Like You Mean It

My daughter and I were having a conversation the other day about my marketable skills.

I will spare you the details and the discouraging situation that I find myself in regarding balancing health and finances.  If you have not already become familiar with that situation, hit up some earlier posts to get up to speed.

But the outcome of that conversation led me to a new understanding of an old problem:  I don’t think I am good enough.

I’ve literally tattooed the word “Enough” on my left arm.  I deliberately put it in a place that I would see in the mirror every day, because I need the constant reminder that I am enough and good enough and allowed to set boundaries that say to others, “Enough. I won’t tolerate that anymore”.  Despite that reminder, I still slip into a space where my mind convinces me that I cannot accomplish or become or produce in positive ways.  I get sucked into perfectionism.  I get stuck in a mindset that sees criticism as punishment for what I lack.  I get trapped by self-defeating language.  I doubt that I am capable enough, or good enough, or talented enough.

So, while talking with my daughter, and positing a question about whether or not I might be successful in a particular venture, I came to understand that I don’t quit things, and I don’t fail.  I start something new.

I tell myself, “I am an author.  I’m going to work at being an author, and commit to that field.”  And then, a few months later, I am telling myself, “I am going to become a nutrition counselor.”  I take classes and start that venture.  Then, a few months later, I am telling myself, “I could sell my work on Etsy.  I would make money from what I find therapeutic—my art and crafts.”

And, suddenly, I am working toward everything and nothing.  I have too many starts and not enough follow-through.  I have no follow-through not because I can’t do the things, but because my energy is split and traveling in too many directions.

Life has always been this way for me.  I am a visionary—I start things all the time, and I have big dreams, and I am a great problem-solver.  I am not confident that I can be fabulous at any of those things that I start, and dream of, and find solutions for.  I start to doubt my ability, and I put the thing I was working toward on hold, while I think of something new.

I am writing three books.  By writing, I mean not working on at all, but having the idea that the books will someday be finished.  I am an amazing author, but I doubt that talent often enough to not complete any published works.  I am studying nutrition and holistic care.  And by studying, I mean that I am half way through an online study program that I have not even looked at in months.  I doubt that I can be successful in the field, or that people will take a sick, overweight person’s advice regarding wellness and weight loss.  I am opening an Etsy shop.  And by opening, I mean that I have a store name picked out and ideas for what art I will put in that store eventually.  I doubt that people will want or pay a fair price for the things that I have created, and that I will lose money, rather than make money.

My doubt rarely paralyzes me in the physical sense.  I don’t panic and freeze and lose my shit out in the world.  I look and act like a really “normal” person most of the time.  But, on the inside, I put myself into a space where I cannot accomplish anything, because I don’t believe that I can accomplish anything well enough.

Some of this perfectionism comes from my upbringing.  My mother and my grandmother before her were both very concerned with appearances, and with having everything “just so”—at least on the outside.  That desire to look perfect affected my generation as well.  And, at times, I think I am accidentally passing that perfectionism down to my daughter.  But, my family tree is not the only factor.  I also suffer from C-PTSD, a complex form that adds layers of struggle beyond those of the type of PTSD you usually see depicted in media—the combat-related type.  Perfectionism is a symptom of my disease.  When you are in a prolonged state of abuse, such as childhood molestation or domestic violence, your brain behaves in ways that make no sense, but are totally understandable.  You start to work really hard at pleasing people.  You start to do all that you can to make life, home, and self perfect, because you believe that the abuses are your fault—which is part of the terrible genius of abuse tactics.  If you can just do everything “right”, maybe you won’t be hurt, harmed, assaulted, yelled at, molested, or raped.  If you can be perfect, then there won’t be a reason for them to harm you.

But there is always a reason for them to harm you, because the harm has nothing to do with your performance, accomplishments, character, or way of being.  The harm has to do with them and their issues.

I can say that now.  I can say that the people who harmed me did so because of them, and not because of me.  But, even though I can say it, I am not integrated in my logic and my emotion.  Those things are split apart in the long-term abuse—the horror of captivity.  And, while I can say that I didn’t cause the abuses directed toward me, I cannot often feel that I didn’t cause those abuses.

Not being able to feel what I know is complicated.  It is also annoying and frustrating.  Reason and emotion are not tied together in the ways I want them to be tied.  So, I feel not good enough, even though I know that I am capable and strong and beautiful and good and honest and brave and brilliant.  What I know and what I feel cannot connect in the way that I would like them to connect.  So, I still strive for and do not reach perfection.

Perfection doesn’t exist.  You can never reach it, because it isn’t a thing.  Perspective, cultural difference, brain chemistry, opinions, different philosophies, and more make one idea of “perfection” impossible.  There is no such thing.  So, by striving for this goal, we sabotage ourselves.  We are fighting for a thing that is not achievable.  And that constantly disappoints us, and makes us doubt our ability or character or worth.

All of the above considerations came out of that one conversation with my daughter.  And I decided during that conversation that I need to “write like I mean it”.

I decided that I need to take that thing that I love and that I am good at, and I need to keep doing that thing until I can feel what I know.  I need to stop turning in different directions and dividing my energy.  I need to put my efforts into the things that I know I am and should be:  an author and an artist.  I need to act upon my belief that I am a good author and artist, and keep acting upon it until I feel deeply that I am talented.

Under different circumstances, that might sound like a very selfish and narcissistic way of thinking.  But, because I am so conditioned to judge myself “not good enough”, proclaiming my talent and putting all my energies into praise for that talent is a corrective measure that brings balance.

I’m going to put all of my eggs in this basket.  I’m going to write and create like I mean it.  I’m going to make this my life—not because I need to strive for a goal of perfection, but because I love writing and creating, and because I am exceptional in these areas.

Perfection isn’t real, but it still ruins so many of us.  While my C-PTSD makes the struggle against perfection more difficult, and a symptom to be managed, you don’t need to have a history of trauma and a mental illness to strive for things that you need not strive for, and cannot achieve.

I’m not saying to give up.  I’m trying to say the opposite.  I’m attempting to express that what you love is what you ought to pursue, regardless of what “perfection” might be getting in the way of that pursuit.  And I am attempting to express it for me as much as I am for anyone who might read this post.  Because sometimes the word “Enough” tattooed on my arm is not the only reminder needed.  Sometimes we need to keep telling ourselves a thing until we feel its truth, not just know or understand it.

I need to keep telling myself that finished is better than perfect.  I need to keep telling myself that writing and painting and sewing and covering surfaces in comics are worthy pursuits.  I need to keep telling myself that my belief that I am good enough is the truth, and that the feeling that I am not is the lie that I have been conditioned to accept.

I need to keep telling myself to write like I mean it.  This is my goal.  This is my life.   This is my contribution to the world.  This is what I love.  And I am not going to let “perfection” get in the way of doing what I love.

Whatever you do, do it like you mean it.  Because it is, and you are, enough.

Backward

The last few days I haven’t been able to keep control of my letters.  They keep switching up and making the words I mean to write a jumbled mess.  And this is not figurative in any way.  I’m seriously dyslexic of late.

It isn’t a major issue, since we have these lovely computer checks of our spelling and grammar these days, and the only thing I end up writing with my actual hand and a pen is notes from my online nutrition course, so I should be able to decipher what I meant to write.  But, even without severe consequence, I get annoyed with this trading of letters and destroying of words.

It isn’t that I’m a perfectionist…

Just kidding, I’m totally a perfectionist.

And that hasn’t always served me well in life.  There are many times where I put too much effort and too much stress into a project of some sort, because I had to achieve my own standard of perfection.  And my standard has always been high.

I don’t think I came to be such a perfectionist by accident.  It has been shown that there is a correlation between perfectionism and trauma.  And I grew up with a mother who didn’t allow anyone to settle for less than what she deemed perfect.  Though I constantly disappointed her hopes of perfection, I still adopted some of her desire for all the things to line up perfectly and look neat and clean and good.

