Stand Up, I Dare You

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I was sitting in Madison Square Garden watching P!NK storm the stage in an all-white ensemble like the angel goddess she is. She even flew in on strings like she was attached to a marionette—but let’s be real, P!NK is her own puppeteer and that’s why she is admired by many. She took my breath away as cheers and loud edgy-pop-inspiration filled the jam-packed arena. Some sections promptly stood up, as if P!NK’s all around magnetism pulled them off of their feet—and it did. Of course, my body had the same reaction, but I held myself back. The problem: I was in the inhibited section where everyone was clapping and bopping their heads in their seats, up and down, like bobble-head dolls, but no one dared to stand up. I would normally feel comfortable in this area being an outgoing introvert.  I can be social and enjoy going out to concerts and interacting with new people at times, but it takes a lot out of me.  It’s really in my moments alone where I am energized and recharged. I am not a live loud and dance like no one Is watching kind of girl by nature.

“Let’s stand up!” My sister-in-law, shouted into my ear over the loud vibrato of P!NK’s magical vocals. I looked around, scoping the area, and found not one person in my section was blockading me and my lack-there-of-dance-moves.  Everyone behind me would bear witness.  I mean, me and my toddler dance to The Wiggles, but I wasn’t sure if all these people would be ready for those kinds of moves.

“I can’t, I am a terrible dancer,” I meekly replied taking a small sip of a cheap chardonnay that tasted like wet cardboard. Thought process: maybe liquid courage would help.

Then there was a voice saying isn’t this what P!NK stands for? Confidence, courage, and being you and not giving a hoot about who approves. I reflected back at five years ago when I was at rock bottom with my eating disorder—listening to P!NK, attempting to empower myself—because I was too weak on my own. That’s what eating disorders do– they numb and stifle you. You are not really living. I survived for way too long afraid of making the wrong move, a misstep, terrified of what people would think.

My advice from years of being a member of the walking dead: You have to put yourself out there and live.

It’s better to be laughed at or rejected than to not try. It’s better to love and get hurt than to be alone. If you don’t take chances and push yourself out of your comfort zone you will never be living and experiencing. And then, what’s the point?

It’s kind of like with motherhood. If you aren’t taking chances and making mistakes in the process, then you aren’t learning, living, and growing as a mom. You learn what works for your child through these missteps and successes by trial and error.

Bottom line: You have to get a little messy to get the overall best results. Get your hands dirty if you will.

When my daughter finger paints, I get such anxiety because finger paint can wind up in her hair (and it does) on her clothes, my clothes, walls of our home. But the reality of the situation: big deal.  She takes a bath and it was a great time. She gets to learn a new creative skill, I have a keepsake, and everyone grows from it.

On that thought, “Funhouse,” started playing and I took my sister-in-law’s hand and said “Let’s stand.” We danced and sashayed to the music as I tried my best not to think about the people around me. Then by “Just Give Me A Reason,” I was dancing with no regard for who was watching.

I don’t want my daughters to stand on the side-lines, observers, of their own life stories like I was for far too long.  I want them to be active participants–living life fully, messily and beautifully. I want them to choose to stand up.

This was why I faced my fears and stood up. And dare you to, too.

Being Okay With Not Being Okay With My Third Trimester Body

Okay, so I hate to admit it, but lately I have been a total hypocrite of everything I stand for in my post-recovery life.

I hit third trimester and I am having an extremely hard time accepting my body. And no, not in an “I am starving my baby” kind of way, because no matter what I would never get to that point, but a “wow I am uncomfortable, and may kind of resemble a baby pot belly pig and am hating my body more than usual” way.

I am about to be more honest than I have ever been, so brace-yourself.

This week has been hard and there have definitely been some factors that made it that way. First let me get the humor items out of the way:

It’s Hot AF:

The New York heat defined in one word: brutal. It makes you feel like you are on the verge of losing your mind. Heat hitting you SMACK, hard in the face. Salty sweat, falling down your nose and into your mouth. Mmm-hm. Lovely.

I am walking my daughter to classes and the hot humid air (if you could call that air…) makes my shirt press tightly against my pregnant belly. I am not only hating myself with each stare down at the “buddha” (my belly), but feel wet, maybe even swamp-monster-like from the amount of perspiration exiting my body.

I picture the belly bouncing in slow motion, because the heat takes me to a desert-cacti-zone where the speed would be sloth-like.

Constipation:

The baby is officially the size of a pineapple. Therefore everything feels smothered. I swear I can feel my organs shriveled up in a corner.

