelings. Pain will always get worse before it gets better, but once you get to the other side, the freedom is intoxicating.
Please tell us below what strategies you have done to cope with grief.