To most, clothes are wisps of material carried on our bodies day after day with little thought. They are a pair of jeans thrown on before leaving for school, a jacket buttoned to thwart the chilling cold, or a dress zipped and ready to transition from working in the office to meeting friends after work. When opening your closet, you are not often flooded with the memories attached to each article of clothing. The pair of sweatpants you restlessly throw on are not commemorated as the sweatpants you threw on after you earned first place in your track meet, and as you grab your sweatshirt, you do not hold the memory of it being passed down to you from your older sibling.
Up until now, I thought in the same way. Clothes were simply worn, not treasured. I never felt a deep connection to my wardrobe until I was faced with parting from it. Divorcing my clothes forced me to embrace change, and ultimately, face one of the most poignant moments thus far in my recovery journey.
After I was released from the hospital, my wardrobe was separated into two distinct categories: my tattered, "have seen better days" pajamas worn strictly at night when I was hidden from the public eye, and my pajamas that could pass as socially acceptable if I happened to be caught outside of the house wearing them. Clothes were foreign and uncomfortable to me, as I navigated what seemed to be an entirely new person both mentally and physically compared to two weeks prior. When passing a mirror I froze; I had to reassure myself I was not replaced by a random stranger. I felt every ounce of weight that now hung on my body, and I was ashamed of the shape I was growing into. In a matter of two weeks, I managed to undergo the entire, undeniably awkward and unsettling phase of growth every adolescent experiences. But I was eighteen. I should have already endured this grueling stage of waking up in the morning to find that hips had made their impression on my once gangly legs overnight.
Before being admitted to the hospital, I clung to clothes I wore in middle school and still managed to fit. My scant frame no longer filled out the age-appropriate clothes that used to highlight my shape. With the help of a tightly fastened belt, my size extra small jeans would just cling to my hips, and my running shorts resembled billowing parachutes.
As my stay in the hospital persisted, I began to notice that my middle school sized clothes no longer made me look like I was being engulfed by them. This reality petrified and paralyzed me, as I recognized that I was no longer fitting into these notably small sizes. For years, I was always deemed the smallest one amongst my friends, and was acclimated to people noting my small stature regularly. To most, this was simply how my physique was naturally meant to be. The mental turmoil I endured in order to maintain this small figure was disguised, however. Maybe I would never surpass middle school sizes and forever live without knowing how having the soft curves of a womanly shape felt. My meager size became ingrained as a part of my identity. I was influenced by the comments of others, and dedicated myself to upholding a distinguished, small-framed figure. "Emma is a runner, she is supposed to be small" and "Emma has been tiny her entire life, even at the moment she was born weighing five pounds" were deep-rooted in my thoughts and ever-present in my efforts. As the waistband of my sweatpants neared closer and closer to my stomach in the hospital, my sense of self and identity began to decay. Without a title to defend, I no longer felt a sense of purpose in my day to day life. If I was no longer destined to be a runner elucidated solely by my meager shape, how would I define myself? Would my athletics be sabotaged? Would others be able to recognize me if I was no longer "the small one" that they had matured alongside and cherished?
I opened my closet hesitantly one morning, after my mom had prodded me with the idea of ridding my closet of my old, ill clothes. My mom thought that clinging to my old wardrobe would impede gaining freedom from this constricting disorder, and would stand as a barricade in my path towards recovery. Each hanger in my closet hung heavily with the clothes I spent the last six years making lasting memories in. I saw the worn, distressed jeans that grew up with me. At eye-level was my favorite Adidas shirt that I wore when I first met my boyfriend. Behind this was the white dress that I received my high school diploma in, and hidden deep in the corner of the closet was my prom dress, embroidered with delicate flowers and weaved with memories of dancing until my feet could no longer bear the pain, singing with my friends until my voice was muted to only a hushed whisper, and the blissful feeling of elegance and grace. I saw the pair of shorts that I earned first place in during my district track and field meet, the shirt that was kissed by the Tuscan sun during my two week stay in Italy, and the jacket that had shielded me from the cold as I walked the streets of Montréal and skied the peaks of Vermont. I filled three trash bags and two containers worth of memories that morning. Three sweatshirts and two pairs of sweatpants were left in the bottom of my closet.
That morning, I had to grieve the loss of what I believed was my identity. The clothes that I lackadaisically wore day after day now held long-winded stories and morsels of the image I upheld for six years. At the time, I never viewed wearing middle school sized clothing as an eighteen year old adult as aberrant or concerning. I saw wearing these clothes as an accomplishment and as a distinguishable attribute unique to my identity.
That morning, I dwelled so heavily on the thought of throwing away memories, so much so that I was blind to the reality that by ridding my wardrobe of these clothes moored by illness, I would be making room in my closet for new lasting memories anchored by abundant health. Unbeknownst to me at the time, memories cannot be held in the palm of your hand and tossed into the trash only to be forgotten. Since ridding my closet of my old clothes, I have not forgotten the first time I met my boyfriend at a concert after he lost my jacket in the pouring rain, or the time I hiked through the trails of Cinque Terre with my closest friends while in Italy. I have not abandoned the memory of my toes going numb as I walked the streets of Montréal, desperately seeking out a café to defrost, or the moment when I graduated from high school.