Taking a dump, has become even more of a controversial topic now that it is not only something I have to worry about for my daughter, but also for myself. Because of said “smooshed organs” and with the baby taking up the anterior of my stomach, it has been harder to make everything move along, causing major discomfort in my belly zone.

I lie in bed at night picturing the days’ items I’ve eaten, stuck and arranged in different organs since they are all blended together at this point–at least that’s how I picture them.

Transformation:

In all seriousness, I forgot how hard it is being pregnant in terms of having your body change so drastically, especially while being in recovery from ED. First and second trimesters were easy, but third trimester is where the changes are getting more rapid and noticeable.

It’s strange to think, within the past five years of recovery (official rock-bottom date December 5th 2012), I have gone through weight restoration, followed by two pregnancies. That’s a lot of body evolutions in a short period of time.

As much as I hate to admit it, it hasn’t been easy for me. I can preach all day about self-love and the new respect I have for my body since creating my amazing girls (one coming in October), which I do, but I don’t feel body confidence at every second. In fact, I think it’s important to say that I do struggle a lot so others know it’s okay to not feel perfect about your baby bump all the time. I don’t even believe in perfection as a realistic expectation. First thing you learn in recovery from anorexia is about this awesome gray-area, where flaws are accepted and embraced and nothing is black or white (What? Yes, really ED—no one is perfect). In fact, the other day, I was moody and snappier than a snapping turtle on steroids (that’s one angry AF turtle) because I felt so shitty about my body, plus everything hurt! And you know what? That’s okay.

When I complain about my size, I am met with “but you are pregnant and so lucky so don’t complain.” I know I am, but just because I am pregnant and lucky doesn’t mean I can’t express my normal rational body fears.

I would like to make a clear differentiation too. I struggle with how I look, but I do practice total self-love in the way I nourish and care for my body. I am not self-destructing because I am thinking of the beautiful child I am fortunate enough to bear (and the one that is outside my belly looking at me as a role model); and in addition to the above, I would never go there again. I am way too happy in my ED free life to ever look back. I just don’t think I look hot, or even kind of good, but I know I am much more than my body, plus my ED was more about coping and control than actual size and weight loss, as most peoples are.

Bottom line, I am healthy and how I feel about my body is never going to stop me from growing my family—or being the best version of me for them. Also, it is not about acceptance, because I accept every part of me wholeheartedly right now, because it is giving me the best gift in the world—another daughter. But third trimester mamas-to-be I want to make something crystal clear–we are allowed to bitch!

Let’s Talk About Society

It is ironic that our need to be skinny is dictated by the media and society, but then if we have a fear of getting “fat” when we are pregnant, it is considered blasphemous and we are thought of as superficial. Addressing any downsides of being pregnant is frowned upon and seen as taboo, but it shouldn’t be. I bet you most mothers-to-be have insecure days and these so-called “irrational fears.” We have to start supporting, rather than judging, one another so we can talk about these normal fears and make one another feel better, instead of holding the feelings in (https://themighty.com/2017/05/advice-for-a-new-mother-in-eating-disorder-recovery/). In fact, these fears are okay and should be expressed. Holding feelings in is how we find ourselves thinking we are the only ones having these thoughts and we must be messed up– when really a lot of people are feeling similar.

So let’s support each other as women and mothers, and the amazing human beings we are. Let’s promote each other and pick each other up when we are feeling down. You know what? Sometimes it’s okay to bitch even if they are lucky problems. So please bitch away. I will be happy to hear it.

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.

ED Will Never Ever Be My Valentine’s Date Again

Gosh, relationships. Hard enough before you have a third party involved. If you watch Sister Wives, you know what I am talking about. If you are in a relationship while having an eating disorder it’s like having an ménage à trois, because the eating disorder voice is always there, looming, as the third party in the relationship. You can’t just focus on the two of you, because that third party is constantly pulling at your heartstrings, like a puppet master, causing complete havoc.

Since I have never been one for a three way–I guess I am just not that kinky, but power to you if you are—when I was struggling with ED (short for “eating disorder,” which was coined by author and eating disorder survivor, Jenni Schaefer, in Life Without ED) he was the only thing I had time for. We were exclusive to each other, a monogamous duo. We had the talk many times.

He was romantic at times. On Valentine’s Day he pulled out all the stops, triggering bulimia, a special peanut butter binge-he knew it was my favorite–followed by an epic purge. He was thoughtful like that, knowing this was what an ideal date night for me would consist of–no one knew me, the ins and outs of my mind, quite like my eating disorder.

