Accepting My Body

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I look down in the shower at my body.

The water is drip-dropping down my hair, off my nose, down my torso—to my toes covered by a layer of skin—my old friend, fat.

This body has been through the ringer. All bodies have. But you can always find the beauty in the dark. You just have to not give up and keep looking.

Fat, ugh, THAT hideous word.

I can be frank with you. I have NEVER liked you. I have gotten to the point in my recovery journey where sometimes you fall out of memory, but then I look down and see you. You are kind of like that mean relative who I never want to see because you make me feel bad about myself but we are attached by common family so you pop-in every so often. Yes, that would be YOU fat.

“I feel fat.”

“Do I look fat?”

“Gosh, I look fat in these!” I would say your name way too often for many years. To myself, to my family, to anyone I could confide in.

When I first found out I was pregnant, the emotion of thrill was quickly followed by fear. Fear, that I wasn’t strong enough in my eating disorder recovery to handle the weight gain that goes hand-in-hand with pregnancy.  I was finally at a place in my life where I was doing well with my body and now—this would be a huge test.

So fat, as I gained weight with each of my babies I slowly embraced you. I embraced my expanding waist-line with an additional coating of you. I embraced you creeping into my breasts, making me ready to become the family cow. I had to make peace with you.

Fat, you will always be there, a form of excess flesh—protecting my body. Fat, pregnancy made me accept you for what you are, extra padding for this mommy—the strongest kind of woman there is. Extra padding that helps lift my daughters’ one in each arm. Extra padding that gives me the energy and strength to care for them.

This body has been through the ringer. All bodies have. But you can always find the beauty in the dark. You just have to not give up and keep looking.

My children are the beauty I found in the dark. They have helped me accept my body as it is, finding better coping mechanisms. They have reminded me that fat isn’t the enemy—be ridding my body of it, was my way of disappearing, not wanting to be seen. My babies make me want to take up more space and live. In fact, I am afraid to not be here because no one can love them as much as I do.

Pregnancy was the most space I ever took up. And gosh, my body was beautiful– because my babies were inside. This body created them. This body, fat and all. This body, it deserves to be cherished because it does so much.

I look down in the shower at my body.

The water is drip-dropping down my hair, off my nose, down my torso—to my toes covered by a layer of skin—my old friend, fat.  I now more than accept you. I love you for helping me finally find the beauty in the dark—my girls. I am glad I didn’t give up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Take My Summer Goals Challenge

 

Kylie’s Summer Goals                       My Summer Goals

 

I have been hearing a lot of self-loathing amongst the mommy population lately and I am not liking it. Not liking it one bit. It’s also sad that every single woman can relate to feeling bad about herself at a time, appearance wise—words like frumpy, fat, old, and ugly come to mind. We can all relate, because we have all felt less than.

Yesterday I came across something that saddened me. By the way, Kylie Jenner, I am not blaming you—I am all about woman supporting each other and damn no one with eyes can deny you look hot in that picture (girl knows how to rock a bikini!), but here is my problem with it. I am cold-clocking you hard with my eyes society. It’s that little caption underneath that sexy photo that says “summer goals.” For people that don’t keep up with the Kardashians (pun intended) like me, Kylie just gave birth to a beautiful baby girl Stormi.

I gave birth to a baby girl in September and I am here to counter these “summer goals” with my own and challenge Kylie and moms like her to think outside of their postpartum bods. Being in that place twice, I can say this new body will be the best body Kylie will have yet. This body will feed her baby—nourish her into the thriving sweet girl she will become right before her eyes. This body will be so strong—it will pick up her growing daughter with ease.  The one thing I can guarantee, is that this body, this new body, has never been loved more than she is starting to experience.

It’s time for all new moms to look beyond their bodies for “summer goals.” Happiness and beauty truly come from within. Beauty comes from your mind and creativity.  It comes from how kind you are to others. Kindness toward yourself is something you would want your children to emulate. So please, be kind to yourself. Let’s change how our kids will feel once they have the most wonderful gift in the world, a baby boy or girl.

This summer my goals will be (see picture above):

  • More living in the moment
  • More grandparent time
  • More time appreciating the outdoors
  • More fun play spaces to discover
  • More baby kisses and snuggles
  • Less time getting beaten by a crazy toddler
  • Less morning milk (solve my hyper-lactation problem)
  • More family time
  • More time getting genuine laughs and smiles

So Kylie, when you rock that bikini this summer (and you will), even if you don’t lose a pound, I am telling you it is going to be your favorite body yet because your daughter is going to love it–and you are going to appreciate all that it does–imperfections and all.

What will your “summer goals” collage look like?

Coming Full Circle At A P!nk Concert

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Running on the treadmill, my feet slam up and down, up and down. My hair bounces against my neck. I can hear the machine roar, a symphony of squeaks, whines, and screeches. Once I am in the groove, my running groove, none of that bothers me. Sweat pours down the back of my neck, into my sports bra and against my stomach. I listen to music, and all I do is run, like nothing can stop me—and nothing can. P!nk is blaring in my ears, inspiring me—to keep going like the little recovery engine that could.  I can feel my heart beating loudly, lub-dub, to the music vibrating through my ears, lub-dub. It’s not about calories; it’s about feeling refreshed and alive, at peace.

