Re-envisioning my garments
CW: brief mention of a suicide attempt
A few months ago, my garments were causing me all sorts of angst. I hated the way they looked, the way they felt, and I felt like I was constantly tugging at them; I was always pulling here and tucking there. They never seemed to fit right, and they were also causing minor hygiene issues that I won’t go into. In addition to the practical discomforts, they also seemed to symbolize both the gender-imbalanced covenants in the temple, as well as how much the institutional church was involved in every minor detail in my life, both of which were a source of resentment to me. I already had other major sources of stress in my life, and my garments were quickly becoming the push that would send me over the edge. I would go to put them on every day and have a physical reaction: some days, I would get nauseated just thinking about them, and many days, I burst into tears as I got dressed. I hated them so much, and I couldn’t figure out how to reconcile my feelings towards my garments with the temple covenant I had made to wear them throughout my life (that I fully intended to keep). How could I make my garments meaningful instead of a source of anxiety?
After much prayer and thought, I finally gave myself permission to take a break. I told myself that I could take one day off a week, or more if I needed. If they were going to cause me such anxiety, I could simply wear regular underwear. It may seem like such a simple thing, but after 12+ years of wearing garments every single day, almost without fail, it felt like a huge decision to make. I decided that I would give myself permission to make a choice every morning as to whether I wanted to wear them. If they were triggering, I wouldn’t wear them. But if I planned to attend church or the temple, or if I planned to fast or otherwise try to maintain a spiritual space during the day, I would wear them. I wanted wearing my garments to have meaning again – I didn’t want them to be a bother, but instead a source of strength and protection, as I believe they’re intended to be. But I needed my garments to be something that I was participating in on my own terms, because of my commitment to God and the covenants I had made, not something I felt forced to do.
So I got myself some comfortable cotton underwear that fit properly, and I started to take a day off here and there. Already, I felt like the stone on my chest was being lifted and I could breathe. Glorious, glorious freedom! My underwear fit, my clothes weren’t slipping or riding up, and I wasn’t constantly tugging and pulling. I admit that after going a couple of days without garments, I absolutely dreaded putting them back on.
But not too long into this experiment, a close friend’s daughter attempted suicide. Immediately, I began to do all of the rituals that I do when I’m praying for a friend from afar – I immediately said a prayer. I lit a candle to remind me to pray for them throughout the day. I planned a day in the upcoming week to fast for their family. And then I went upstairs, and changed back into my garments.
That day, I prayed so hard. I consciously stepped into a ritual space of trying to mourn with her and to send the best energy and light that I could towards her from hundreds of miles away. I did my best to shoulder any small part of her burden that I could. And even though my garments hadn’t magically transformed into comfortable, easy wearing that day, every time that I pulled or tugged at them, I was reminded as to why I was wearing them. Every tug, tuck, and pull was a prompting to keep my friend at the front of my mind. What was previously an annoyance became a call to prayer.
Since then, every morning, I look at my garments and try to think if there is a reason for me to wear them. Some days, I’m working in the yard, running errands, and on my period, and I don’t really feel like garments are a good fit. But most days, there is somebody who I want to remember throughout the day. It could be a sick family member, a friend with an upcoming doctor’s appointment, a neighbor whose spouse just died, or any number of things. On those days, I put on my garments and I use them as a way to remember the needs of those around me, as well as the covenants I have made to minister to them the best way I know how. And after doing this experiment for a couple of months, I’ve gone back to wearing my garments virtually every day, because it has made me more aware of the struggles and the needs around me.
I don’t know if my church leaders would necessarily condone this experiment, but I do know that this has radically reformed my relationship with both my garments and, to a degree, with the institutional church. Instead of wearing them because I’ve been told to (accompanied by a detailed paragraph in the temple recommend interview telling me just when I should and should not be wearing them), I wear them as part of my worship. I’m actively choosing them, rather than being passively instructed to, and that subtle mental switch has caused my anxiety about them to virtually vanish. Yes, they still fit horribly, they still have all sorts of hygienic issues, and they still sometimes remind me of the patriarchy in ways that make me angry. But in making them part of a ritual space, I have become more prayerful, more thoughtful, and more deliberate in my relationship with both Deity and those around me.