I have a friend who just gets me – she knows I have limited time, and never holds it against me that she does more of the reaching out than I do. She usually calls me once a week while she’s driving into work & I’m doing something cookie-related at the bakery. Our conversations touch on all of the usual ‘check-in’ stuff…life, kids, food, exercise, work, puppies, mental health. This week was a bit different, however. I shared with my friend that I recently started speaking with a therapist, and confided some of the things I’m learning.
be open to the possibility
After listening to me, my friend responded by revealing that she too could benefit from some help. And then she told me the story of her closet. The story resonated with me, from the small details to the language she used to describe her closet. With her permission, I am going to talk about her closet, and the closets I believe we all have.
In a nutshell (according to my friend) her closet is messy, disorganized, outdated, and literally, a nightmare. Her exact words – ‘I’m ashamed of it’. The thought of organizing it, going through everything & weeding through it is overwhelming to her, and so, year after year, she has chosen to work around the state of affairs of her closet, ignoring it instead of dealing with it. She has a paper bag filled with a random collection of photos, papers, etc that has been in her closet for over ten years, which for whatever reason, she is not ready to sift through, organize, or discard. Day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, she goes in and out of the closet, and feels shame, frustration, embarrassment and guilt. The paper bag of stuff is always in the way, and day after day, she relocates the paper bag, moving it from one place to another so she can do something as ordinary as get dressed.
Why did my friend confide in me about her closet? Perhaps it’s part of the organic give & take that comes from being intimate with another human; I just made myself vulnerable, now it’s your turn to share. Maybe. I think there was another reason behind it. She told me about it because her closet was about to be uncovered. A friend was coming to her house with the goal of helping her organize the closet. In essence, my friend’s closet and all it represented was about to get exposed.
The apprehension she felt was palpable. She hadn’t been sleeping well all week. She was anxious, and experienced heightened feelings of dread and embarrassment now coupled with public humiliation.
I pointed out that she didn’t have to go through her closet if she didn’t want to. That she had a choice and a voice – she could define her boundaries and tell her friend she didn’t feel comfortable tackling the closet at this time. She had many escape routes if she needed them. However, instead of hopping on the avoidance bus, my friend simply took a deep breath and said ‘it’s ok’. She was ready.
The closet cleanse happened yesterday, and I am still waiting to hear how it went. Last I heard, my friend ended up avoiding completing her project upstairs by starting a project downstairs. In the kitchen. Specifically, baking. Kind-of an interesting place to land during a stressful event. The return to a place of comfort is not lost on me.
I’m no therapist, but my friend’s struggle feels pretty universal. For her, it’s her closet. For me, it’s insecurity, body image, feelings of failure. For someone else, it may be frustration with their career, difficulties with a family member, addiction, an unhealthy relationship, abuse, learning disability, physical handicap, disease, loss, financial issues. My guess is that we all have our own closet. The issue is recognizing it, accepting it, finding a way to release the negative emotions attached to it, and choosing a path forward that feels comfortable. If only it were that easy.
be open to the possibility
Maybe it’s actually easier than we assume. For me, the process began when I became comfortable enough to open up and share some of my struggles with my close friends. I’m an extremely private person. Never in a million years could I have imagined publicly sharing the fact that I struggled for years with an eating disorder. In fact, many of my closest friends didn’t even know I had an eating disorder until they read this post. The shame I felt and still feel in regards to my past struggles haunts me. My dreams at night continue to be speckled with eating disorder episodes, where I’m either ‘getting caught’ or I’m trying to hide something. I have college failure dreams too – stressful dreams where I have stopped going to a class, didn’t drop it, and am unsure whether I am still enrolled in the class (and therefore am going to receive a failing grade for the class) or if the professor has dropped me due to lack of attendance. It’s painful stuff for me – painful to write, painful to think about sharing. And yet, what I’ve learned is that sharing has opened my closet door, allowing some rays of sun to pierce the shadowed corners.
It was only after I confided some of my issues with my friends that I was able to experience what the word ‘friendship’ truly meant. It showed me that I was loved and supported, regardless of what condition my closet was in at any given moment. It was through sharing that a friend suggested I reach out to a therapist. And it is through sharing that today, I am hopeful that I can help each of us shed some of the self-loathing that is keeping our closet doors shut.
Healing begins with recognition – I am struggling.
It blossoms with acceptance – It’s ok that I’m struggling.
It grows stronger with sharing – The people around me still love me even though I’m struggling. I am not alone.
It flourishes with having faith & with being open to the possibility – I wonder how I would feel if I tried something different. I won’t know until I try.
It will thrive when you believe in yourself enough to take that first scary step – I am worth it.
May 2017 be the year that each of us has the courage to check in on our own closets.