Closets and clothes- oh the struggles we have faced! When nothing fits or feels right, when clothes can spill out of drawers, hangers rest bare, and all the fashionable items we own have been tried on and lay in piles on the floor. Most women can relate to the occasional feeling that nothing but nothing fits right, and some fundamental ugliness pervades. But this can be a daily fight for those with eating disorders or body image concerns.
For better or worse we can carry on a kind of dialogue with the clothes in our closet. There are the clothes that fit well, and when we pick them out- bright, cheery colors with the pants to match and sassy shoes- they give us a good feeling, like wearing a cheering section that sends you off into the world. Then there are the clothes we’ve had for too long, or that never seemed quite right and when we choose them, they may feel like droopy company. Finally, there are the clothes that pull and tug in different directions, suggesting with each step or movement that there is something wrong with us, that our bodies are not ok as they are. Sometimes we don’t even need to wear these clothes for them to taunt us, their mere existence can call out to us from the closet that we are somehow not as we are supposed to be. They are a size xx and we are not. Women will often hang onto these clothes as though somehow a centrifugal force will pull them to the size of the person who will properly fit them. But those voices that call out from the back of the closet are hurtful and negative.
Many of us have clothes we are afraid to let go of. Maybe we think we won’t be able to find new ones, or maybe we feel they keep us tethered to some version of ourselves we used to be. But if the sight or the feel of them sends the message that we are somehow not OK as we are, it might be time to let them go.
Like so many people in recovery, one of my clients had a very hard time packing her old clothes up into a bag and taking them to be donated. She did it slowly over time, first putting them in a bag but leaving them in the closet, then by talking about the prospect of getting rid of them. Letting go of the clothes was incredibly challenging. On the one hand, the clothes represented a dark period in her life that was consumed by an eating disorder. On the other hand, like the eating disorder itself, those clothes represented a sense of safety, control, and order. Taking those bags out of her closet and releasing them from her life, with the help of good friends, was a triumphant victory for her.
Years ago I trained for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. I engaged my spirit every day to push myself, to take risks, to be courageous, and to respect my capacity. I learned incredible lessons from that experience. But I believe now that the quiet struggles that go into recovery often require more strength and courage than the acts accomplished in the sunlight with people cheering us on for a job well done. When I think of the Olympics, I imagine anthems and sweaty athletes on podiums grinning at the shiny new medal around their necks. When I think of the courage and perseverance it required of my client, when I think of those bags dropped into the Salvation Army bin, I want to put her on a podium. I want her to receive applause and cheers and praise. I want a shiny medal around her neck- to honor her most courageous invisible victory.