That was me at twenty-six, getting back into exercise after the weight restoration process of eating disorder recovery where I wasn’t allowed to exercise anything except my jaw muscles by eating copious amounts of food– for months. Listening to P!nk and getting lost in her inspiring words—became my go to on the days where all I wanted to do was hide under the covers and give up. On the days where the demon in my head was telling me I wasn’t good enough, I was out of control, getting fat, a failure, and I couldn’t go on.

Next week I am seeing P!nk  live in concert. Performing upside down on a trapeze, singing her beautiful heart out. Hair a funky Mohawk. Redefining beauty by just being bravely herself.  In a world filled with mimics being an original is the most daring thing at times. It took me a while to come to the realization that we are all a little broken. Once we accept ourselves as is, flaws and all, it will be possible for us to heal and put all the pieces back together—and become who we really are. And P!nk you did a lot for me during the early years of recovery where I was slowly putting the puzzle pieces that are me back together:

Your lyrics helped me change the voices in my head like how you describe in “Perfect”.

Your lyrics made me feel less alone.

Your lyrics made me feel empowered.

Your lyrics helped be rid me of shame.

I have come full circle from being the girl that took up very little space.

The girl who was harboring so much resentment.

The girl who couldn’t express or identify emotions.

The girl whose greatest fear was upsetting people.

The girl who thought that starving and numbing out were the only ways to get by.

I am now a woman who takes up space and owns the space she is in.

I am now a woman who knows who she is and fights for what she believes in.

I am now a woman who is physically and mentally strong.

I am now a woman who is a mother, and above all else a role model to them.

Five year later P!nk is still a pillar of strength to me. Back then, she was everything I was not. Now that I am a more balanced individual, she is everything I am — a woman living her truth, an original copy not afraid of not fitting into the mold—actually aspiring to be different. I will be cheering for that and her at Madison Square Garden. I will also be rocking out for all the people out there finding their own path to recovery in whatever they are going through. You are stronger than you know. And soon you will be fully you.

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Because She Will Never Be The Same…

IMG_3004This summer I will start the dreaded process that most stay at home moms who have never left their kids before don’t like to talk about—separation. My daughter is starting preschool in the fall and I signed her up for a transitional summer camp program three days a week for three hours. I am dreading it like a high school reunion I never wanted to attend. Dreading it to the point where I have been bringing the topic up to fellow moms. The conversation goes something like this:

“Ugh, I can’t stop thinking about separating. I mean, I just want to protect her forever.” I’d muse as I hold onto my four-month old for dear life in her Bjorn—she still has time.

“But it will be good for her. It will help shape her and make her stronger.” A fellow mom says as we watch our kids playing with a farm, my daughter stuffing markers through the farm doors and windows, because her farm totally would be a marker farm—girl is obsessed with her art.

“I know.” I say I know, but I am not really sure I really mean it.

I do know some things. I know my daughter will be fine physically separating. It may be rough the first couple of goodbyes and tears will be shed no doubt, but eventually she will be okay and so will I. It will become our new routine, our new normal. If anything, it will probably be me having to get pulled away, maybe a security guard or two will be called, maybe I will camp out and spy on her with binoculars. We will see, but we will both get through it one way or another.

My daughter is very social and active so she will love everything about summer days filled with sports, swimming, other kids—I can’t even make an argument to not let her go. There is one thing I worry about. When I hear it’s good for them to separate the reasons I hear are: so they can become more independent, stronger, it toughens them up. I hate all of these reasons. Why do we live in a world where kids have to be tough? Is it bad that I want my kids to keep their innocence as long as possible? Is it bad that going to school to me means it’s the start of this shedding of innocence process taking form?

I am afraid because I won’t be there to fiercely protect her the way I have been since she was born. The second she was put on my chest and we did skin-to-skin I knew she was the new love of my life. I would do anything for this little being and as a mother I have been. If a classmate is being mean, I won’t be there to pull her away from that little asshole and tell the kid “pushing is not nice. Be gentle.” I won’t be there to comfort my daughter when she is crying, tears racing down her cherub cheeks. I think about this constantly and all I want to do is hold on to these next couple of months, take her back into my womb, and never let her experience rejection of any kind.

Part of this thinking probably stems from my own experiences. I am five years in recovery from a long-standing battle with eating disorders. I used my eating disorder as protection—to numb out when life got hard, a coping mechanism. If I was bingeing and purging, I didn’t have to deal with mean kids or not fitting in. If I was focused on my eating disorder I wouldn’t get hurt. The reality is, I did get hurt, worse than another person could ever hurt me. I always wonder if I were in a world where you didn’t have to armor up–become stronger and tougher—and too nice wasn’t a weakness, would I even have an eating disorder? Probably not.