Since cleaning out my closet and building a new wardrobe unique to my newfound, blossoming identity, I have made memories that have left an impressionable mark on my heart. In a distressed jean jacket, I held an event to raise money and awareness for eating disorders, and in a pair of abstract, black and white print pants, I spoke to a group of middle school girls about my enduring journey with an eating disorder. In a dark purple sweatshirt, I educated young girls on the importance of defining your life's mission by living your truth, and upholding an identity that is consistent with your life's passions. In a pair of velvet leggings and a gray sweater, I brought in the New Year as the most robust, and healthy person I have been in six years.
I am fueled by the desire to make new lasting memories as I fulfill my life's truth. For the past six years, I have distanced myself from the memories I cherished prior to being diagnosed with an eating disorder. As a yearly tradition, my mom would fill our house with the rich smell of sweet potato cinnamon buns on Thanksgiving morning. As we watched the Thanksgiving Day parade, we would indulge in these blissful cinnamon buns, eating them until we realized that we still had a Thanksgiving dinner awaiting us. Every winter when we traveled to Vermont, we would make these sweet potato cinnamon buns before a day of venturing out into the snow covered town. For six years, I extinguished the emotions attached to these memories, in order to adhere to the stringent rules of my eating disorder. It was not throwing away my clothes that would lead me to forgetting these glittering memories. It was the domineering voice of eating disorder that would make these memories a distant thought.
With a newly cleaned closet and a generous mouthful of sweet potato cinnamon roll, I am ready to revive these deadened memories and cultivate a life brimming with treasured remembrances.
Sweet Potato Cinnamon Buns
Before cooking these cinnamon buns for the first time, make sure to read the recipe thoroughly beforehand. Though this recipe may seem complicated, in reality it is quite simple and well worth the effort involved. It is noted in the recipe that these cinnamon buns can be prepared the night before and enjoyed the following morning.
Sweet Potato Dough
1 0.25 package (2 1/4 tsp) active dry yeast
3 cups bread flour, plus more for rolling dough
2 tbsp. sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
2/3 cup mashed cooked sweet potato*
3 tbsp vegetable oil, plus more for oiling bowl
1/3 cup warm water
* Thaw Trader Joe's frozen mashed sweet potato to save time when preparing the sweet potato dough
1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
4 tbsp softened vegan margarine, plus more for greasing the pan**
*Earth balance is our personal favorite vegan margarine
*Leave the vegan margarine on the counter while your dough is rising to allow it to soften
3 tbsp vegan cream cheese*
2 tbsp maple syrup
1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
*Any vegan cream cheese can be used for this recipe, but our personal favorite cream cheese options are carried by Kite Hill or Go Veggie
Sweet Potato Dough
1. Stir yeast into 1/3 cup warm water (105 degrees F to 115 degrees F) until dissolved. Let stand for 10 minutes.
2. In a separate bowl, mix together sweet potato and 3 tbsp vegetable oil. Add the yeast mixture you just prepared to this bowl after allowing it to stand for 10 minutes.
3. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, sugar, and salt.
4. Stir yeast/sweet potato mixture into the flour mixture.
5. With your hands, gather the edges of the dough into the center of the bowl to make a tight ball.
6. Press with the heal of your hand to remove air from the dough. (Note: If you find that the dough is dry and not coming together, add 1 tbsp of water at a time until it forms a tight ball).
7. Lightly flour the surface of your counter and continue to knead the dough with the heal of your hand until the dough is smooth and no longer sticky. This will take anywhere between 2 and 5 minutes.
8. Lightly oil a clean, large bowl with 1 1/2 tsp of vegetable oil.
9. Place the dough into the oiled bowl and cover the bowl with Saran Wrap.
10. Place the bowl in a warm spot in your kitchen and allow the dough to rise for 1 hour or until it doubles in volume.
Forming and Cooking the Sweet Potato Buns
1. Lightly flour the surface of your counter.
2. Once the dough is doubled in volume, place it on the floured counter top, and roll the dough out flat with a rolling pin into approximately a 12x14 rectangle.
3. Spread the softened vegan margarine over the entire rolled out dough.
4. Combine cinnamon and brown sugar into a bowl and spread it on top of the dough that has been coated in margarine.
5. Start at the long edge of the rectangularly shaped dough, roll up the dough until it resembles a log.
6. Slice 1/2 inch of dough each end of the log and discard.
7. Cut the log into 12 one-inch thick pieces and place them onto a baking sheet covered in parchment paper, or into a 9x13" baking pan that has been prepped with cooking spray.
8. Cover, and let the buns rise in a warm place for 45 minutes, or until doubled in size*
9. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Bake the buns for 18 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown.
*At this point, you could cover the cinnamon buns and place them in the refrigerator overnight and bake them the following morning.
1. Combine the vegan cream cheese and maple syrup in a small bowl with a hand held mixer.
2. Mix the confectioners' sugar into the cream cheese and maple syrup blend.
3. Spread the glaze over the warm cinnamon buns and enjoy.
Recipe adapted from Vegetarian Times (November 2, 2011)