Thursday, March 12, 2015

Fashion and Faith

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 almost thirty years it continues. And throughout all this recovery I’ve tried following each voice...each one to an extreme perhaps --and then I let that pendulum swing the other way.

William Merritt Chase
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 there was 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 when they went to meetings, they should look their best, and 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 changing out of sweats that could be a good way to go, 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” to learn that I’d still be loved and accepted.

In very early recovery when I was on my holier-than-thou cloud I decided to give up make
up and hair color, to only shop at thrift stores so as to be the “real” me. Luckily I had a sponsor who spent the equivalent of my weekly salary on her hair each month. When I professed my spiritual breakthrough and austerity she gave me a long look and said, “You didn’t get sober to wear sackcloth and ashes. So go get some highlights.”

Then a few years later I was having some success at work.  I was in a good job and enjoying secular success and peace in recovery. I spent some money with a personal shopper who advised that I needed a power suit, a silky red dress and who came to my apartment and went through my closet with me. It was sort of a sartorial personal 4th step inventory. (I actually did tell her all my clothing stories so it was kind of a 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 my actual self. 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 really am.

The hook to change my outsides is still there though. My first thought whenever I contemplate an inner change is always to wonder what the external equivalent should 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 very self is constantly changing.

I loved writing about shopping, clothes and recovery in "Out of the Woods--A Woman's Guide to Long-term Recovery."

No comments: