For eight years I was married to a man who abused me. I was abused every single day emotionally, verbally, and psychologically, with a little bit of physical violence sprinkled for good measure.

Needless to say, my day-to-day was a confusing web of crazy making and control. As someone who was a victim of trauma for many years, there were several ways I coped, both healthy and unhealthy. I would venture to say that most of us, if we have lived at all, have been victims of some form of trauma, but how we respond to that really determines our strength of character and how we will either overcome and thrive or be beaten down even more.

During my marriage, one of the unhealthy ways I handled my abuse was to escape through shopping. I developed an unhealthy relationship with clothes. I was fortunate in the fact that I had a successful job at the time and didn’t run up credit card debt, but I did fill up my closet. And fill it. And fill it. Top to bottom.

40 pairs of jeans, pairs of shoes that spilled off the ample shelf space and onto the floor. I had so many clothes I couldn’t even remember what I had. I bought a new dress for every occasion. I’d take vacations to the beach and pack a different swimsuit for every day I was there.

I felt like so much was out of control in my personal life, and shopping offered me a momentary reprieve from that feeling. For just a moment, I was in control.

The reality though, was that my closet threatened to become my identity. And the really crazy thing is that it added to my abuse. For every extra dollar I spent on new sweaters, my ex-husband got that much angrier at me. Then to escape from that anger, I’d shop again. It was a vicious cycle.

It was several years after my divorce that my unhealthy relationship with clothes finally changed. I had been living in DC working for IJM for several years and was newly engaged. IJM asked me to move to LA to build up a donor program for them there, and my fiancee and I were excited about the move and starting a new life in California.

We hired the moving guys for our cross country trip, and that’s when I realized just how much shopping damage I had done over the years. My clothes weighed me down. Literally! I had accumulated over 2000 pounds of clothes, and the cost to move that ton of clothes was going to be nearly $8000! I took them all anyway. I still didn’t have the heart to part with everything I had bought.

But I began to realize as I got healthy, that I no longer needed to escape through shopping. And after our move, I no longer even wanted all those tons of clothes around me.

I didn’t want to be defined by what I wore, but by who I was. So I began a major purge. That started my conscious closet’s journey. Now I’m proud to say that I have a tiny closet, and it’s not even half full.

Purging my closet has been a very liberating and healing journey for me. In some ways no longer being enslaved to shopping has represented no longer being enslaved to trauma or the abuse from my first marriage.

We are all at risk of dealing with difficulties in unhealthy ways. For me, it was shopping. For you, it might be binge eating or numbing out in some way. I feel grateful that I’ve learned new ways of coping. Now when difficulties arise, I play or pray or read or see my therapist and talk it out. I don’t hide from trauma or bury myself in a mound of clothes I don’t need. I’m thankful for the lessons my shopping addiction taught me. I’m even more thankful to have overcome them.

What are ways you’ve dealt with difficulties either good or bad? I’d love to hear your stories, experiences or thoughts in the comments below.

xo,
Johanna

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