“Perfectionista!”

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“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.

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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.

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“Layering”

(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.

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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.”

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That’s all.

“BEFORE” He Wrote it Down

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My plan was to finish setting the table and hit the sack. I looked forward to the next day,  Thanksgiving Day, which promised to be a memory maker surrounded by family, enough food to feed a small country and football, as you probably figured.  I turned in early and cozied up in bed next to my husband who had long been asleep and turned my attention to my evening routine of checking the newsfeed on Facebook. Ahhh.

 

Many of the posts were about being thankful or turkey size or sharing photos taken hours before at high school reunions.

 

Holidays make me nostalgic. Until I remarried several years ago, I did not have much family. But, at one time I did.

 

I thought about my cousins frequently. My aunt got my cousins in their divorce settlement, and since I was a member of that side of the family, I didn’t get them. I never understood why. I was young. I later learned that at that time I only knew part of the story.  All I knew was that I was told that my aunt was bad, and so were my cousins, you know, that “association thing.”

 

As children, we spent so much time together and were so close. We played countless games of four square and re-enacted endless episodes of Little House on the Prairie wearing our calico maxi dresses and the bonnets that my mom sewed for us. I predictably played the part of Mary and Laura played Laura. Of course.

 

Where were my cousins? What were they doing? Were they happy? Did they have children? Were they cooking a turkey tomorrow? Stuffing; cornbread or savory sausage? And who would carve the bird, break bread and give thanks with them?

 

Dammit! We were supposed to grow up together, to be each other’s bridesmaids and hold each other’s hair back and hold each other’s babies!  We were supposed to hold hands through life’s highs and lows. They were supposed to be the sisters that my mother did not bear. It was incredibly unfair. I tried to figure out who to blame and then I decided. Our grandfather.

 

Then, it happened.

 

On that Thanksgiving Eve, 2014, I had the chutzpah to look for my girls and there they were, as beautiful as ever. THANK YOU FB.

 

And the happy dance happened.

 

Just as I predicted, Laura and I still held a strong resemblance to each other. I looked at her photo with her great big smile and her gentle eyes and had a very strong feeling that this was meant to be. A reunion.

 

Snuggled in bed I struggled between biting my index finger/ my fingers hovering over the keyboard, biting my index finger/ my fingers hovering over the keyboard, repeat, repeat and then I mustered up the courage and did it. “Friend Request Sent”. There was a wave in my gut of “Oh my Gosh, I did it!” mixed with, “What if they hit the “Ignore Request” icon?

 

On Thanksgiving Day, after a very long 35-year hiatus I had my Laura back.  So thankful for that.

 

Our first call lasted over three hours.

 

Me, “Why did we lose each other? Why did we never see each other again?”

 

Laura, “Well, I think that there were lots of reasons.”

 

Me, “Ok, I am going to call the pink elephant out of the room. Let me tell you a story.” This is what I said.

 

On a summer day when I was only 12-ish, we had just finished dinner and were cleaning up. My uncle, who was living with us during his divorce, had come home with a nest of bees in his bonnet claiming that my aunt had fabricated a story that my grandfather had molested  my cousins and proceeded to obtain a restraining order against him.

 

I watched and then with about as much bravery and courage that any little girl could muster, tabled my shame and said in a small voice, “He did that to me.”

 

Stop. Pause. Turn. Head cock. Dish towel down.

 

Parent “I wish you had told me that.”

 

Me, “Well, I am telling you now.”

 

That was it.  That was all. The moment turned from little, petrified and ashamed Mary to the importance of those dinner dishes getting cleaned RIGHT AWAY.

 

This time, THIS abuse, was worse than at the hand of my grandfather. Who was going to protect me? Did they love me? Why won’t they believe me? I must be bad. That was it.

 

On that day, with all my might I bravely stepped out of that dark scary place,believing that if I could get myself there, if I could stand in the light just for a moment that it would be ok.

 

I held that abuse, my shame and my self-loathing inside that little body of mine, and it festered there for years having a say in my choices, my decisions, my life.

 

In January, for the first time in 35 years, Laura and I met. Wrapped in cozy blankets with copious amounts of chamomile tea and in front of a well-tended fire, courtesy of my husband, we let it rip, shared it all and figured out many of the missing pieces. Together we agreed that Grandpa had our past but he will never, ever have our future.

 

We decided to put that to rest on the next day by dancing on his grave. And so it happened.

 

“We drove to the town where he lived, and where he is buried. We drove to the town where we were abused. “

 

The next thing that happened?

 

HE WROTE IT DOWN

To view the sequel to this story, a story that has resonated with so many, written by my beautiful cousin, click below.

Bless!

That’s all.

 

http://inotherswords.com/2015/01/18/1473/

 

 

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