Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Faith and Fashion

Maybe this is a recovering women’s issue? Maybe men have a version of this but I don’t know about it. 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 25 years it continues. And throughout all this 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 my feelings with substances—food, booze, drugs and always had 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. “Suit up and Show up” they were told.

I suspect that for the addicted woman who got to the stage of never brushing her teeth or living in sweats that’s a good suggestion, but I was of the other breed that was overly invested in my appearance. So rather than learning to wash my hair and put on lipstick I really needed to experiment with “come as you are” and even “come at your worst” and see that I’d still be liked and accepted.

In very early recovery when I was on my pink and holier-than-thou cloud I decided to give up all make up and hair color, to only buy clothes at thrift stores and to 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 gave me a long look up an down and said, “I don’t think so…You didn’t get sober to wear sackcloth and ashes. So go get some highlights.”

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 peace in sobriety and recovery. I spent some money with 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 4th step inventory. (I did get to 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. I found that most of those new “dress for success” duds belonged more to an idea I had about myself than to the real self who was standing in front of the mirror. So the pendulum swung again.

Back and forth it’s gone over these recovering years. I have a wardrobe I like now and most of it looks like it belongs to the same person. I make those “shopping in pain” mistakes still. (The H.A.L.T. advice should apply to shopping as well as drinking.) But my 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 am.

The hook is still there though. My first thought whenever I contemplate an inner change is always to wonder what the external equivalent would be.

So what does a sober, sane, happy woman look like? I think she looks like herself --and her best self—knowing that even that self is constantly changing.

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