I didn’t realize that I was dyslexic until adulthood.  For some reason, even though things were constantly being reversed in my early education, nobody ever diagnosed me with a learning disability.  In adulthood I would also be given the diagnosis of ADHD, which often travels in tandem with dyslexia.  Both have been linked to low DHA and EPA, the omega 3’s from fish, in utero.  So, basically, my mom wasn’t perfect, because she clearly missed out on oily fish while my cells were multiplying and differentiating and doing all the scientific shit that cells do.

Because I wasn’t formally diagnosed with these maladies in childhood, I felt stupid a lot.  I couldn’t meet the standards of perfection.  I kept messing up in the same ways and living in the same mistakes.  I couldn’t pay attention, my desk was a mess, I was terrible at penmanship and spelling, and I kept drawing “b” and “d” either identically, or replacing one with the other.  I was flawed.   I couldn’t get it right.

And doing things “right” was of high importance in our household.  Or at least making them look “right”.

Perfectionism didn’t just apply to my handwriting.  I needed to have perfect hair and perfect clothes and look like a perfect daughter.  But I wasn’t a perfect daughter, so lying about my imperfections became commonplace.  I was always the daughter bouncing around when she should be still.  I was always the daughter who spoke when she was expected to stay silent.  I was always the daughter who would leave when told to stay and stay when asked to leave.  I was belligerent and defiant and not at all the kind of daughter that my mom wanted.  And, until my sister came along, I might have believed that daughters didn’t come in a perfect model.  She was compliant and accommodating and capable of making my mother happy.  I wasn’t.  And I used to envy or despise my sister, depending on the moment, for her ability to be the child that my mother had wished I was.  But I eventually let that go, because it had nothing to do with my sister and everything to do with my mother, and my relationship with her.

I couldn’t be perfect, but I tried, until not living up to the challenge for years and years finally made me give up.  And I gave up in gigantic ways.

My house was a disaster area, and my husband was an asshole, and I was a cursing, loud, obnoxious, addicted, defiant mess.  And it was fabulous.

I became the exact opposite of what my mother wanted me to be, and I stayed that way for some time.

Eventually, I came to see that some of my behavior wasn’t serving me well, so I started to travel from my backward ways and get closer to the ideal daughter.  But, after travelling so far from that ideal, you really don’t come back.  Your experience becomes a part of you. Whether you want it to or not, your history is always a part of your story.  So, I formed my own ideal.  And I started to strive for that ideal instead.

I accepted that I would never be the daughter my mom wished for, but I could be the best possible me imagined.  Right?

Wrong.

I’m an idealist at heart, but pragmatic overall. However, I formed an ideal that I couldn’t live up to.  And I think that all of us do this, on some level.  We imagine a self, and spend so much time and energy living into that perceived self that nothing else matters, and then we cannot meet the standards imagined.  We fail ourselves—not just our mothers.

I didn’t learn the lesson quickly, and spent years struggling with myself, but I have finally seen that I was designed to be backward.  Not in the sense that the divine wished dyslexia upon me, but in the sense that we are all designed to be different from what we expect of ourselves.

I fought to become what I envisioned a good woman to be.  And that vision was based upon what I knew from my history, and upon what I imagined my mother wanted, and upon what I deemed culturally appropriate.  But I am no more culturally appropriate than I am able to keep my letters in the correct order while I write.

So, when I did learn the lesson, and I did discover who and what and why I am, I learned that I am not now, and not ever, going to fit into an imagined ideal me.  That isn’t how development works.

When we are babies, we don’t make a list of things we want to accomplish before we begin to explore the world and start to meet milestones.  We never say, “Hmmm…I think walking might be cool.”  We just engage with our environment in such a way that we eventually discover that walking gets us to places we want to go.  And somehow we have forgotten, by and large, that development happens as exploration happens, and that no amount of wishing for a baby to walk gets them walking, but they do so when it serves them well.

