“Hi! My name is Mary and I am a perfectionist.”
(Others in unison) “Hi, Mary!”
Being a perfectionist is a thankless addiction. That is because you can never truly succeed at it. Think about it. You can be a very successful alcoholic, drug addict, compulsive gambler, under eater, over-eater, shoplifter (well, that is debatable.) You get the picture. Try as you might, becoming a successful perfectionist is just, well, perfectly impossible.
Life’s little twists and turns have an irritating tendency of getting in the way of living perfectly. Just when you are on your way with a spring in your step, swinging your arms with great determination, whammo! You fall flat on your face. Owie.
I have strived to ensure that the world sees me as someone who is significantly pulled together, juggling a career, a home, getting the kids to all their activities and baking a batch of cookies at the end of long day. You know, the one who never, ever, has a snack stuck in her teeth? Her. Despite my best efforts, I have been derailed on many occasions while life chugs on. How dare you, life?
I am finally at a place where I am reasonably comfortable in my skin and accept that I am indeed enough and that “said skin” does not look the same as it once did. Writing that feels like a relief.
Now, I can openly talk about my new job at home taking care of my loving family, waiting for the Geek Squad, organizing the junk drawer that refuses to close and picking up my dog’s doo doo in the back yard. Now, I don’t need the sexy, successful career to define me as it did in the past. I define me. Furthermore, my dress size and my self-worth are measured on very, very different scales. And I don’t floss. There. I said it.
There are days when I make a pork tenderloin for a post-op neighbor, throw a quarter in a stranger’s flashing meter and patiently listen to an elderly lady in line at the registry talk (slowly and in great detail)about her 17 grandchildren. On those days, I feel like a breath of fresh air.
Then, I have the days when I become impatient with the customer in front of me for chatting to the clerk about her guinea pig’s asthma, don’t allow someone to pull out in front of me or I beat myself up because it’s a fat pants day. Those are the days that I feel like, well, bad breath.
It is so much easier to accept that I am imperfect. I will share a story with you of how the pursuit of perfection almost killed me.
I was a senior in high school and felt as if my world was out of control. To be specific, it was I who was out of control. The negative self-prattling in my head had me convinced that I was bad, unlovable and on my own. My sexual abuse robbed me of many things including my self-love and respect, security. I was filled with doubt and confusion and self-loathing. I was supposed to be able to trust Grandpa! As a little girl, I was rotting inside. And I was so ashamed. My self-worth was paper-thin. Don’t confuse self-esteem with self-worth. They are two different animals.
Self-esteem comes from the confidence in one’s ability to achieve a visible and remarkable accomplishment, outside ourselves. That kept me alive. I could accomplish superficial things like good grades, good “high hair” and singing “We Got the Beat” in a Belinda Carlisle-ish way.
Au contraire, self-worth comes from a feeling within, a feeling of believing in oneself. Within, I felt like that dog doo previously mentioned. Looking within meant shining a floodlight on all my secrets. I could not tell my secrets to myself, let alone to anybody else. So I put my sight on that OUTSIDE accomplishment. I could trick everyone by giving the impression of being in high self-esteem. And so I did.
I was not overweight, but I decided that I wanted to lose weight. Friends thought that I was a little lulu, but I convinced them that my plaid uniform skirt was getting snug. I started dieting and learned pretty quickly that I was really good at it. For the first time, I was in control of something: food. Weight loss was an endorphin, and I became a junkie. The more weight I lost, the better I felt and the more I wanted to lose.
I remember my dad saying to me with a big smile one day, “Skinny Minnie!” I was SO PROUD of myself. It was another motivation me to kept going. Finally, I was skin and bones. My family and friends and teachers noticed and were gently suggesting in what felt like an adamant way that I had gone overboard. I was fine! Instead of listening I started layering. Layering allows you to be skinny and keep it a secret.
(I was wearing two pairs of pants and, at least, three sweaters- effective!)
My mom took me to the doctor because I had become so thin that I had not had a period in over a year, and I started to get baby chick fuzz all over my skin. The mirror reflected an 103 pound, 5′ 7″ 17-year-old. But all I could think of was that I looked so FAT. Oddly, that morning I hit my head on the piano when I fainted from hunger.
What does it take to be perfect? Everything. And it can even take your life. But Sugar, you will never, ever pull into that station because it just does not exist. I was eventually able to get control of my anorexia and recover from it. It did not kill me, but it did not make me stronger, either.
Perfection is a hopeless aspiration, and the pursuit of it manifests itself in so many different ways. This was one of the many ways I tried to get there, but I didn’t and I never will, and I am finally ok with that. While I am still very conscious of my weight today, I know how to keep a balance and live a healthy life that includes buffalo wings and pizza.
So, that is that.
“Hi! My name is Mary and I am a recovering perfectionist.”