What if my daughters are too sensitive like me? Now, I am strong because I have been through a lot— I became strong, learned new coping mechanisms, learned how to defend myself and not people please up the wahzoo, but I don’t want my daughters to go through what I went through to deal with this world. I’d love them to be able to keep their innocence yet I know that is impossible.

I have been thinking about this a lot lately as the date approaches.

So when I drop my daughter off and she runs off playing with her soon to be new friends or holds onto me for dear life, I don’t know how I will get myself out of the classroom door. I know she is not me. She is already a way better version. She is sweet and sensitive but has an amazing sense of humor mixed with a little pizazz-girl has some spice! I know she will be okay. I will have to give her a big hug and kiss and be strong for her. I will size up her pint sized classmates and pray they are a nice bunch or call a hit out on each one of them. And I will always be there to support her and hold her hand on the sidelines, guiding her as best as I can, so she doesn’t fall victim to self-destruction in the face of adversity like I once did.

I just can’t help but be sad because I know the day I drop her off it is inevitable that my daughter will never be the same.

 

Five Lessons from Five Years in Eating Disorder Recovery

December third is a big day for me. It marks my five-year anniversary of being in recovery from ED. What that means is that five years ago to the day, December 3, 2012, at five in the morning I texted my mom, “I need help.” A couple of hours later I had the seizure that brought me to my rock bottom. I’d thought I could feel my body breaking down, and I was right. I had known something bad was going to happen, and it did. Like I had a crystal ball, I’d predicted it and I was lucky I’d asked for help and wasn’t alone. Ever since that day I have committed to recovery because maybe I wouldn’t be so lucky if there was a next time. Here are five lessons I have learned along the way.

1). Recovery doesn’t mean life is going to get easier it just means that you now handle it differently and you have more reasons to believe it is worth it. Oh and you actually enjoy it! I went from a life of being sick filled with only work and obsessing about food and weight (working out/ binging and purging/starving) to having a family of my own–a husband and two daughters–friends, and a closer relationship with my family. These connections that I avoided while sick, out of fear of being discovered combined with my innate feeling that I didn’t belong, now make me feel whole. Now, that little voice of anorexia is so easily knocked out by anything positive in my life—my husband’s lips against mine, by making a difference, by my ability to think clearly, by my two baby girls. Too many things are more important than ED. ED was my world before recovery-the only all-important thing in my life. Now, on a scale of importance ED is like a distant cousin five times removed—you get the point—not even a thought.

2). Time really does make it better. Recovery seems to be a waiting game with time being key—for someone with no patience like me that proved to be hard at times. I remember hearing this and thinking no way I’ll always struggle, but it really has dissipated more and more with each passing year.

A large part of this reason is because I am constantly learning new things and evolving as a human being. With ED you are so set in your eating rituals and routines that everything stays the same—you as a person can’t change. When you aren’t focused so much on ED you can live and experience which helps hush the ED voice. Through these experiences I realized how amazing my body could be and that made me reevaluate my recovery up till that point making it even stronger. My pregnancies and breast-feeding are an example of this. My babies needed nutrients for them to thrive in and out of utero, which made me look at what I was eating and strive for more variety—thus making my recovery even stronger.

Basically ED will go from center stage to a backup singer to a small part of the technical crew and then to the back row in the audience. This combination of time and non-ED experiences makes me believe one day ED will be completely eliminated—I can tell I am getting there.

3). There is a gray area and it’s a much better place than black and white. I have a personality where I am either all or nothing. I was the girl that had to get straight A’s in school, nothing in-between, or I’d be an automatic failure in my mind. I was the girl that had to be the first one at work and the last one to leave and never took a vacation. I was the girl either binging (then purging) on every food possible or starving myself. I had an all or nothing mentality and if I was going to do something–it had to be the best or to the extreme.

Since finding recovery I have found this gray area called moderation and it’s actually pretty great. I find myself sometimes just doing things because I enjoy them (can you believe it?) not to be the best or with a purpose. I now don’t have to earn my leisure. I can watch a movie because I feel like it and deserve to relax not as a reward system. I don’t have rules that I need to follow, for instance, I don’t feel guilty if I don’t workout every day. I also don’t have fear foods, and allow myself to have anything I am in the mood for but not in excess. Moderation is a good and healthy place to be.

4). Everyone isn’t going to like you, but that’s okay. Trying to get everyone to like you is an arduous task—and you will never succeed because newsflash: not everyone is going to! You can also lose yourself trying to please those around you. For a still recovering people pleaser/perfectionist this was a tough pill to swallow. But what I have come to realize is that “haters gonna hate” and it’s not a reflection on you. Bottom line: People have their own issues that make them hate people for different reasons whether they are big green eyed monsters, need attention, or simply put they can—there are so many reasons why people hate, the list can go on and on. It’s not even worth thinking about!

Be kind to everyone and if people don’t accept you still then it is their loss. I struggle with this because I am very sensitive by nature. There are people in this world who are energy vampires and I have learned through recovery that you are most definitely better off without them sucking your blood like the leaches they are anyway.