It sounds a bit selfish, but it really isn’t.  Being your best self doesn’t mean adhering to an ideal that constantly lives just outside your grasp, but accepting who you are and what you need in the moment. And while you might imagine that as self-serving, in truth, when you care well for yourself you are set free to care well for others, instead of putting all your energy toward meeting the unachievable ideal.

There are lots of people who still think I live life backward.  They comment about how I should get a job or get more exercise or try this or that home remedy.  They tell me they worry about my choices, because I like both men and women, because I have sex while unmarried, because I am pro-choice, because I live in a ghettoized neighborhood, because I date outside my race, because I am not a biblical literalist …

The list goes on forever.

But the best thing that has happened for me in a very long time is that I stopped caring what those people want Ideal Christy to be like.  I no longer care what my Ideal Christy was.  I have learned to simply live within the Christy that I am.  I accept my beliefs.  I offer gratitude.  I increase my awareness.  I educate myself, and I transform what I can based on new information.  I let go of what I cannot change.  I release expectations and, instead, hold on to who I am at the core—deep in my heart, or my gut.

I don’t need to be perfect.  I just need to be who I am, in the most authentic way possible.

There are many ways that perfectionism still sneaks into my daily life, including my frustration over the order of my written characters, but even that tendency toward perfectionism can be accepted and released in my newfound, mindful approach to living.  And there are still many ways that others view me as failing or a failure that hurt my heart, but those too can be felt and then released.

I spent so much of my life trying to be the perfect daughter, the perfect wife or girlfriend, the perfect mother, the perfect student, the perfect employee.  And all of that was not waste, but much of it was unhelpful.  I don’t need to fit the mold for any perfect ideal.  There is no longer an ideal self.  There is only me, simply being.

And I think that being is better than perfection, without a doubt.

I do waste energy, from time to time, on the things that others desire for me to be.  But, for the most part, I have learned to break free from expectations and to accept myself as I am.  Once the keeping of lists stopped and the toddler-like exploration of self and environment began, it was difficult to revert to the perfectionist striving.  Because exploring self and life is so much more rewarding.  It offers wonder and surprise and enlightenment and new life.  And that is much better than the struggle that perfectionism offers.

I’m becoming proud of the process of becoming.  I’m accepting that I may be any number of things, and some of those things might align with the ideals of others, but others will not.  But those ideals aren’t my goal anymore.  Mindful living is my goal.  And mindful living always offers me good things, and never disappoints.

I understand that this way of being will be considered backward for some.  But those people are probably still striving for a perfectionist ideal that will never be reached.  And I don’t need to care that they see my way of exploring the world and the self and the environment and the world as not “right” in its approach to living.

If loving me is wrong, I don’t want to be right!

Annoyances like transposed letters still frustrate me at moments, but I’m learning to accept even that as a part of who I am.  And I’m learning to accept that I am good, just as I am.  I am “right”, because I am being true to myself and my experience.  I am being true to my heart and my gut.  I am letting me be enough.  I am allowing myself the space to fall and to rise and to be, without judgments.  And something that offers that much love and grace and compassion toward the self, instead of the usual berating and judging of perfectionism, cannot be wrong.

So, since today is not a class day, filled with strangely spelled notes, I will spend it doing that which makes me be, without perfectionist ideals.  Maybe I will do some yoga, or a meditation.  Maybe I will color mandalas, or work on some art pieces, or finally attempt some sewing, or plant some stuff, or take a bath.  And others can think of those things as selfish, if they want.  But I see them for what they are: practices that accept who I am and where I am, practices that lead me to my best self, and practices that never ask me to strive for perfection.

And you might think that such things couldn’t possibly be added to your day, because you are too busy.  But you would be wrong. Because practicing mindfulness strips away the busy, and leaves you with what is most important—it always leaves you with the best possible you.

End your striving.  Stop trying to be perfect.  Let your heart speak to you, and then speak that to others.  Don’t pretend you are something you are not to please your mother (or anyone else, for that matter). Look inward. Be backward.

I promise you won’t be disappointed.