Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Dancing Again

This Guest Post graciously submitted by Mandi Degner.

Last week, I finally took a long and honest look at myself in a mirror for the first time in my available memory of life. I didn’t hate her. I didn’t yell at her. I didn’t tell her she was ugly. On Tuesday, I just looked. On Thursday, in the same mirror, I looked into her eyes and then looked at her again and said aloud, “so, what was so bad about you? Why did I nearly belittle and beat the life out of you? You’re perfectly fine!” I couldn’t help but wonder why I hated this body so much.  At 28, I saw my whole self in the mirror at the front of studio,  dancing, spinning, jumping and laughing with about 15 other beautiful women, none of whom know my story. The only one who knows a little about my life and death struggle with anorexia, bulimia, and exercise addiction is the instructor. Yet, even she has only ever known the me as being “in recovery,” and I love that she only knows this me!

A year ago, I gave recovery another try.  Miserable, sick, tired, defeated and devoid of physical or emotional strength, I checked myself in to a psychiatric hospital once again for an eating disorder. I gained the weight. I hated it, but I didn’t mess with it this time. My therapist said I could yell and scream about how much I hated it everyday if that’s what I wanted, so I did.

I wasn’t allowed to exercise for a year, and this time I didn’t. None. I sat and I learned that my body wasn’t meant to be beaten up, yelled at, or told that it’s ugly. How did I learn all of this? I listened. I listened to other girls who lived with me in treatment when we didn’t like what we felt or saw, we talked about it and then we would make crafts and watch TV and yell at the diet-ad commercials. We leaned on each other and knew that we were all uncomfortable, but that we were still ok! We covered our mirror with bright colors, happy faces, flowers, and quotes. I owe a lot of my body acceptance to the learning I shared with those girls. Even if we didn’t feel it, we sure made it sound as if we believed it! Sooner or later, it does sink in.

Six months after that, I am dancing again. I had stopped dancing when I was 19 and I didn’t care if I ever danced again. But, I was introduced to Nia, a sensory-based, therapeutic way of dancing that celebrates each individual body for its uniqueness and beauty. The very first class, the instructor said, “just fake it till ‘ya make it. It’s all about the joy. Just have fun!” I didn’t think it was possible…I did it.

It took me a few weeks before I could look up, but when I did, I saw myself in that mirror and almost looked away like I always had. No way. There was no way that I could be having this much fun and not have to look at what “having fun” looks like. I think I stopped dancing despite everyone else continuing to dance. The mirror wasn’t scary anymore. I had no desire to hate the girl who was staring back at me. How can you hate joy and freedom in being able to express yourself with dancing? I couldn’t. There was no hate there! There…was…no…hate! It never crossed my mind to even critique a part of my body. I looked at my unruly, frizzy hair, sweaty face, and big, blue eyes and smiled as I nodded my head, spun in a circle and thought, “yeah, this is real life, and I am loving it.” I went on with my day feeling really proud. I can look in a mirror! It works. I got the chance to dance for real again, and to see what joy it brings to my whole body. There is finally enough joy in knowing myself that what my body is or is not, doesn’t matter anymore! It’s not perfect, but that’s why I love it. Imperfection is fun.

dance as a tree

I wholeheartedly believe that it was Nia (and the amazing energy of my instructor, Barb) that made the difference between just being “in recovery” to the little extra nudge into actually “living recovery” like it’s supposed to be…being thankful for EXACTLY who I am right now.

A few weeks ago in class, we were instructed to dance as if we were trees, swaying and bending with the wind, yet deeply rooted in the earth. Having always loved the natural, simple, yet majestic beauty of trees, I was delighted to embrace that idea! I was reminded of a poem I have on my bulletin board at home. As I read it again, I was reminded of how much of my journey fit into the lines of the poem–nourishment, changing, flexibility, and dancing were just a few.

Advice From a Tree

by Ilan Shamir
Dear Friend,Stand tall and proud
Sink your roots deeply into the earth
Reflect the light of your true nature
Think long term
Go out on a limb
Remember your place among all living beings
Embrace with joy the changing seasons
For each yields its own abundance
The energy and birth of spring
The growth and contentment of summer
The wisdom to let go the leaves in the fall
The rest and quiet renewal of winterFeel the wind and the sun
And delight in their presence
Look up at the moon that shines down upon you
And the mystery of the stars at night
Seek nourishment from the good things in life
Simple pleasures
Earth, fresh air, light
Be content with your natural beauty
Drink plenty of water
Let your limbs sway and dance in the breezes
Be flexible
Remember your roots
Enjoy the view!

About Mandi Degner:

Currently, I’m enjoying and being grateful for every minute of what I like to call my “second chance.” I’m learning that I absolutely LOVE life in a big city (Milwaukee), finishing my LPC graduate program in Community Psychology at Alverno College, and writing. I am stronger in my recovery from anorexia/compulsive exercise than ever before, after deciding that I had to learn how to re-inhabit my body and embrace all of it. In deciding to do this, I was able to be open to dancing again, but this time with the intention of dancing with my true self…and embracing whatever is there. 



4 Responses to “Dancing Again”
  1. onebreath says:

    I hope you realize how powerful and wonderful this is and I hope you celebrated your achievement. I am just beginning my recovery journey and I find so much inspiration when I read about those who have fought the battles and won.

    I took a quick peek at your blog too (just a quick skim, I’ll read more later). Your post mentioning your height leaped out at me. How true. As another person with an average height that I don’t have value attached to, what a great way to see the rest of my body. Thank you.

    Enjoy your dancing!

    • Mandi says:

      It’s been worth every minute of it–I never thought I’d be able to say that! I’m so proud of you for being on your own recovery journey, your choice to heal benefits everyone! I know I never thought of it that way, but when I was so focused inward and on the “what’s wrong with ME?” I couldn’t see the rest of the world and how much was actually out THERE! Thanks for the compliment, and for reading my blog, too!

  2. onebreath says:

    Hi Mandi, I wanted to tell you how very much I like your blog. I was reading through many of your posts today and felt a strong alignment with your messages. I tried to post a comment, but there wasn’t a name/url option and the options there wouldn’t work for me!

    I did want you to know though, that your posting, is beautiful and meaningful to me.

  3. Mandi says:

    Thank you! I’m honored by your compliments. Sometimes my mind is so full of some of the smallest things I never saw as profound and meaningful before, that I just want to share with whomever wants to read. Writing is my way of slowing some of life down so that I can look at it for what it really is, and not miss any more of it! Thank you once again! I hope you can continue on your recovery path with peace and increased confidence and strength in your beautiful self!

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