5). It’s okay to not be okay. In fact, it’s more than okay to say, “I am not okay today. I am not perfect and there is no point pretending to be. The smile on my face is as fake as Kylie Jenner’s admittedly-injection-filled-pout.” Sadness is not a weakness, admitting you are feeling down and trying to make it better is actually brave. Hiding it is actually the cowardly and easy thing to do. If you hold in all your sadness and emotion that’s when we turn to destructive ways of coping and numbing like ED. It’s okay too, to not have an exact reason for why you are feeling off. With mental illness you don’t need a reason.

I find on down days I talk to those closest to me instead of pushing them away. I tell them I am feeling off. Sometimes saying these feelings out loud is a way to admit to yourself what is going on and is also a reminder that you are not alone and people care about you. I then give myself time to write or sweat instead of avoiding those feelings and holding onto them. Bottom line: no one is perfect and life gets better once you embrace that.

So here I am, five years later typing away while my three-month-old daughter is smiling, sleeping soundly in her sleep-sack-burrito contraption in her bassinet. My almost two year old is in view through her monitor, little tushie up in the air, a sea of Wubbanub’s surrounding her. My husband is to my other side watching Stranger Things on his ipad and I am writing while simultaneously breathing in a sigh of relief. With ED, I was so alone, so sad, so defeated, deeply hurting– now I have so much love in my life I feel relief. I am so happy where I am right now—they are my strength and I am a big part of their strength. This life is where I always want to remain and I can only have it in recovery. Five years recovery strong, here is to never looking back…

 

Why It Is Hard For Me To Accept Help Even While Being In Third Trimester Of Pregnancy

“Let me give you a hand with Vivienne (my 18-month old) so you can go get something to eat or sit down?”

“It’s okay, I got it.” I politely smile back.

“Want some water, I will go get you a glass?”

“I am fine, but thanks.”

“Let me hold your diaper bag at least.”

“I. Got. It.” Words tersely spewing out of my mouth through gritted teeth.

When you are thirty-five weeks pregnant like me, and with a toddler in tow, people tend to want to help you out—especially the nicer ones (I mean, I would do the same thing!). It’s a very kind gesture and a lot of people love the help, but news flash: I absolutely loathe it. My immediate reaction is a deep want to Kung Fu the person (sometimes with nunchucks depending how persistent said person is) trying to assist me. Normal? Not really, but I can’t help this visceral reaction.

In fact, when my gynecologist said that I may have to start taking it easier in the third trimester and lift my daughter less, my first reactionary thought was lo siento, no Ingles (meaning, I don’t want to comprehend what you are saying, so I am going to pretend I can’t…). But I nodded, Uh huh, as that suggestion went chugga chugga into one eardrum and choo choo out the other like a runaway train.

So why this sour attitude toward kind Samaritans?

Well for most of my life I associated any form of help with me being incapable. This may be partly because when I was in third grade, I was diagnosed with a processing problem, meaning it takes me a little longer to take in information than most students. My mom made me get a tutor to “help” me, which I translated as, “Dani, you are a idiot.” My being a failure became an internal mantra.

Summer of third grade is also when I was introduced to my close companion, ED (Eating Disorder). The typical internal monologue of someone who takes on ED as a best friend is “I am not enough” “I am a failure” “I don’t deserve pleasure” “I have no worth.” These thoughts only exacerbated and confirmed my internal mantra making it a constant theme song in my life: The Dani Sucks At Everything Show. This could be why, it took me until I was twenty-six and had health complications to finally ask for the help I needed to be-rid myself of ED—the frequent guest host in my life.

I also grew up in an upper middle class town surrounded by a lot of people that were fortunate. Some seemed to take their fortune for granted, which made me as an observer, go the completely other direction—not wanting any handouts. My parents are very successful so it was always assumed everything was taken care of for me and that assumption angered me. At the height of my ED, I became all about being completely independent and taking care of everything myself, not caring if it was hurting me—black and white thinking till the very end.

So Please Have Patience with Me

 “Dani, I wish I could do more to help you out,” my husband says as he lathers Benadryl Itch Stopping Gel on my back, to alleviate my third trimester night itching I have developed.

“I am fine and you are helping me by doing this,” I answer as the cool lotion takes over my itchy skin, calming it down.

“No, you never let anyone do anything. It’s frustrating,” he laments.

This is our nightly routine.

Look, I have come a long way. I am almost five years into recovery (December 3, 2017 is the big day); feel the best I ever have, but go go go is just a huge part of my personality and take it easy is not in my vocabulary. I will at least now accept help at times when I am exhausted or overwhelmed, but I am a work in progress in regards to wanting help at all times or just because. I have found my gray area, but my gray area is still a type-A-personality-who-likes-to-achieve-on-her-own. So as long as the doctor says my baby is doing well, I plan to keep up my current pace. This self-reflection has left me wondering if it’s a me thing or an ED thingDoes any one else who has struggled with ED have this distaste or struggle with help as well?

