Confessions of a recovering perfectionist

I am a recovering perfectionist.

And yet…if you asked people who know me on a basic level, if I was or ever had been a perfectionist, they would probably laugh in your face.

You see,
I have a wild mane of curly hair.
That I never brush.

My car is a mess.
Old coffee cups in the cup holders.
A windshield that desperately needs to be cleaned.

I have a bank account
that tends to dwindle
then rise
depending on the season.
Consistency is not my strong suit.

At first glance, I am the complete opposite of a perfectionist.

But, if you asked people that I’m the most vulnerable with, the people that truly see me, they would nod in agreement. I am indeed a recovering perfectionist.

When my perfectionism was at it’s worst, I couldn’t make a decision about anything. For example, exercise. I would sit in my house, dressed head-to-toe in spandex, debating on whether to rush to a yoga class or go for a run. In my perfectionist mind, a run was quicker, burned more calories and left me sweaty. Yoga seemed like the more “zen” thing to do, but I was so far from “zen.” And the idea of spending an hour on my mat having to confront this “un-zeness” left me queasy. So I just sat sat there, panicky.

When my perfectionism was at it’s worst, I punished myself when I didn’t meet my own athletic standards. Mostly, this manifested when I rowed crew. If I didn’t perform how I wanted to on a workout, it would take days, sometimes even weeks, for the mean girl voices in my head to subside.

When my perfectionism was at it’s worst, I was the most agreeable girl in the world. I said yes to everything, letting my own boundaries become as permeable as water. All in the name of being liked, of not rocking the boat, of chasing love.

When my perfectionism was at it’s worst, food was a reward. A reward for a workout, a reward for a hard day, a reward for walking the dog. I lived in the mindset of  “have-to’s before want-to’s.” This meant that before I enjoyed my morning smoothie, the blender had to be totally cleaned and put away, counter tops wiped down, sink rinsed out.

This life was exhausting.

And finally all of this uncertainty, this second guessing, became too much. The worried chatter in my brain became too loud and I couldn’t breathe.

I knew that I had to change.
Change, or stay stuck in a debilitating mindset.
Those were the options.

It took baby steps.
Baby steps for me to walk away from these habits.
Away from the belief that one “wrong” decision could mess up my whole life.

It took baby steps for me to transform from a perfectionist into a recovering perfectionist.

At first, every decision felt like a leap of faith. I joined a gym, even though every logical piece of me said that it was a bad idea. Why on earth would it be helpful to go a place where the words calories burned are projected in bright red neon lights? Yet, I knew that I wanted a space to workout, where I could go on my own timeline, where I could walk or run, or lift weights. Even this small decision felt huge. But I learned to put a towel over the treadmill screen, and walk or run until my body told me it was enough. I tried out body pump classes and pilates classes. There were even days where I showed up, walked on the treadmill for 10 minutes, and then decided that I didn’t want to be there. So I went home. And didn’t say one mean word to myself about it.

Breaking free from a perfectionist mentality means that you don’t know how every decision is going to work out. It means that you trust your instincts, and understand that the result might not seem ideal at first. You understand that there is always space to change your mind, to course correct. It means that you may have to have difficult conversations.

Being a recovering perfectionist means that everyday I am learning and re-learning radical acceptance. It means that sometimes, I am better at trusting my instincts than others. It means that laying in bed on Saturday morning and watching Grey’s Anatomy on Netflix is so beautifully ok. It means that I can say “no thank you” to plans or I can say “yes please,” and both responses hold equal value. It means that I choose to embrace my body, even on days when it feels challenging. It means putting one foot in front of the other. Some steps are wobbly and small. Others are strong and purposeful. But they are all steps forward, no matter how they land.

I now speak up when I have something to say.
I run when I feel like running
and walk
when I feel like walking.

I love chocolate
but say
“No, thank you,”
when I genuinely don’t want it
and “yes please”
when I do.

I eat the way I want to.
The way my body asks me to.

I make simple decisions.
Coffee or tea
Hike or yoga
Rest or play
And sometimes realize afterwards
that another choice might have suited me better.

Oh well.
That’s ok.
Noted for next time.

I still hear that mean girl in my head sometimes.
The voice that tells me that I’m distanced from my intuition.
That I’m lazy.
That I’m irresponsible.
That I made a wrong choice.

But I politely tell her to please,
shut the fuck up.

And I promptly go back to living.
messy
wild
honest
living.

Life is way more fun that way.

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112 thoughts on “Confessions of a recovering perfectionist

  1. Light-induced-Lygophilia

    I’ve always said I’m bettering myself. So I let the bitch( I won’t be nice and call her a mean girl when I know she’s way worse) out and gave her the freedom to make me feel like absolute shit. I’m one step below you. I’m just realising that I can only better myself when I stop giving the bitch that control over me. You’re doing an amazing job from where I’m standing. Kudos!