At times I did try to date. I made a profile and joined the ranks of New York dating singles on JDate and Match.com. At the time those were the big ones. It was difficult for me to take any “blind” date situation seriously. I felt like a caricature of myself out on these dates. I could never take these meet-ups as more than a joke—that would mean I would have to face being rejected or, worse, let someone in and get my heart broken. My eating disorder kept me safe, so I stuck tightly by his side.

For four years during the peak of my self-destruction, he was my everything. He was the only one I had time for because he was extremely demanding. He was bossy, actually verbally and physically abusive. He told me to workout, that my butt was too flabby. Sometimes he would tell me to workout for three hours on the elliptical in the middle of the night, when I couldn’t sleep. He told me not to eat anything all day except for a lean cuisine meal around dinnertime. He told me to wear baggy clothes to mask my shrinking frame. He told me how to order laxatives without people knowing (online—duh!). He taught me so many tricks, he taught me everything I knew. We were so co-dependent that I thought we merged into one. I forgot who I was.

Six months into recovery, was the first time I was able to let someone besides ED into my life. A year and a half later we were married. I finally started to peal away who Dani was without her eating disorder—what she really liked, didn’t like, and most importantly how she felt. I became the real me, not the me I felt pressure to be or who constantly believed I wasn’t good enough. Because you know what I am more than good enough, thank you very much!

My husband, he was not my cure-all, by any means. I am in no way 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.

So this Valentine’s Day I will be celebrating, four years eating disorder free, with my husband and my 11-month old daughter by my side. We will be at home, in our pajamas, eating takeout and speaking baby babble with food absolutely everywhere—and it will be perfect. I couldn’t even imagine this life years ago, but now I wouldn’t even want to take a peek back out of curiosity. Recovery has brought me this perfectly imperfect spaghetti-and-tomato-sauce-in-the-hair filled image of Valentine’s Day and as challenging and sometimes messy as it will be—I couldn’t picture it any other way. I will cheers to my recovery, with a spaghetti noodle from my hair, for giving me the guts to get rid of my abusive boyfriend—ED.

 

 

Let’s Rip All Band-Aids Off Today

My leg pounds on the ground, ready to pound out the next beat—thump, thump, thump. I can’t help but shake. My leg becomes jittery when I am nervous. My whole body can feel it. I drop my hands, and feel the thump, thump, thump. Stop shaking, I scream. It didn’t listen, dammit. Deja de temblar, I say utilizing my mediocre Spanish skills, hoping my leg understands that better than English. Nope. Then I take matters into my own hands, literally, grabbing my leg for it to stop. Finally, phew.

I feel my nails. They are short and brittle. I can’t help biting them or picking at them. Pick, pick, bite and bite some more. I pick my lip when I am focusing.

“Stop picking your lip,” my husband says–it irks him. I nod my head, as I remain silent focusing on whatever I am focusing on.

“Your head says yes, but your actions say no.”

I whip around and smile his way, knowing he is totally right.

The weird things we do to make ourselves feel better. The weird kinks our bodies come up with to cope.

“Two anxiety disorders in particular, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and social phobia commonly occur with anorexia and bulimia.”[1] I had both. Socially, I would always care what everyone thought about me, and the anxiety would induce me to not go out to parties or other social gatherings. Don’t approach that group of girls; they are going to reject you. My OCD, or rituals, were very particular. I would count numbers, multiples of 13 were considered bad. I couldn’t shut off the light on 13 or do anything for a multitude of 13. I also had to be the last person to shut off the lights and I would chant, “I wish that I was the skinniest and prettiest person in the world.” I would chant this until my eyes would slowly drift into sleep. If I didn’t, I would be afraid I would always remain ugly and fat. If I didn’t stay up until my parents got home on date night, I was convinced something horrible would happen to them. So I pinned my eyes open, staying up till whenever I heard the alarm buzz indicating they were home.

            On top of that, I would obsess about every single morsel of food I did or didn’t put into my mouth: calculate the calories, what I was going to eat/not eat, when I was going to binge/purge etc. and between that I was studying, because I had to be perfect. It was all consuming. When you disappear in your thoughts like that you don’t truly live.

