Confessions of a Recovering Perfectionist

I come to this place, white screen and blinking cursor, full of fear and yet full of relief.  I come to this place like an altar on which to sacrifice my lingering obsession with getting it all right.  I come here to lay down the burden of trying to be enough, be good enough, thin enough, smart enough, rich enough, patient enough, active enough.  All of those lies.

I come here to confess to myself the jarring truth that the pursuit of perfection cannot save me.  Perfection cannot be reached, and even if it could, it would not soothe the discordant pieces of me at war with each other.  The pursuit of perfection can only ever saddle me, burden me, dig its spurs in me till I fall from fruitless exhaustion.  Can only ever run me in circles and leave me footsore and no farther down any path than when I started.

I know that perfection is a wavering mirage, always flitting away as I approach.  Shining and shimmying and not really there.

And yet no matter how many times I lay this burden down, no matter how many times I bleed it here, it always creeps back in, always resurfaces eventually.  It is a sticky kind of trap to find yourself in, this disease.

The thing I tend to forget about being a recovering perfectionist is that, like any addiction, it will always be with me.  So, I come here like others go to group meetings in community centers to stand up and introduce themselves, to name aloud the demon that's got ahold of them.  I come here, like that, to be imperfect out in the light, much as it feels awkward and unwieldy most of the time.

~ ~ ~

I push an armchair across the room, carry a side table over to place beside it, and arrange picture frames on the tabletop, adjusting the angle of the frames bit by bit until I get them just so.  I move another chair, a bookshelf, a lamp.  I stand back, an agitation building like uncomfortable friction in my thinking.  It's not quite right.  I start again, arranging and rearranging, each layout producing a unique tinge of discomfort, each painfully not quite, well, perfect.

It becomes a mania, this need to get each piece of furniture in the perfect spot, a drive that blots out the voices of my children and the sound of my phone chirping notifications from the counter in the next room.  Finally, I settle on what feels like the lesser of evils, the least agitating configuration I can manage.  I sit down on the couch with the sweet child who has been wandering around the room behind me, reminding me every few seconds that he would really like me to read him a book already, but I stop reading mid-sentence to stare at the way this new configuration has thrown off the symmetry of the art on the wall.  That whole wall's off kilter now, I think, going back to the book but internally obsessing over that spot on the wall, feeling the imbalance hang there, glaring, unfinished.  Imperfect.

Later, at dinner, my husband will say that he likes the new furniture arrangement, and I will want to tell him everything that's wrong with it, everything that's off but I can't find a way to fix so it will have to just sit there, being not quite what I envisioned.  And my oldest son will tell my husband how I moved all of the furniture around and then moved it all again, and then put it all back the way it was the first time and paced around the room looking at it like a cat with its tail twitching, keyed up and restless. My husband will say to my son, though he's really speaking to me, "She always thinks she has to get everything perfect."  And my son will tell me, "There's no such thing as perfect."  We will make it into a joke, me pretending I have a superpower that can make things perfect and him arguing, saying, "Nuh-uh, no one is perfect," with a grin ten miles wide on his face.

~ ~ ~

I write because I was made to write.  There is no other way for me to describe it, really.  I write because it was stitched into my DNA and it cannot be expunged.  Not because I am good at it or I am trying to make a living out of it or because I want people to praise me for it.  I'm just terribly incapable of not writing somehow.

But, for many years, I wrote in secret.  For years, I wrote page after page of text I had no intention of ever letting anyone read.  I buried those words in notebooks and boxes and little electronic manilla folders with vague names meant to keep people from opening them.  Nothing was ever finished enough to share, never quite as good as I wanted it to be.

It was just never perfect, and in my poor un-recovered perfectionist mind, not being able to get it perfect was the same as failing at it altogether.

So, see, I come here not only to share the stories of this strange, off kilter, beautiful, imperfect life, but also to embrace the imperfection inherent in the act of sharing. These are the words I've been given, every typo, every mixed metaphor, every meandering post winding its slow way to a resolution.

And this is the life I have been given, these mismatched pieces of hand-me-down furniture, these stubborn, filthy, gorgeous children.  This job, this house, these invisible-without-mascara eyelashes.  These soft thighs, this untamed temper, this pantry full of generic, non-organic cereal.

When I forget that these things are beautiful, these real, imperfect things, I come here.  I lay down the terrible burden of perfection, and I drink from the broken cup that is my life.  I drink grace and forgiveness and gratitude.  I taste and see that it is good.  I open the doors to this dirty, disheveled house, and I say: come on in, welcomeIt's messy but it's full of light.  It's not the nicest house on the block but it's full of love.

The cursor blinks at me, and I lay myself bare.  And oh it hurts, and oh it feels good to put it all down for a while, this senseless weight I carry.  I stand up and say, "Hello, my name is Liz, and I'm a perfectionist."

Image Credit, used under Creative Commons License.


  1. Love your writing. I know your pain. Thank you.


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