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.

Life is way more fun that way.


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