Perfection Calls . . .
I haven’t done any official studies or surveys. I’ve read a lot of books and I’ve done a lot of writing. And I’m going to guess that a lot of people reading this blog regularly have issues with perfection. And in our eating disorders, we’ve found something that, finally, we’re “good enough” at. The perfect meal plan, the perfect number. In DBT language this is, of course, emotion mind speaking. Wise mind knows there is no such thing as perfection. But we cling to perfection in our eating disorders. A lot of us cling to perfection in our recoveries as well.
I honestly thought I had conquered my issues with perfection in my recovery. Then three things happened this past February that rocked my boat and made me reach for anything that would make me feel “good enough.” A) I decided, for a multitude of reasons to leave my PhD program, even though school had always been my “thing.” B) I was hit by another depressive episode that landed me in the hospital (I’m bipolar, type 1). C) While I was in the hospital, my cousin died. He was the only cousin of mine on that side of my family whom I could say I really knew. And my emotion mind said, “If you hadn’t been in the hospital, you would have been able to help your cousin.” Definitely not my wise mind speaking there. Not one ounce of rational thought in that sentence at all. And because I was in the hospital, I could not attend the funeral. Another sign of failure.
I did not realize until I did some journaling homework for therapy this previous week how much I wanted that “good enough” feeling back. How easily that feeling translates into “restrict” and get to XXX number. I feel lucky in that my therapist is willing–and rather adamant that we do so–to address this now rather than wait until I’m at a dangerous weight or my medical stability is in jeopardy. Rather than wait until there is a glaring problem, we’re going to stop it from becoming a glaring problem. Yes, my therapist is willing and this makes a huge difference, but I have also been honest with him, and that has, perhaps, been a bigger contribution. Years ago, I never would have been this honest this early.
How my therapist and I are tackling this issue is different than how I’ve tackled it with other therapists in the past. There’s this little part of me that’s going, “He’s not doing it right.” As if there is one perfect way to recover or make progress. But even without doing studies or surveys, I know that there is no one perfect way to recover. We forget that we all got to the illness in different ways for different reasons. We forget this because when we wind up on an eating disorder unit together we’re either at rock bottom or close to it, and that looks the same. The initial stabilization is similar for a lot of people, but then we need to remember that we each need to approach recovery on a unique path. We must confront the different issues that led to the eating disorder, the different anxieties we have about recovery, and we must use our individual strengths as much as we can.
I guess what I’m trying to explain is that you can’t recover “wrong.” I’ve heard people say that they aren’t doing it (recovery) “right” or “good enough” or “perfect.” There are many paths to recovery. Many different approaches. Some will work for some people; some will work for others. There is no magical formula for recovery. Do not judge your own recovery by comparing yourself to someone else. The two of you are two different people and have different needs and will require a different amount of time. Are you headed in the same general direction? Are you working towards the same thing?
Your recovery is all your own. People use “Ed” to name their eating disorders. Give your recovery a name, a name that has personal significance and meaning. Write down your reasons you want to leave Ed in the dust. Write down what you stand to gain by working towards recovery? Give yourself permission to go at your pace; give yourself permission to stumble along the way.
Write “perfection” on a piece of paper and then tear it into tiny pieces.