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Practice Makes...Imperfect

From the hazy, shimmering edges of my earliest memories, I recall the desire to be perfect. Good enough. Better than. Smarter. Stronger. Prettier. The winner. The best. Perfection, as I’m sure you can guess, did not happen…Not even close. My stubborn, competitive nature fueled this unattainable desire and in turn, I suffered intense insecurity and at times, the feeling of incredible humiliation throughout my childhood, adolescence and early adulthood. My competition? Anyone and everyone! In childhood, I strove to surpass classmates, friends, and my brother. I distinctly recall silently cheering my dad as he passed other cars on road trips. Yeeeees! We’re going faster than you! Constant competition mode.

As I shifted into adulthood, these completely unaware participants in my mind’s competitions evolved to include coworkers, fellow gym members, significant others’ exes, those other girls at the bar, that singer before me at karaoke night, whoever wrote that article with the blatant typos, other moms, the neighbor…You name it. I’ve always had a Ninja Warrior-type competition running in the background of my mind. I wanted to be on top, the winner, premier, supreme, praised and acknowledged. This insatiable hunger to be recognized as enough was almost impossible to satisfy. Regardless of the amount of positive feedback that I received, I was never quite enough for myself. Perfectionism in its full glory.

This constant feeling of inadequacy manifested itself as silent judgments of others as a coping mechanism for what I perceived as my shortcomings. Growing up in a Christian household with fairly strict parenting led to a plethora of assumed and unspoken expectations. For the most part, I felt like I couldn’t live up to such high standards.

Now, please don't get me wrong. My childhood was truly full of love, hugs and kisses, family vacations, extracurricular activities, and lots of play time. We were active in church and youth groups, regularly visited our close-knit extended family, had sleepovers, and traipsed in the woods. My parents have always been wonderful parents to both myself and my younger brother, only wanting the best for us both.

Much later, I realized the missing piece for me was their lack of vulnerability and transparency in regard to sharing life experiences. The household style was a ‘do as I say’ mentality. Because of the expectations placed on me, I assumed my parents did everything right growing up and I intended to follow those footsteps. Gave it my best. But I made assumptions about my parents’ upbringings and younger selves that were so off base, it is both laughable and saddening. I was so wrong! My parents didn’t openly share their impactful life experiences or how they were effected by their own decisions throughout their lives. To take my part of the responsibility, I didn’t ask or even know what to ask. How do you ask your parents about their failures unless you've witnessed it? I was under the impression that they didn't have past failures because it wasn't part of my reality. This parent/child dynamic combined with my insecurities, perfection anxieties, and as I grew up, the desire to make my own decisions, eventually led to patterns of behavior that haunted me well into adulthood.

After a long period of social comfort and inclusion during elementary school, we very suddenly moved across the country in the middle of my 7th grade year, from Oklahoma to Montana. I stood rigidly in the foyer of a much larger Junior High as the new girl with a southern accent. I was uncomfortable and out of place for what seemed like, and realistically was, years. My junior year of high school, I finally solidified a group of close friends, and just like any teenager, wanted to spend every waking moment with them. After multiple broken curfews, my parents implemented the horrifying rule that I must wake them when I got home, so they knew I was on time. The stubborn streak in me hates restraints and my teenage self was insulted. I wasn’t trustworthy?!

Well, I really wasn’t actually that trustworthy and I have no doubt my parents knew what I was up to. As most teenagers do, I was out with friends. Not always, but sometimes up to no good, occasionally drinking or smoking weed. When my frantic speeding didn’t get me home on time, I would lie. “Katie’s car wouldn’t start, so I took her home.” “We were watching a movie and I didn’t realize what time it was.” The lies flowed in tandem with omissions. “What did you do last night?” was often answered with partiality instead a true play by play. “We went bowling and then to Denny’s.” Um, yeah, but my mouth forgot to mention we also cruised Main Street, loitered in the grocery parking lot and also stopped by Mark’s house. I gave short-cut answers instead of the truth.

Ugh and then comes the faking. Show of hands please -- Anyone ever go to church with the family as usual on Sunday morning? Hungover? Thrown up bright orange from drinking Mad Dog 2020 the night before? And blame it on a migraine?

Am I the only one with my hand still up…?

