A Story of Recovery:

Out of the Dumps

When I was heavy, I didn’t enjoy shopping at all and had no interest in it. It was way too hard to find clothes that fit, and it was a chore trying things on. Of course, nothing fit. I’d end up trying a size bigger, first a 14, then a 16, and before long, in order to get something that didn’t bind or feel too tight, I was in the 1X section. That was the ultimate humiliation. I was embarrassed to even be in that section, and I felt as if everyone was looking at me and judging me. I couldn’t believe that I was that big, but I was.

I could never go shopping alone, and I went only if I had some special event. The whole shopping thing always seemed impossible, and I avoided it like the plague. I basically had no fashion sense whatsoever. I didn’t know what I liked, what looked good, or about feeling attractive. I remember once needing a professional outfit for an interview. I had no clue where to go. A friend helped facilitate the whole expedition into a department store and suggested fabrics to look for and items to try on. After what seemed like an endless array of items, I finally left the store, exhausted, with a fairly decent-looking silk outfit.

Most of the time, I wore elastic-waist pants and oversized tops or sweatshirts. At my highest weight, somewhere over 200 pounds, I was teaching pre-school. Although I did start out for work clean and somewhat presentable, I reasoned that I was just going to get paint, or something else, on my clothes, so I told myself it didn’t matter what I wore.

I hardly ever shopped. I used to say that I could pinch a penny till it screamed. I got most of my clothes at the Dumptique, where I volunteered. What a lovely boutique that was! It’s basically a shed at the local dump, where people bring things they don’t want. If you work there, you can take whatever you want before it gets put out. I took bags and bags of clothes, shoes, kitchen items, bedding, you name it—I toted home whatever caught my eye. After all, I thought, everything is free, so why not? I relied on other people’s castoffs, because I barely had enough money to survive, let alone spend money on clothes.

I definitely wasn’t a shoe “fashionista” either. My feet are short and wide, so I thought I was very clever by solving my problematic issue very practically—I wore boy’s sneakers! Many of those came from the Dumptique as well. Lovely! The things I thought I could afford to buy were socks and underpants. I had dozens of socks and white cotton briefs in my dresser drawer.

Toward the end of my obesity, I definitely did not feel pretty or feminine, and I didn’t really care about how looked. Reflecting back on those days, and looking at my driver’s license picture in particular, I think I looked like Charlize Theron in the movie, Monster.  My hair was long and stringy, because I didn’t wash it much, and it didn’t have any style. It was a dirty blond and hung limply to my shoulders. I had rosacea (a fine red rash) that spread across my face, like a mask. People would ask if I had been out in the sun, and I’d be furious inside. At times, I’d try to cover it with make-up, but that didn’t work. I had a lot of trouble with flakey areas as well.  Dermatologists couldn’t clear up my skin problems.

I hated how I looked, how I dressed, my body, my feet, and everything about how I was living. I was angry all the time, it seemed. I felt like life wasn’t fair and that somehow I gotten the raw end of the deal. My thinking was so unclear, and I didn’t have a clue as to how I had gotten into such a perilous state. I just know that I was depressed and had been for a very long time. I just wanted to die, and thought that when I had enough of living, I would throw a hairdryer in the bathtub. Once, I actually came close to stepping off a curb in front of a bus on a busy street.

I was too proud to ask for help or even begin to confess truly what was going on internally. I was extremely secretive and kept to myself, in a very self-isolative way that alienated me from my family, co-workers, church fellowship, and everyone else. I had a strange perception that I needed to protect my personal life. Little did I know that I was merely hiding all the shame I felt inside. All I ever wanted to do after work, and on weekends, was go the grocery store to cruise the aisles for what was going to do it for that special dinner that night. Then I’d stop at the liquor store and pick up a supply for the next few days, head home, and voila!—nirvana for the rest of the evening till I dropped into bed totally numb and wasted. Somehow I thought, in my distorted thinking, that if I could just feel good, all my problems would be solved and I would be happy.

Thirteen years ago, I found FA and lost 90 pounds. It took four or five more years, and a lot of help from a particular dear friend and fellow, who was experienced in shopping and fashion, before I started to feel like I found my groove. Today, I’m a size 3 or 4, weigh 116 pounds, and have an interest in clothes that I‘ve never had before.

When I first started shopping, my friend would be amazed that I could pick out an outfit that went together and looked good on me. Today that’s a regular occurrence. I have pants with actual waistbands, clothes that don’t bind, and things that I really like, in all sorts of colors and fabrics. I have found stores I like, and I truly enjoy shopping now. It’s no longer a chore, but a pleasure. I no longer volunteer at the Dumptique and don’t frequent thrift shops. I don’t need to, because about nine months after joining FA, I started a job that more than doubled my income. More than that though, I know instantly what I like and don’t like, thanks to learning how to listen to my inner voice.

I feel good about myself today. I like the way I look, and I’ve learned how to take care of myself, inside and out. My complexion has cleared up, and so has the acne rosacea.  I get my hair done regularly in a salon. But best of all, I can look in a full-length mirror and like the person I see. FA has given me my life back, and for that I will always be grateful.


This story was originally published in the connection Magazine. Subscribe to the connection Magazine for more stories of recovery. Or submit your own story of recovery.