            We repeat things in our heads over and over again in order to blockade certain thoughts, feelings. We don’t eat to numb ourselves too. That’s one of the many reasons why recovery can be so hard in the beginning. All of a sudden you feel everything again and it’s frightening. You actually have to deal with all the underlying issues. All of the emotions rush to your head making the heat travel to your face. The feelings attack every pore, every inch of your body. You want to punch yourself, stop those feeling—but you can’t without tackling them head on. Instead of numbing out, feeling absolutely nothing—nada, zip, zilch–you will start to confront issues and it’s actually so much better than the temporary Band-Aid you put on everything. Some people are more comfortable stuck in their own traps and webs—but it’s better to step out of that comfort zone. Yes, it’s painful in the short run, but in the long run, you feel relief because you give closure to that open wound.

Then when the wound is sealed you can do a little Irish jig (because why not?) and say in a singsong tone “I am back, bye anorexia and OCD you complete jerks.” And give them a figurative middle finger on the way out. They deserve it!

We need courage to get back on our feet and start again after hard times, but each of us has that courage within. When it seems like everyone and everything is against us, we have it in us to prove everyone wrong, even ourselves, and persevere. To say you are perfect after you choose recovery is what would be categorized as an alternative fact (thanks Donald Trump America for that one), but it gets so much better. Life is messy but once you face reality it becomes easier and you can even see the beauty in it, by actually living, believe it or not. We are all kind of broken, but that’s what gives us depth and makes us beautiful.

So next time you are tap-tap-tapping your leg, and you are trying to get it to stop by screaming in different languages at it—at least that’s what I do–remember why you are really doing it. It won’t make your life better by continuing your rituals. Actually without them, life gets so much better—easier and more enjoyable. Let’s rip those Band-Aids permanently off- or in the language of recovery, let yourself be free.

 

[1] Costin, Carolyn. The Eating Disorder Sourcebook, Third Edition (McGraw-Hill Education, 2007), page 31.

I Am In Love With My Daughter’s Relationship With Food

Sitting in her highchair, bib over head-as mess insurance of course—you got to have mess insurance when you have a baby, or you will be sure to have a puréed food in baby’s hair moment. While you are freaking out standing by her side screaming NOOOOO, because she just took a bath. And that requires a lot of clean up in itself and ahh. Yep. That’s motherhood for you.

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My daughter flashes her toothless smile, minus three little teeth that pop out of her gums. One a fang, another at its posterior, while the last lies on her lower right gums. She hisses, getting excited “bah bah.” No it’s not a bottle, it’s a cinnamon raison bagel with butter (let’s say), but bottles are so exciting so I understand what she is getting at.

And actually putting said food into her mouth and chewing on it. Well, that’s an even better sight.

Nothing makes me happier than seeing the joy in my daughter’s eyes when she tastes something she likes. Her almond shaped brown eyes light up, like a crazed Jack-O’-Lantern but in the best way possible. She isn’t thinking about calories, the size of her arm rolls or what people will think of them. She is just thinking dammit mommy, give me more– this tastes delicious. And she eats until her little tummy is full.

Seeing her gnaw on anything takes me back to videos I have seen of myself as a child. It takes me back in snap shots—flashes that I am not sure are my own memories or memories from videocassettes (yes, I am old) snippets. The way a baby chews is so raw, sensual, and fascinating to me. It’s the sweet innocence only a baby could have–eating without fear.

My mom and I recently watched home videos, including a video of me as a baby. I was looking at my mom with adoring big brown eyes, chanting, “Waffles, waffles, waffles . . .” Then came the high-pitched and excited “Waaaaffles!” I was jumping up and down, trying to reach my highchair, where I knew I would get my treat. Mom scooped me up and put me in the chair, and then she placed an Eggo waffle on a plate in front of me. There I was, sitting there eating a waffle—smiling and laughing. I looked so happy. That little girl with curly hair, big eyes, and a wide innocent smile is not the same girl she is today. I strive to be that little girl when it comes to food again. She loved food and was not yet tainted by life’s bullshit.  And if her innocence towards food ever wavers in the slightest bit,  I will have my daughter watch herself as a baby to remember that exact joy so she can get back to it too.

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But for now, I will soak in every moment watching her eat in real time.

 Beep, beep I just finished microwaving these Dr. Praeger’s spinach nuggets she loves. She can smell them from a mile away and crawls toward me like a puppy and pulls herself on my legs, begging me for them. The only thing missing is her little tongue wagging from left to right. Never mind, there it is. I calm her down, put the plate down and pick her up. She takes a cut up piece into her tiny hands, putting it into her mouth, and its Jack-O’-Lantern time. She gives raspberries as she swallows making a loud vibrato through her mouth. I laugh.

“What are you doing little bug?” I jokingly question. If she answered, I’d pass out from shock.

She is just enjoying herself. And I relish every moment of her joy. Actually, I am in love with it.