If you asked my ex husband why I left the marriage, he is likely to tell you either that I was depressed or that I had some notion of going off to find myself. I thought that the woman running off to find herself thing had gone with the seventies and haven't really heard it mentioned since Kramer vs Kramer, but apparently it still gets resurrected to explain the unpredictability and capricious whims of women such as myself. Although my ex and I are amicable, and maintain a small degree of social connection as well as a joint role as parents, and although we were together for 25 years, married for nearly 23 by the time I left, he doesn't really understand me at all. There was a time when that really hurt. It no longer matters so it no longer hurts but it does leave me thinking about this concept of finding myself.
I didn't leave the marriage in order to find myself in any self conscious way, but after I left that is precisely what happened. I think a better term is that I reclaimed myself. I reclaimed independence and self confidence, peace of mind and freedom. If the marriage had been a good one those things should not have gotten lost, but they did and for many years I did not even know they were lost because I was too busy with the efforts of coping without them. I was not thinking about finding myself when I left, I was thinking only of escaping out from under an enormous weight, the weight of an unhealthy relationship that looked healthy to everyone viewing it from the outside. And thus it seemed I was suddenly and irrationally walking away from everything. What else could the reason be other than mental illness or that flaky desire to find myself?
For the first few years of my unmarried life, my focus was primarily on trying to regain some sort of recovery of my own health, remaining an active parent in support of guiding a 16 year old son through the bumpy patches of youth, and figuring out how I was going to support myself when I was struggling to work, and how I would cope with the significant loss of identity if I gave up teaching. I had no time for caring about my clothes and little love for the body I had to dress. In my struggle with food, which I have mentioned in another post, I was suffering from gluten intolerance and I was accumulating unwanted extra weight from a high carbohydrate vegan diet. This was not a blissful adventure in finding myself though it was not all misery either.
I had more time and opportunity to paint and draw and write. As I figured out how to eat properly for my own body and health, the weight came off and I found myself 30 lbs lighter than I had been in over a decade. In order to dress a body that was shedding a dress size every couple of months, I embraced shopping for clothes in thrift shops more than I ever had before. There was still much to get through, many hurdles and obstacles and challenges to cope with and such is the way of life that really there always are. But I was happy. I felt more joy than I had known in a long time. I was in control of myself again despite the fact that I live with an incurable chronic illness which can and will flare up regularly beyond my control.
I do not think that clothes are the most important thing in my life, they are not my greatest source of joy nor my passion, but they do bring me a certain degree of pleasure and dressing myself is now enjoyable whereas it used to be a chore. Sure I could select clothing I liked but I never particularly liked it once it was on me. I didn't like what I saw in the mirror or in photos because she didn't look like me. She wasn't the woman I was inside. I now have the freedom to buy what I like, to budget according to my own choices and not feel guilty about buying clothes or art supplies or books. With this freedom comes the ability to express myself and to feel truly like I am the real me. There is no doubt this is something I enjoy because I belong to a more privileged class of people in this world. That is easily the subject of a whole book, and not something I can adequately address here.
But in the world in which I live and function and contribute, I am making my way, attempting to make it a better place, attempting to spread a little happiness. In order to do that I have to be comfortable in my own skin and in the skin I put on every day, my clothes. I don't need a lot of clothes, but I am someone who finds pleasure in the self expression they contribute to, in the colours and textures and patterns which must necessarily come with clothing. I have embarked on an experiment, to find the items which suit me enough to make me happy wearing them but also to be able to forget that I am wearing them. There is pleasure in something new but I do not need to go on accumulating at the rate in which I have over the past year. I had a closet to fill. I was making a fresh start and I finally feel as though I have gotten to where I was going. Four years ago today, I left what everyone believed was my home. In my heart I knew it wasn't. I am finally home now, and I cannot deny that clothing has helped me to get there.