Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Faith and Fashion

Faith and Fashion

Maybe this is a recovering women’s issue? Maybe men have a version of this but I don’t know about that. What I do know is that throughout my recovery I’ve had a running internal debate that goes like this:

Voice One: I’m becoming a spiritual person now so clothing and make up and hair color does not matter.

Voice Two: But I’m a happier person now too because of recovery and feeling good about myself, I want my outsides to match my insides.

Voice One: God doesn’t care about hair color...

Voice Two: God cares about beauty and happiness so if being a blonde or having “warm” highlights makes me happy what’s the big deal?

Even after 20 years it continues. And throughout the 20-plus years of recovery I’ve tried following each voice...each to an extreme perhaps and then let the appearance-pendulum swing the other way.

In my first months of attending 12 step meetings I went shopping for “Meeting Clothes”. All of my life I had medicated with substances—food, booze, drugs and always with a corresponding adjustment to my appearance, so why wouldn’t recovery need its own attire? I heard many years later that some women had sponsors who told them to dress up to go to meetings, to look their best, to work recovery from the outside in. I suspect that for the addicted woman who got to the stage of never leaving her robe or sweats that’s a good suggestion, but I was of the breed that was overly invested in my appearance. So rather than learning to “suit up and show up” I really needed to experiment with “come as you are” and even “come at your worst” and see that you’ll be liked and accepted.

In very early recovery on my pink-holier-than-thou-cloud I decided to give up all make up and hair color, shop at resale stores and be the “real” me. Luckily I had a sponsor who shopped at Saks and who spent the equivalent of my weekly salary on her hair each month. When I professed my spiritual breakthrough she said, “I don’t think so…You didn’t get sober to wear sackcloth and ashes.” Oh.

Then a few years later I was in the throes of some success at work. Promotions came and I was in a good job and enjoying secular success as well as success in sobriety and recovery. I spent some big money on a personal shopper who advised that I needed a power suit, a silky red dress for dating and who went thru my closet with me in a kind of sartorial personal inventory. (I did tell her all my clothing stories and it was a kind of closet catharsis). But after buying all those shiny new clothes I felt a bit too exposed and well, too shiny, and found that those new items belonged more to an idea I had about myself than to the real self that was standing in front of my mirror. So the pendulum swung again.

Back and forth it’s gone over these recovering years. I have a great wardrobe and now most of it looks like it belongs to the same person….the stages of rock star, tweedy intellectual, corporate power leader and cute girlfriend have gradually integrated into a closet that—for the most part—reflects who I really am 85% of the time. The hook is still there though. My first thought when I contemplate an inner change is always to wonder what the external equivalent would be.

What does a sober, sane, happy woman look like? Herself and her best self. And sometimes that might mean cute high heels and great highlights.

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