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Rebel With A Cause

I struggled with anorexia for over two decades and laxative bulimia for the tail end ten years so that in itself is pretty risky behavior—and a long-haul of it. More risky than Tom Cruise sashaying in his underwear and singing into a hair brush. Come on Cruise, I put you to shame—real self-destruction is real risk not the Risky-Business-amateur-pimping you partook in-sheesh.

It’s ironic to me, because us anorexics are stereotypically (we vary, like everyone else) the straight A students, that always over achieved and never misbehaved. Sneaking out of the house? Not us, hand over mouth in surprised expression of disbelief. Never! We were always perceived as what is the conventional image of The Amish level of good. But even the Amish rebel too—ever here of Rumspringa[1]—they don’t call it the “running around” for no reason.

In reality we were lying to the world all along, creating a farce in a soapy (“squeaky clean”) bubble of perfection to mask our deadly illness. Take little old me for example. I never drank/did drugs in high school, never really dated, was always on the honor roll, yet during school free periods I was driving to drug stores out of area to purchase boxes of laxatives to sneak into my parents house for binges. Because yes I seemed like I had my shit together from an outside perspective, but at the end of the day I was so intent on my mission to skin and bones (really emotional numbness), that I would do and say anything to get people to look the other way and continue my ways of coping.

I mean I gave my parents no reason not to trust me. I wasn’t partying, binging on alcohol, all hours of the night. They even encouraged me to go out with friends and let myself relax.

“Stop being so hard on yourself. Life is too short.” I can still hear my mom whispering into my ear, as I slaved over my schoolwork on a typical Saturday night.

While some of my peers were partying Lil Wayne style, I was studying while secretly binging on food and laxatives or simply not eating to achieve the same high. I wasn’t sneaking out and getting a visible tattoo, yet I was secretly embroidering marks of self-harm into my skin in the privacy of my room. Clearly, I was daring in another way—my rebellion was just my secret.

We are all human. Human beings are flawed. There are usually cracks in the interior even if the exterior is pristine. We all have struggles and pain, heartache of some kind. Everyone has something that keeps him or her lying awake at night, thinking about life. We all need some way to numb-out and sometimes you pick up unhealthy ways, before you find the good ways (like exercise in moderation, reading a book, watching television, or writing). And if you are like me, sometimes those unhealthy ways turn into a deadly mental illness.

So yes, I was a rebel without a cause, doing things my parents wouldn’t approve of, lying through gritted teeth and fake smiles. The beauty of recovery is that now I am a rebel with a cause—the most important cause I ever participated in. I am a warrior of life, bravely showing up to the battlegrounds everyday and healthily participating. I am an eating disorder advocate, looking to help others who are stuck where I once was. I can be anything I want to be because nothing is holding me back.

It is so much easier to numb out than feel, that us who learn how to healthily feel are the champions of life (No and this was not from a fortune cookie believe it or not). So I encourage all you warriors out there to let yourselves feel and experience. There is nothing more amazing, sad, scary, and incredible in this world than feeling—but I am telling you it is worth it. We are all rebels in some way, but it is a much better way to live as a rebel with a cause—we get much more joy, love, experiences, and satisfaction (I can go on and on…)— than self-destruction. So find your cause rebel, and fight on…

[1]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rumspringa

The Smiling Girl In The Picture

Look at that girl in the picture. She is participating in a fourth of July talent show at summer camp with her bunkmates. Her slinky textured hair is combed back into a tight bun on top of her head, hidden by a multicolored hat. Oh, and her bunk will win, and she will jump up and down feigning excitement because really she doesn’t care about stupid drama competitions and would rather be kicking around a soccer ball. She’s kind of a secret rebel like that. She is young and seems happy based on that wide smile cementing the lower half of her face. But her teeth are a giveaway, impressionable aligned with braces, like her soul. She is molding into the person she thinks she should be—but who exactly is that? No one would know she is hurting, but she is. This young third grader is struggling with anorexia. This young girl is the surprising embodiment of mental illness. This girl was a younger version of me.

It began on the first day of sleepaway camp. I was beyond consoling and wanted only to be back home. I missed my parents and wasn’t sure who I was at camp without them. But I didn’t know how to tell anyone, to express my emotions. How would I find comfort without my mommy and daddy? At dinner, my wide brown eyes scanned the food stations and opted for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich instead of the mac and cheese, meatloaf, hamburgers, hotdogs, and baked beans. It just all turned me off, which was odd, because I had never felt that way about food before. After the first day, I panicked in the face of all of the food choices and became known as a picky eater.

 

There was no deviation and that would impact me by the end of the summer.

I woke up to a crowd of kids and counselors surrounding me, my eyes blinking a few times before coming to. I wasn’t in the comfort of my bed at home. No! I was flat on my back on the hard floor of the camp basketball court, staring into a blinding sun in a big blue sky. Oh shit! After a short trip to the infirmary, it was decided that I needed to go to the hospital to get an IV. I was mortified that my parents would have to take a three-hour car ride to make sure I was okay. I wanted to tell them they didn’t have to—that I was fine— but I had no say in the matter. What if they figured out what caused me to end up in this state?

