Since my blog is titled, rantings from a recovering perfectionist, I thought I’d speak about perfectionism. I’ve spent many a decade perfecting my perfectionism. I carry the genes of perfectionism, thank you mother, and I grew up in an environment of perfectionism, thank you mother and father. My perfectionism is a nature, nurture honed diamond – no flaws in that baby.
The “aha” moment of not only becoming keenly aware of my perfectionistic tendencies but staring them straight in the eyes and owning them occurred when I was trying to stop my three month old son, Jacob, from drooling. His drool leaked onto everything and everyone within a four-mile radius; I’m not kidding. Exaggerating to make my point, but I am serious. Finally, I took him to our pediatrician who I trusted with not only my son’s life, but mine as well — for reasons I won’t bore you with. He explained to me that there was nothing to be done; Jacob was teething which stimulates drooling, which is often worse with some babies than others. I began to study other babies in my mommy and me group. Nobody, I mean nobody, was bringing forth copious amounts of that slimy, silvery, non-odorous ticky, tacky drool like my boy. Here’s when the ‘aha moment’ hit. I was breast feeding Jacob late one night, and I thought about trading him in for a non-drooler. Seriously. At three months I loved him, but there was a lot of things that I hadn’t signed on for. One, he had a lot of hair on his head and he was long and skinny. Gerber babies were bald babies who had chubby cheeks, and were pudgy. Two, he was colicky and the only person who could quiet him seemed to be me. Gerber babies gurgle and coo and are easily held by anyone with two arms! Three, he peed and pooped bountiful amounts and the stench, quite frankly, was embarrassing. Gerber babies pee and poop maybe three, four times a day sans stink. Last but not least, Gerber babies sleep through the night and take nice long naps in the afternoon. My baby slept in the early hours of the morning, napped a little, and never, ever slept through the night. Which means, guess who else didn’t sleep through the night!
I shared the swapping-my-baby-for-another-non drooler-baby with my perfectionistic parents. I was sure they’d understand, especially my mother. She used to iron my twin brothers diapers and tiny t shirts. They thought I was crazy. My mother yelled at me and my father quietly slipped me the name of a psychiatrist he had taken my mother to see many years ago. That night, as Jacob breast fed, his tiny, perfect fingers curled around my perfectly manicured pointer finger, I realized I had a serious problem. I was considering a baby exchange program for this sweet, wonderful son whom I fought very long and hard to birth. (I have an incompetent cervix but that’s another story.)
The next day, after another sleepless night in Sherman Oaks, I looked for the perfect Perfectionist Anonymous chapter. Not only does the perfect Perfectionist Anon. chapter not exist, no chapter for perfectionists exists. I was shocked. Personally, I would have absolutely no problem standing up in front of a rather large group of people saying, “Hi, my name is Brauna and I’m a recovering perfectionist.” Of course, I’d be wearing the perfect outfit, something casual but elegant, matching shoes, not sensible, but not come-f-me either, and for sure I’d have my hair done at my favorite salon. Instead, I went to a therapist and started a recovery program for perfectionism.
Twenty odd years later, I think I understand perfectionism. I can actually embrace it, be with it, but not let it take control of me.
Let me begin by defining ‘perfectionism’ in my language.
Perfectionism is a limiting belief that perfection is not only possible but achievable. Anything less than perfect is, well, unacceptable. And who deems what is perfect? The hard-core judge (her name is Judy, and to be honest, she’s perfectly intelligent, perfectly righteous, and never, ever a hair out of place) and her hand picked jury (like an exquisite strand of pearls, are they) that lurks within the shadows of my soul.
After many, many years of therapy, spiritual workshops, churches, temples, yoga, near death experiences, healing and healers of all shapes and sizes, fasts, cleanses, colonics, bad hair days, I have had an awakening…
Let me digress a quick moment here. In my world, an awakening is an, oh so very good thing, because it’s that moment when the demon EGO which works diligently to control and manipulate you, is quiet and the hushed wisdom of your soul, that divine spark inside us all, speaks. (You can find it when you breathe; in between the inhale and the exhale, but that’s another blog, for another time.)
Back to the awakening…drum roll, if you please:
The fundamental reason I strive for perfection is because I have had a tremendous need to feel in control of everything at all times so that I could protect myself and feel safe. (That overwhelming feeling of not being safe carbon dates back to my childhood, but that’s a whole different blog). In the past, feeling vulnerable was unacceptable. Now I know, that if I’m not feeling vulnerable, I’m not living. I may be existing, but I Am definitely not living life. There’s only one thing for certain in this life, and it’s not death and taxes. Life is about change. And change is transformational. Norman Mailer once said, “Every moment of one’s existence one is growing into more or retreating into less. One is always living a little more or dying a little bit.”
It’s taken me over five decades, and not one but two near death experiences to let go of my need to control life, to simply accept each and every moment that comes to me without judgment, and live this beautiful gift called life, a little more…
Now that’s perfection! (I said I was a “recovering” perfectionist, right?)