How dinner in the dark helped me overcome insecurity

Finding myself in total darkness

maddy

I love taking risks and throwing myself into new, exciting situations. So when I learned we would be attending a dinner in the dark as part of my winter study abroad experience in Berlin, Germany, I was thrilled and couldn’t wait for this at once frightening and exhilarating prospect.

Nocti Vagus is a pitch black restaurant staffed by blind waiters. It’s a disorienting experience that heightens your other senses and helps you understand what it is like to be blind. I knew it would be a cool experience that would put me out of my comfort zone in the best possible way. What I didn’t expect was how profoundly it would impact me.

I struggled with an eating disorder from ages 14 to 20. At 24, I am in remission from my eating disorder, but vestiges of the illness haunt me to this day, and probably will to some extent for the rest of my life. Body image and self-consciousness remain struggles for me, and both become worse depending on my mental state. Given that I was in a foreign country where I didn’t speak the language and am slowly recovering from a year-long major depression relapse—my first in several years—in addition to going through a serious breakup, it is unsurprising that my body image hasn’t been the greatest lately.

While my trip to Europe was amazing in so many ways, it would be dishonest not to mention the insecurity that hung over the experience like an iron curtain. I was constantly fixing my hair, adjusting my makeup, sucking in my stomach and always hyper aware of the position of my body, trying to arrange it in ways that I imagined would make me look slimmest.

The best moments of the trip allowed me to forget myself, to release the shackles of these insecurities, if only for a few moments. I have three distinct memories during which I was able to let go and lose myself in the moment, unhindered by crushing body insecurity: New Years Eve surrounded by glittering, magical fireworks everywhere I turned. And then on another evening, caught up in the buoyant melodies of Mozart and Ravel at the Berlin Philharmonic—and finally, at dinner in the dark.

At first, I was dizzyingly disoriented by the darkness. I felt a tightness in my chest and a brewing sense of panic. My first instinct was to get out, to escape back to the light. But I stopped myself. I took a few deep breaths. I accepted that I was going to be surrounded by total, terrifying darkness for the next few hours. And once I accepted my uncomfortable reality, I came alive.

I didn’t have to worry about my hair, or my eyeliner, or if the way I was sitting gave me a double chin or revealed a protruding stomach. How I looked didn’t matter because no one could see me. It was the most liberating feeling in the world. I felt like I could breathe properly for the first time in ages—for the first time since before my depressive episode, before the breakup, before I lost myself in the disaster that 2017 was for me.

Unhindered by debilitating, self-loathing concerns about my appearance, I felt light. I felt free. I felt like I could be myself. I felt confident enough to offer opinions, to contribute fully and authentically to conversations. Despite being shrouded in complete darkness over 4,000 miles from home, I felt safer than I have in months. I felt like I was slowly, hesitantly getting to know myself again. Slowly finding that strong, confident, effervescent woman who had temporarily been lost to a toxic relationship and an all-consuming, year-long suicidal depressive episode.

Though I only had one glass of wine, I emerged from dinner in the dark feeling intoxicated with joy. It was only in total darkness that I was able to reunite with the person I used to be. It was only in total darkness that I was able to let go of the crushing insecurity that has been holding me back for too long.

Dinner in the dark served as the perfect metaphor for self-discovery—or in my case, re-discovery. Sometimes you need to lose yourself entirely in order to find yourself again. Sometimes it takes putting yourself completely out of your comfort zone in order to grow into the best version of yourself.

Sitting there in the total darkness of Nocti Vagus, I couldn’t see a single thing—but I’ve never seen myself more clearly.

Maddy Fowler is the editorial editor and can be reached at maddy.fowler@ubspectrum.com