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 10 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 30 — the big 3-0. I didn’t believe I was going to make it to 26. I was going to die of anorexia. But, lo and behold– here I am, and a shitload has changed. I have learned so many lessons, and I am here to tell you what 30 and being in recovery feels like for me. So listen up:
1) My soul feels so much older than 30.
Growing up with mental illness I took on a lot being the perfectionist, type-A 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. 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 30 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 me back. I can do whatever I set my 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 than 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 30, 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 other people will as well, and if they don’t, well… fuck ’em.
When I was struggling with eating disorders I was so caught up in my own struggles and convinced I couldn’t trust anyone, that I lost any form of true connection. In recovery I realize I need to act as a friend as much as I need friends. Sharing begets sharing, authenticity begets authenticity, and these are all positive rewards from letting yourself be vulnerable.
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 30 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 OK.
This is hard to fit in as a mama of a 9-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 20s. 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 30. 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. 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 OK 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 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, 30, bring it on, I am ready for you!
Dani is four years in recovery from anorexia and bulimia, Vice President of a transportation company, and a mother to a 9-month-old. Hobbies (when she has a minute to breathe!) include reading, writing or blogging, anything on Bravo and the occasional workout. Follow her on her blog Living a Full Life After ED and like it on Facebook.
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.
We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.
Thinkstock photo by max-kegfire