    Like

  2. Brittany

    Oh my goodness. I needed that so much. I go through the same kind of thing, and I’m just now starting to realize that it’s okay to say no.

    Like

  3. arianna2316

    Ahhhhh I’ve never been able to describe to people this tendency I have where things happen like I can’t start the process of cleaning my car because if I start it that means I have to have enough energy to vacuum all of the carpets and if I vacuum the carpets I need to armor all the dash board and etc and they have to happen in just the right order from top to bottom. It’s sickening. I understand!

    Like

  4. auerbach48

    No one really chooses to be a perfectionist! It is a painful affliction . For me ; i believe it was really harsh parents who spent more time telling me what I did wrong than praising the good stuff. I keep trying to focus on the good stuff I recognize.

    Like

  5. popculturegrinch

    Fantastic post! You really nailed what I think a lot of people, including myself, need to do and that’s say “Shut up!” to that pestering pessimist telling you you could have done better or you should have done more. Your story really is encouraging and empowering!

    And by the way, when you said you put a towel over the treadmill screen, I was like “That’s me!” Granted, I don’t go to a gym and use a towel. I actually have a treadmill at home that I cover with CD case, but regardless, I find looking at the time more discouraging than not.

    Thank you so much for sharing! From another recovering perfectionist.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Talasi Guerra

    “Breaking free from a perfectionist mentality means that you don’t know how every decision is going to work out.” This is so unbelievably stressful, but so undeniably true. I too am a recovering perfectionist, and I appreciate that there are others out there on the same path as me. Thanks for sharing this brilliant piece of writing.

    Like

  7. thereluctantpoetweb

    Ok, I’m back with another question or topic for inspection from your post! So, after reading this line again – “When my perfectionism was at it’s worst, I couldn’t make a decision about anything.” Did this inability to make a decision come from an anxiety about the “mean girl” voices which reinforced that you weren’t good enough?

    The reason I ask is because I am curious if you think (from your past and present) that procrastination might also be a symptom of perfectionism or is it just being lazy or maybe both? Or perhaps it is a passive/aggressive response to the perfectionist drill sergeant in our heads we are seeking to defy? Curious about your thoughts? Maybe a new post? Thanks for posting on this subject and helping all of us.

    Like

  8. saharahdomado

    This is so true to me. I was once a “perfectionist” but lately I realized to myself that it just made me feel worst or uncertain that I ended up putting myself to set the bar high in anything I do but I failed; that of I couldn’t reach the perfect standard. I realized some things came out or done the way it should be without the notion of it to be perfect, so the less I become a perfectionist, the more I gave myself a proper excuse to keep it simple and worry less to enjoy life.

    Thank you for writing and sharing this. Something anybody can relate to and ponder on. 🙂

    Like

  9. ReVitellect

    Beautiful! I so relate to your former perfectionist self! It’s like you’re me in another body. Haha. Yes, sometimes even the littlest decisions are dilemmas. 😉

    I’ll try to listen to my intuitions and instincts more and see how that works out. Maybe just try stuff instead of resisting/hesitating and thinking it through too much (another problem of mine – overthinking). Thanks for the inspiring story. Helpful. 🙂

    Like

  10. hotbonnet09091993

    This is so powerful. Honestly, some of the biggest barriers we build are the ones we build for ourselves. And they are so ridiculously undermined because no one seems the struggled we go through to over come those crazy intuitions and actually live life on our own. I’m proud of you for what it’s worth 🙂 and this is incredibly worded.

    Like

  11. thereluctantpoet

    Reblogged this on The Reluctant Poet and commented:
    I had an interesting experience yesterday while talking to my surgeon during a skin cancer removal – always fun!

    We got off on talking about poetry and she said that she wrote poetry and had since she was 14 but had never shown it to anyone!

    Well, me being The Reluctant Poet that I am, it was sort of like the pot calling the kettle names but I told her how wonderful being on WordPress was where you can share your poems with everyone in a safe place. She related how she has destroyed some of her poems because “They weren’t good enough”. Does that sound familiar to anyone out there?

    So, for any of you who hear your own inner voice or the voice of a Drill Sargent, Nun, Teacher, Parent, Spouse, sibling or any other person telling you negative things about Yourself or your talent here are some encouraging words from a, Recovering Perfectionist.

    Please welcome, Amy from ournourishedtable.com and her post “CONFESSIONS OF A RECOVERING PERFECTIONIST”

    Like

  12. newdaynewmess

    I loved this post! I feel like there are so many different ways to struggle with perfectionism. i just put up a post about my struggles with being an unproductive unhealthy perfectionist and my experiences are so different from yours and still somewhat similar.
    I find it harder and harder to understand how “i am a perfectionist” became the number one answer to you job interviewer asking you what your greatest weakness is. i have met very few healthy perfectionists in my life. almost every person suffering from perfectionism actually suffers in one way or another.

    Like

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