The Freedom of Constraint




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This morning, I put on a sweet blouse that ties at the neck. To be honest, it’s possibly a little over the top for work, and even for my personal style. I bought it years ago. I loved it. Yet, I’ve rarely worn it. I’ve bought many articles of clothing like this over the years — things that I love and that look great (in my opinion), yet I don’t wear because they’re just a little too much for me… but that’s not true. The truth is, they define me. They define the me that’s still suppressed, the me that’s fighting to emerge.

But that’s not what this article was meant to be about. (Or is it?) This one is about the freedom of constraint. Since we don’t spend money on clothes anymore (and I’ve actually become fairly allergic to it; even when I try, I can’t), I’ve been relying on a new policy of wearing what I have. Some people call it “shopping in your closet.” That’s what I do now. Even if I think I don’t like something or it’s not suitable, I have to wear it.

Sometimes I even use an extreme version of the rule. I close my eyes and reach out to the skirt and blouse section with both hands, and I MUST wear what I touch. I must find some way to bring them together — or not. If I really can’t for some reason, then that article of clothing goes in the discard pile for Salvation Army.

This morning, I put on the sweet green and white polka dot blouse that ties in a big bow at the neck. Over that, I wore a boat neck/cowl neck black sweater I happened to have on the shelf. I would rather have had a cardigan, but that didn’t exist.

I threw that over the green blouse, pulled the bow out, and dared a look in the mirror. Even though it’s slightly ridiculous, I like the look. I do. I like how a little bit of my bare shoulder peeks through where you don’t expect it to. Even though I’m almost completely covered up, I think the look is kind of sexy. I like the big floppy bow. But, ordinarily, I wouldn’t have the guts to wear it to work, especially not to a new job.

Things are changing. Maybe I’m growing up. Maybe I’m growing more confident. Maybe I just don’t care anymore (getting more real, getting more cosmic, i.e., realizing none of this actually matters — having a son taking an astronomy course and telling me stories of galaxies helps with this).

But really what I like about this new method of shopping in my closet is that it constricts my choice.

I’ve always had a hard time with choice. I have a hard time making decisions and second guess myself ruthlessly. It wastes a lot of time and energy and generates enormous and totally unnecessary angst.

So, when I can’t choose because of this little game I play, I find a smile creeps across my face. I find I’m able to take a deep breath. My shoulders relax. I relax. I give up, give in.

The beauty of constraint is that you know what you’re supposed to do.




It’s how I felt the second I learned I was pregnant with my first child. The fundamental first feeling I had, and it was powerful, was an utter single-mindedness of purpose. Ah. Now I know what I’m supposed to do. Finally, I know what I’m supposed to do: Take care of this child.

Suddenly, I had a task, an important task, to accomplish, and it would take at least the next eighteen years of my life. What a relief! To finally not have to think of myself anymore, to stop wondering, obsessing, worrying, about myself and my decisions.

I remember shortly before I got pregnant being in my therapist Dr. John’s office seized by debilitating waves of stress and anxiety. I remember saying over and over again, “But I don’t know what to do, what path to choose.”

Really I was saying I don’t know who I am. I don’t know what I’m allowed to do. What I’m allowed to think. I was so utterly divorced from myself that I couldn’t tell you the first thing about what Christy wanted.

Even just a couple of years ago, someone said to me gently, “But what does Christy want?” I was speechless. He said, “Ask for what you want.” When he said that, I realized I never ask myself what I want, let alone anyone else, the universe, what have you. The mere concept startled me.

That day in his office, Dr. John said to me, gently, reassuringly, “You might feel like you’re casting about in all directions in utter chaos, but if you were in a small plane flying above your life, you’d see that your path, while it has little detours and tributaries branching off here and there, actually goes in a very purposeful direction. You just can’t see it from your vantage point.”

What a relief that was to hear. I was flooded with gratitude when he said this to me, and I even dared to believe it. It has stayed with me all of these years.

Constraint. A baby swaddled, or bound to a board. A well-trained dog. A place for everything. Structure. Borders. Rules. I grew up with none of that. Our home was a free-for-all. There was no one at the helm. Father absent, mother inebriated. We did whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted.

Which is why when someone or something constrains me, I relax. I feel free. I even feel like I’m floating. I’m somehow released, and yes, it has an erotic component as well. I love this aspect of myself. I’m glad it exists inside of me. It is my friend.