That is rough one, along with many other memories. Replaying scenes like this in my mind just makes me cringe. The outcome you might be wondering? I got to go home and back to bed. I did have a headache, but obviously, it wasn’t a typical migraine. Mad Dog Migraine. Not my greatest Lord’s Day moment. My point is though, I got really good at smoke screens, maneuvering and manipulating. I showed people what I assumed they wanted to see, put on different masks for different people in order to make them more comfortable with me. The inadequate, failing, insecure, anxious, terrified me. I was fearful of being inadequate or a failure, a disappointment, so I faked it. I became a myth and my authentic self became a blurry shadow in the background of the masquerade.

As my journey into adulthood continued, the constant pretending took its toll. At that point, I didn't even consciously realize what I was doing. Even without the awareness, it was a burden and I began to cope with alcohol. It started as early 20s partying that became a multi-year gradual decline into a dark valley. The weight of faking it on so many fronts was exhausting – family, partners, at work. To keep one person happy, I lied to another. My presentation of perfection, my bubbly personality and seemingly genuine professionalism fooled some but those closest to me eventually caught on. Relationships were superficial for the most part, as I didn’t have the time or energy to be authentic while I was switching between so many masks. I shirked responsibility for my bad decisions and made excuses. All this effort trying to be everything to everyone. And just like the lyrics of the Everclear song by the same name, I liked to be the victim. I liked to be in pain. I was spinning around and falling down and doing it again. Why won’t you ever learn?

Eventually, it got old. Exhausting. I was tired of my pseudo self. I had wasted so much time being hung over, wasted energy on back burner relationships with people who didn’t care about me, and wasted the minimal amount of self-respect I had left routinely saturating my evenings with red wine. The paralyzing fear of failure and the burden of unattainable perfection hindered me from sorting out past trust issues, taking responsibility for hurtful actions toward others, and stripping down to a genuine version of myself. I was unrecognizable, even to me.

Life was so heavy and so much of it was my fault. Yes, I had been hurt, my trust had been broken in many relationships over the years, death had claimed some of my most treasured people, and I was wounded. But instead of working through those hardships for good and coming out an improved version of myself, I made choices. I chose to hurt. I chose to break trust. I chose to wound.

In the midst of this all-time low in life, I started counseling with our Family Minister at church. He was a licensed therapist, faith-based but with a realistic understanding of my struggles. His office was a safe place for me to cry, which was a breakthrough, because I don’t typically cry. I used to cry more often, but it didn’t seem to do any good and if I had kept crying, I would just have been sodium-depleted at that point. So along the way, I had dammed up. In one session, he gave me the assignment of writing myself a goodbye letter. It was an ideal assignment, as my words tend to flow more easily when a clear topic is commissioned.

The letter took me days to write. It transformed into a mission statement of sorts, one that I carry with me to this day. Almost two years later, the tear-stained vulnerability of that goodbye mission statement is in my purse at all times. That letter allowed me to come face to face with my brokenness, insecurities, demons and bad decisions. Once I stood eye to eye with that nauseating version of myself, I was able to reject her. I dug down deep and gave myself a talking to, because despite the paralyzing fear and inexcusable behavior, I knew there was still a glimmer of joy and hope that could be cultivated. I was finally at the point where I refused to suffocate myself any longer.

That goodbye letter to myself was the starting point on a long, uphill journey to a place of imperfect peace and joy, a journey that has no end as far as I can imagine. The possibilities are endless. It is ongoing, difficult, and slow-going at times with back slides and pleas for grace, both of myself and others. But the freedom of embracing my flaws is enlightening. The moments of realization and self-awareness, the renewal of personal motivation, the excitement about myself and who I continue to become, the resilience and self-advocacy, the positive affirmations, in short, the growth, no matter how slight, is the most amazing motivation in itself. The false and fruitless weight of perfection is better left abandoned and with that abandonment is the freedom to pursue an authentic, joyful self.

Thank you for joining me in this pursuit! Since my quest for perfection has been the root of so many issues in my life and the release of it was truly a life-changing time for me, I felt this was a good place to start. First very nerve-wracking step taken, whew! I’ll continue to unravel specific situations and relationships as I go along in this endeavor, and there is definitely a lot to unpack! I appreciate any feedback and would love to answer any questions or comments!

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