Three days left of camp, my first summer away–I had fainted. That little girl in the picture wasn’t just very active like the doctor’s said. She was starving. Truth was, she was always hungry, but needed her patterns and rituals much more than she believed she needed food, and her body couldn’t keep up. That girl in the picture didn’t have curves, or really think she was fat—yet. She just couldn’t eat, because that’s how she dealt with her anxiety, but no one could see her pain. They could only see the smiling girl in the picture and that was enough to mask her eating disorder for many years.

So warning, the next time you look at a picture of someone on social media, know it is just a snap shot of a moment in time. Maybe they look happy in that instant, but there could be more going on. There always is more than a picture can capture. Don’t be blind to the glossy game of make-believe that is social media. Peal away the glitz, before you look in from the outside thinking the perfect exists on the screen you are browsing. A Picture is just that-a picture. Though, of course, there are many moments and pictures of genuine happiness, that just isn’t my point. Mental illness is easily masked with a smile like the smiling girl in the picture. So no, I don’t believe the idiom a picture is worth a thousand words. It’s harder to fake words. Our generation needs to dig deeper. So let’s start digging and using more words.

This Is Not A Choice

“Why can’t you just eat?” Such a simple question with such a complex answer.

Trust me, when I was at my lowest weight and struggling with anorexia, I knew I looked sickly. I just couldn’t get myself to eat. It wasn’t that easy. That is the biggest misconception about anorexia; that if you just eat, you will get better. Great, if it was just that easy! Eating is against everything you believe, especially when it is ingrained into your DNA not to.

Similarly when I was trying to recover through the Maudsley approach, family based treatment; I couldn’t help but slip with laxatives a couple of times. It was like a force was pulling me towards them like I was in some kind of magical trance. My parents didn’t understand. One time it got really bad. I didn’t respond well—we all didn’t respond well.

I was about halfway through my Maudsley refeeding at twenty-six—I know, it was rough-when my mom found natural laxatives I’d bought in one of the drawers in the computer room at my parents house. I was staying there for a couple of months to avoid inpatient treatment, while working with an eating disorder therapist, and other experts. I had compartmentalized the laxatives as not being a problem. I mean I was gaining weight, eating, doing everything else right. Can’t I be getting better but still abusing laxatives at the same time? I wondered. I know the answer to that now, but just humor me for a moment.

I had tried to justify them to myself when I sneakily bought them because they were “natural” laxatives. Natural meant they were acceptable in my mind—wrong! My mom called my dad when we were on the way home from work and angrily told him what she discovered. He yelled at me for being deceitful.

“All you do is lie to me. I can’t trust you! How could you lie to me?” he roared, his lower teeth overtaking his upper lip like a shih tzu, which was intimidating as fuck—not like the cute little teacup shih tzus I was familiar with.

“I am so sorry, I didn’t mean to—” I said biting my lip hard, tears forming in my shameful eyes.

“You mean, you didn’t mean to get caught! Your mother and I have been busting our assess trying to get you better, and this is how you repay us. You are so ungrateful.”

I swear he had such force in his voice that the car shook with its booming vibrato. He never knew how to handle his emotions, especially over things he couldn’t control. He wanted to scare the shit out of me, scare the anorexia and bulimia out of me, so I wouldn’t do it again. Though that wasn’t going to help. He didn’t understand how powerful this addiction was. He didn’t understand that the last thing I wanted to do was lie to him, to my mom. It wasn’t about trust. I had a problem. I was an addict.

I cried all the way home as he expressed his disappointment in me as a person, even more hurtful, as his daughter. We got home, and as we pulled in, I saw the outline of my mom at the door peering out: her long brown locks, medium-height lanky body, and long skinny arms. How would I get around her without talking to her? My dad’s screams were all blending together as the intensity seemed to decrease, and all I could hear were the same words over and over again “disappointment” and “unappreciative.”

I opened the car door and slithered out like a rattlesnake making its escape, slammed the door shut behind me, and ran past my mom up the back stairs and hid. Yes, you read that correctly, I hid. I didn’t want them to belittle me anymore. I couldn’t take it. Through the vents, I could hear them talking, but only in murmurs. Then they shouted for me: “Dani! Dani!” I stayed in my hiding spot, paralyzed. I felt like a little girl hiding from her spanking.

I hid in a closet in my room under hanging clothes, squishing old shoes with my butt and legs for what seemed like a long time. I whimpered but tried to stay as quiet as possible. It was hot and dark with a little light peeking through the bottom. I saw the backs of dresses from when I was younger. One was dark maroon. I recognized it as the dress I wore to my bat mitzvah. I placed my fingers on it and felt the texture; it felt hard, almost stale. I looked at a suitcase above me where I used to hide laxatives, now I was hiding for them. I was hiding because I was so addicted to them, to my habits, that I couldn’t stop myself from using them. I’d reached a new low. I was sitting in my childhood closet hiding from the world.

