An emotionally abusive spouse had left her filled with self-loathing that led to unhealthy habits, but her faith gave her the strength to recover.
I was married to an awful man. Not that you’d know it if you just met him. I didn’t at first. He was the life of the party, funny and outgoing. Boy, did he know how to turn on the charm. I fell for it, and for him.
It wasn’t until we were married that I saw a whole other side of him—angry, cruel, abusive. He called me boring for wanting to have family night on Friday instead of going out. He said I was fat and ugly. Stupid and worthless.
Even though I was a petite size 8, even though I’d earned two master’s degrees and had a good job as a high school librarian, his words must have touched some vulnerable place deep inside me, because I believed him. Fat. Stupid. Worthless.
For four long years I tried to please him. I’d already had one marriage fail, back in college. I wanted my son and daughter to grow up in a two-parent household. But finally I couldn’t take it anymore. I got a divorce.
My kids would be okay. My mother had raised my sister and me on her own after my father died, when I was 13, and we turned out fine. I would be a single mom; I could accept that. As my ex had told me time and again, who would want me anyway
Someone did. A year after the divorce, I met Candelario Escamilla through mutual friends. He was quiet and thoughtful. He took the time to really listen to what people said—and didn’t say. When he told me that he was a psychotherapist, I wasn’t surprised.
Cande liked the same things I did—good books, picnics with the kids, bike rides, long romantic walks. In 1987, he asked me to marry him. Of course I said yes. I could hardly believe a man this wonderful wanted to spend his life with me. What an incredible blessing! An unexpected and, I secretly feared, undeserved one.
Maybe that was why when Cande and I had even the smallest disagreement, I worried that he would leave me. Like the time early in our marriage when we were having our morning coffee on the patio and he told me we’d be meeting his friends for dinner that night. “I can’t go out tonight,” I said. “I have a presentation to finish.”
“I already told them yes,” he said.
“Well, you can go, but I can’t make it,” I said. “We need to talk about decisions that involve both of us.”
“I didn’t think this would be a big deal,” he muttered. He got up and went inside, the screen door snapping shut behind him.
This is the beginning of the end, I thought. Cande was probably packing his bags. I knew it was too good to last.
The screen door banged open. Cande. He was carrying not a suitcase, but a pot of fresh coffee. What was going on?
He set the coffee down. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I should have talked to you first. We’ll have dinner with my friends another time.”
Something must have shifted in my expression because Cande said, “What’s wrong?”
“I thought you were leaving….”
“Leaving?” he asked, puzzled. Then understanding dawned on his face. He put his arms around me. “Carmen, I am here to stay. I love you. I want to be with you forever.”
I should have been overjoyed. I’d found the love of a good man at last. But the poisonous seeds my ex had sown had taken root deep in me. I didn’t—or couldn’t—feel secure in that love.
I stopped at a drive-through on the way to work and got a sausage-egg-and- cheese biscuit. I ate it in my car, savoring every bite, forgetting—for a little while, at least—all my fears and insecurities.
Food was the one comfort I knew I could rely on. That was how my mother showed her love for us kids. Every day after school there would be a plate of empanadas waiting for us. She nourished our bodies with her home cooking the way she nourished our souls with her unwavering faith, especially after our father died. “God is good,” she would tell us. “His love will sustain us.”
I longed for that reassurance now. And so, that morning at the drive-through, I began my life of binge eating. I ate until my sides hurt. Until I could barely breathe. Until I inhaled the last crumb in a bag of chips. I knew every menu item at every fast-food place in town.
Somehow eating in my car made me feel like I was in a safe zone where nothing could touch me. Not my ex’s cruelty, not my mixed-up feelings, not even the calories. It didn’t really count as eating if I wasn’t at a table, right?
The closet became another safe place. I would pick out what to wear to work the next day, pushing aside hangers with one hand while stuffing a double-meat patty with cheese and bacon into my mouth with the other.Multitasking, I told myself.
The clothes in my closet told another story. I had dresses, skirts and pants in every size from 8 to 16, my wardrobe expanding with my waistline. The more I weighed, the less I could love myself. And the less I believed anyone could love me.
Even Cande, who after 10, 15, 20 years and more of marriage, still told me he loved me every single day. He brought me flowers just because. He left me sweet little notes in the lunches I packed for work.
He didn’t say anything about my weight. He didn’t try to get me to change. Sometimes I grew disgusted with myself and asked him, “How can you love me like this?” I couldn’t say what else I was thinking: How can you stay with me? You should leave me and find someone who deserves you.
Mostly it was just the two of us at home now. Our older son and daughter, my children whom Cande loved and raised as his own, were grown. Our youngest, the son we’d had together, was away at college.
This should’ve been the time for Cande and me to grow closer, but I felt myself pushing him away. Even food no longer gave me satisfaction or relief. It was emotional eating, trying to fill a hole inside.
I hadn’t weighed myself in months so I don’t know what made me get on the bathroom scale the morning of January 1, 2013. Maybe because it was a new year. The numbers blinked and climbed. Finally the blinking stopped. The digits stared up at me, their lines sharp and red, almost accusatory: 201.
“What?” I said. That couldn’t be right. I stepped off the scale, put on my glasses, stepped back on. Same number: 201.
In my mind, I heard my ex-husband’s voice. See, I told you! You’re fat. Ugly. Stupid. Worthless. Who would want you?
I got off the scale, trembling from all the years of hurt and self-loathing. I couldn’t take one more minute of it. I buried my face in my hands. “Father, I can’t live like this anymore,” I prayed.
Something made me look down at my body. Then I heard them, over my ex—other voices, quiet yet compelling, steady enough to silence the taunts.
I love you. I am here to stay.
God is good. His love will sustain us.
My husband. My mother. If the two most faithful people I knew in this world believed I deserved to be loved, why couldn’t I believe it?
I wrapped my arms around my body and hugged myself close. “Carmen, you are beautiful,” I said, my voice growing stronger with each word. “You are worthy of love.”
A warmth radiated through me that I hadn’t felt in years, a love that would never leave me. A love I could trust. God’s love. This was the sustenance I’d been trying to find in food, the security I’d been looking for, without even realizing it, probably since my father died.
A few minutes later, I put on the tennis shoes I’d dug out of my closet. Cande was sitting on the patio with his coffee. “I’ll join you when I come back,” I said. “I’m going for a walk.”
After two blocks I was huffing and puffing. I staggered home and fell into my patio chair. Good thing Cande had not just coffee but a tall glass of water waiting for me.
I kept walking every morning, trying to go a little farther each time. By the end of the month, I could make it a brisk eight blocks without stopping to catch my breath. I gave up sneaking fast food and made nourishing meals like my mom’s. Sitting with Cande, lingering over a home-cooked dinner…it was like date night every night.
By April I’d lost 20 pounds. To keep my momentum going, I took up running. Me! That summer I ran my first 5K. On January 1, 2014, I got on the scale. I was a healthy, fit 151 pounds. I had a bigger goal for this new year. I signed up for a half marathon, 13.1 miles. “The race is in December, but it’s farther than I’ve ever run,” I told Cande. “I have to start training now.”
“I’ll be your training partner,” he said. Three times a week, I ran and Cande biked beside me, cheering me on, even in the brutal heat of a south Texas summer. Our youngest son was so inspired he registered for the race too.
On December 7, my son and I crossed the finish line together. Cande was there to greet us. He threw his arms around me. My head was filled with voices. Voices that said I was loved. That I was worthwhile. I was God’s child.