Eating Disorder Recovery: Outgrowing Your "Sick" Clothes
“Why are you crying?” My husband asks me as he peers around the closet door.
I’m sitting cross-legged on the floor next to a growing mound of scattered pieces of clothing.
“None of these fit,” I say hysterically, as I motion over towards the pile.
“You can donate them. Get them out of here if they’re upsetting you,” he reassures me, as he starts to fold the items and slips them into a garbage bag.“You can go get new clothes. It’s not the end of the world; it’s a sign of your progress,” he encourages.
It felt like anything but progress. It felt like erosion — failure folded up in my own hands.
I tore through my closet pulling each piece of clothing out and trying it on to see how far this had spread. Every tight pant leg or zipper that no longer zipped felt like someone hurling an insult at me. Those insults were real — but they were coming from my eating disorder, loud and clear saying, “healthy is weakness.”
I was face-to-face with the idea that somehow my worth was tied to my clothing size. The idea that, somehow, as the numbers grew smaller my worth grew higher — had seeped deep into my mind. This idea the eating disorder had preyed upon and society had upheld. I saw strength in fragility. My willpower to withhold from myself had become so intertwined with my value as a human.
As I sat on my closet floor, I saw a physical representation of that idea piled up next to me. I mourned the separation of that idea. I mourned the loss of this false sense of worth.
In its absence, I needed to fill this void with a scary exploration of how I could define myself without using tags or reflections. Everything about that seemed to run counter to the very culture I live in — that thrives and profits off wrapping my value in my looks. But if I want to recover, to fully recover, I have to reject that and search out my own definition of worth.
I got myself into smaller and smaller sizes by shrinking my body. What I didn’t realize at the time was that in order to shrink my body, I had to shrink my world. I had to isolate, control, and obsess about every tiny minutia in regards to my food. As I made progress in that world, I lost significant ground in the real world.
My world soon became a bubble. This bubble closed in tightly around me as my clothes got looser. The trade-off felt satisfying in the beginning. I had such a deep focus on my reflection and what numbers were to be achieved next. I cared more about assessing the size of my thighs from each angle in the mirror than I did about just about anything.
I thought I was finding confidence and power in my disappearance. But who did I have to show it to in my bubble? I had no one to share my “achievements” with because I had pushed everyone away to make them. As I pursued fitting into the perfect size jeans, I no longer fit into my life.
It wasn’t until I had hit yet another arbitrary “goal size” and immediately set a new smaller one that I stared at the growing heap of sizes that had become my measure of progress. I suddenly had never felt more alone. I had stacks of clothes in place of stacks of memories.
I could fight against my body to take up as little space as possible or I could live. But I couldn’t have both.
Outgrowing my clothes in eating disorder recovery
Now, I sit here with the clothes I gave all my devotion to in garbage bags — how appropriate. I cinch up the tops of the bags and tie them up tightly, worried that a pair of jeans or a mini skirt may crawl out and try to weasel its way back into my closet and my life.
“Never again,” I say as I toss them into my trunk.
Driving that bag of clothes to the donation center felt empowering. Cleaning my slate with two garbage bags that I white knuckled into a donation center — dropping the bags in the bin, along with the longing that my power could even be found in them again.
I thought my value could be found on a clothing tag. I thought my achievements were made on the scale. I wondered when both would be low enough to fill me with the security and worthiness that I had been so brainwashed by my eating disorder to believe was waiting for me. When I let go of my “sick” clothes I also backed away from the idea that I belonged in them.
My life grew exponentially when I decided to stop shrinking
My strength, my true strength, is in rejecting it all. My value doesn’t hang in my closet or around my waist. I deserve so much more than that. I am so much more than that.
Coming face-to-face with the fears that a healthy nourished body brought me was scary. Existing in a new space with a body that I didn’t quite feel ready to claim ownership over was an unknown — a frightening unknown.
By letting go of those clothes, my eating disorder bubble popped. My focus and energy could cascade into other areas. I was able to bring all the pieces of my world back together with a mind that could think clearly and a body that was capable of more than just holding onto my existence. All of this could only be possible with a recovered body.
I drove away the darkness that my eating disorder held over my life and was able to pour color back in with my resilient, recovered body. I watched that light shine from every facet of my world as I came alive.
Recovery is flourishing in all directions. I realize now that a recovered mind can never exist in an unhealthy body. The former is worth immeasurably more than the latter.
Vanna works as a contributor for The Alliance for Eating Disorder Awareness, Project Heal, The Mighty, and NAMI. Follow her journey on Instagram.