I heard my mom calling in echoes. “Dani, Dani! Is this a joke? Where are you?” I heard her faint footsteps far away.

My dad chiming in: “Did she leave the house?”

I heard the front door open and slam close.

Tucked quietly away, I let them panic for a bit. I let them squirm the way I had been squirming these past couple of months, tiptoeing around them, trying everything to please them, following their every order so I wouldn’t be hospitalized. Somehow, in this moment, this felt so much worse than the worst punishment I could think of. I wanted to get even with them in a way. I resented my dad’s reaction; I resented my mom for busting me the way she did. She could have just waited until we both got home, instead of making me get stuck in a car with someone who saw this as the ultimate betrayal.

“You are going to be in big trouble whenever you come out!” I heard my dad scream. Not exactly motivation for me to move. I closed my eyes and tried to slow my breathing, hoping the walls from the closet would close in and suffocate me, end it all right now, right here . . .

“Dani, please, we are not mad at you,” my mom countered his lunacy. Her panicked voice made me feel a little bad.

About ten minutes in hiding, I opened the closet door from the inside, revealing myself. I picked myself up slowly, gaining balance on my two feet and feeling weak and defeated as I shouted, “I’m here, I’m here.” I realized that my voice was in a whisper and not the shout I intended it to be. “I’m here. I am coming!” I screamed again, and this time it was actually louder.

I walked down the front stairs and found them both in the kitchen.

When I saw their faces, I apologized through broken whimpers and tears. My parents both embraced me. I snuggled into my dad’s chest, hiding my face and tears in the warmth of his body. I cried for my parents. I cried for myself. I cried because I didn’t think I could do this anymore. I just cried.

I wish all of us had responded differently. There were a lot of emotions. It was one of the hardest times in all of our lives. My dad didn’t know anything from eating disorders. He thought I chose not to eat. He never heard of anyone being addicted to something like laxatives. But now every year at the NEDA (National Eating Disorders Association) walk, my dad stands right by my side listening to the speakers; his unblinking eyes release tears that roll along the contour of his chin and down his neck. Now, he is my biggest advocate and understands how difficult this illness is. He is proud of me, of all the people that beat this. He knows this is not a choice.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237 or refer to the resources page

 

 

 

What Turning Thirty Means To Me After Beating Mental Illness

Only a thin white gown covered my body as I shivered ferociously, despite the plush white blanket my mother had brought from home. I couldn’t move, not even to make eye contact with my mother, who, flanked by doctors and nurses, peered over me.

“What happened to me?” I wanted to ask, but I was too confused to form words. I knew one thing for sure—my head hurt. I closed my eyes again to relieve the pain and blurriness. I could hear the piercing wails of the ambulance, so loud yet ever fading as I went in and out of consciousness.

“Danielle, can you hear me?” the EMT asked with such command, it scared me into answering him. But what came out of my mouth was only gibberish, like playing a record backward in slow motion. The one thing in English I could say became my mother’s saving grace as she squeezed my hand in terror: “I don’t want to die.” Her saving grace, because for far too long I had done everything in my power to die.

My abuse of laxatives had been going on for a good ten years, and I was finally paying the price. I swore I could feel my body breaking down the night before, and I was right. I had known something bad was going to happen, and it did. Like I had a crystal ball, I’d predicted it, and I was lucky I’d asked for help and wasn’t alone. Now, what was going to happen to me?

                                                                                             ***

It’s hard to believe this was four years ago when my body broke down and had a seizure. Now I am going to be thirty—the big 3-0. I didn’t believe I was going to make it to twenty-six, I was going to die of anorexia. But, lo and behold– here I am and a shit load has changed. I have learned so many lessons and I am here to tell you what thirty and being in recovery feels like. So listen up:

1). My soul feels so much older than thirty so turning thirty actually seems young to me believe it or not.

Growing up with mental illness I took on a lot being the perfectionist, type-A, OCD girl I was. While my middle school, high school and college peers were talking about parties and each other, I was worried about everything from my grades, the state of my family’s happiness, to homeless youth on the street (seriously). I felt like it was my responsibility to make everything in the world perfect. With that superman-like responsibility, I had to mature a lot quicker than most.

To recover from mental illness, you also go through a lot of self-reflection and discovery that makes you feel way beyond your years. This is why turning thirty is a piece of cake. I actually am excited to have a whole decade ahead of me, the first sick-free decade I will ever have.

2). I have perspective from being sick and appreciate things a little more

I appreciate the small things like going out for dinner and being able to eat. I appreciate the fact that I have the strength to carry my daughter in the Baby Bjorn for a couple of hours or at least until my back feels like it is going to give out. I appreciate being able to watch Stranger Things on Netflix and not feeling guilty for being unproductive or not having my own demogorgon in my mind telling me how lazy and fat I am.

3). My possibilities are endless in recovery

It’s amazing what your brain can do when you are in recovery. You have so much more room for creativity when you’re not constantly counting calories. You have more time to have an actual life. Without anorexia, I was able to meet a great guy and now have a beautiful baby girl. He was not my cure-all, by any means, and I am not saying that a ring and a wedding cured my eating disorder or made me well, because it didn’t. What I am saying is that because I was happy and healthy enough, mentally and physically, to let myself be vulnerable, the conditions for true connection were set. Without anorexia, nothing is holding you back. You can do whatever you set your mind to. There is a whole world out there, with endless possibilities.

4). I know who my real friends are

When you go through mental illness you realize who your true friends are and who you have been keeping around as filler. And you know what? Fillings can stick to the cavities in my mouth, thank you very much. I don’t have time for filler-friends of any kind. The number of friends I have dwindled, but the quality has gotten more like that authentic Chanel bag then the fake knock-off on the street.

The facilitator for a webinar I took through the National Eating Disorder Association summed it up perfectly with these words: “Surround yourself with positive people. It is easier to feel good about yourself and your body when you are around others who are supportive and who recognize the importance of liking yourself just as you naturally are.”

At thirty, I finally feel deserving of surrounding myself with these kinds of people because I am kind enough to myself to accept them. I don’t have anything to hide from them anymore or push them away now that I am in recovery. I am finally embracing my flaws, so I have to believe that other people will as well, and if they don’t, well . . . fuck ’em.

5). I have learned how to say no to the bullshit.

This person cancelled plans on me for the fifth time with no excuse. That person has me waiting over thirty minutes. I am going to leave. Your priorities change too much to care about the bullshit. I have a baby too, and way too much going on. If you aren’t here for the right reasons, bye Felicia!

6). Me time, is more than okay

This is hard to fit in as a mama of a nine month old, but I deserve it and need it. For the longest time I did everything for everyone else and was people pleasing up the wazoo that I forgot about myself. Now I make sure to have some time at the end of the day to write, watch television, and do whatever I need to unwind.

I don’t abuse my body and push it to the limit. I listen to it and let it guide me. It’s like in the book The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. The controversy stems from whether the relationship between the main characters, a tree and a boy, could be interpreted as positive (i.e., the tree gives the boy selfless love) or as negative (i.e., the boy and the tree have an abusive relationship). I looked at it more on a positive, with the tree being like a mother figure to the boy, content just to make the boy happy. However, if it were multiple people just taking, taking, taking from the tree, the tree would wind up with nothing, and maybe no one would care. The boy appreciated the tree as a stump, but some people wouldn’t.

I almost wound up being a stump because I gave too much of myself and never gave myself anything or took anything in return. You can’t give, give, and give until there is nothing left of you. You have to find a balance. I am learning that. I refuse to be a stump ever again.

7). I finally feel found.

I know who I am. I know my beliefs. I am not wishy-washy on them like I was in my twenties. I used to be insecure and wouldn’t voice my feelings; scared I wouldn’t be accepted or liked-the horror! Now I am not affected by what others think. I don’t need to be liked by everyone as long as I know I am a good person. If they don’t like me, so be it. Yes, I doubt myself at times, but far less than I used to.

8). I am finally comfortable in my body

Gosh, this one seems like it took forever to achieve, but I am finally here and yes at dirty thirty. Wahoo for that! After I had my baby I realized how amazing my body is and what it can do. I mean it created my little girl so it can’t be all that bad. I am more than my body and when it came down to it my anorexia wasn’t even really about my body to begin with.

9). I accept my flaws and even like them believe it or not

Part of my recovery was realizing that no one is perfect, and that is actually the most beautiful and life-changing realization I ever had. The people who have to pretend to be flawless are the ones I now feel sorry for. I want to shake all those people who are placing unrealistic expectations on themselves and scream loudly in their ears so it registers in their brains: “Snap out of it! It’s okay to be imperfect! Your flaws set you apart in a great way. You will be so much more happy once you embrace them!” Because now that’s really how I feel. And it’s true. I am happier now that I have embraced and even love my flaws.

10). I eat what I want and don’t feel bad about it.

I don’t have good or bad foods anymore. I don’t believe in diets and have a really healthy eating lifestyle with moderation for whatever I am in the mood for. If I want a slice of pizza, I am going to have it, dammit! Now that I am eating normally (compared to disordered) I listen to my body’s hunger cues and enjoy what I am eating. It takes time to get to this place of enjoyment with food, for me it was probably a solid three years into recovery, but once you get there it is amazing

I never was actually aware of the concept of mindful eating until I was recovered and realized that I was practicing it all along—while I kept on getting better and better. I was slowly letting myself become more aware of my feelings and why I was restricting or bingeing—turning to food to cope. This way I am never tempted to over eat or under eat again. I listen to my body.

So this year when my family sings the Happy Birthday song and I blow out the candles on my birthday cake, I will be feeling happy, even grateful to be here. I feel like I have a second chance and am so lucky that I have a beautiful family to celebrate with. So thirty bring it on, I am ready for you!

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