By Angie Viets, LCP, Guest Contributor
Learning how to believe I’m good enough still feels like walking on a tightrope. Each step is calculated and timid. Fearing the fall into the dark abyss of my past, I move cautiously. Breath held, hands shaking, arms outstretched for balance as I try not to look down. When can I relax, breathe, and trust in myself that all will be well? When will I float above the tightrope with the grace of a ballerina, light on her toes?
Eating disorder symptoms are often driven by the belief - wait no, the knowing - that you’re inadequate and unacceptable. I’ve released all of the powerfully impairing behaviors that dictated my life when I was suffering from an eating disorder. I’m so grateful that I got out of that neverending cycle, but the truth is, when the behaviors are long gone, the beliefs still linger.
Starving, bingeing, purging, and compulsively exercising somehow successfully manage to both deny and exacerbate the core belief that you’re wildly messed up. As a recovering perfectionist, I made a pact with myself that I would try to find the in between. The place in the middle between perfect and failure. That place called good enough.
At first, good enough started letting me off the hook a little. Easing up, letting go, releasing the A+ mentality. And yet, the voice - that mean, cruel asshole that lives in my head reminds me that good enough is a C, it’s average, it’s plain. But there are no teachers with red ink grading me. I control the red pen, and I’m a merciless grader.
That red pen strives to control me. It wants me to go back and make corrections. To make a cake from scratch for my child’s birthday, rather than a box cake. The red pen tells me I’ve failed my preschooler based on his lack of mastery of the alphabet and numbers. His older brother, my first born was far ahead of him by now. I took the time for my oldest; there’s a baby book to prove it. But the third child, I often feel he’s left to figure it out on his own. I've failed.
Much like a grade card is divided into subjects, my life is as well. I get graded on the following subjects: Wife, Mother, Daughter, Sister, Neighbor, Friend, Writer, Therapist, Pet Owner. Formerly my classes were: Thinness, Prettiness, Popularity, Guys, Grades, Approval. I got pissed off enough to shred that grade card, and I'm ready to do the same with this one.
I’m laying down the pen. I’m laying down the belief, again, that there is a standard for any of this that matches up with my value system. They say in the end, all that matters is how well we gave and received love. I’ve seen this first-hand. In the end, it was true, all that was left was love, and it was beyond enough.
Love is my antidote to perfectionism. Just love. I don’t want how well I’ve loved others to be measured in a cake, or how high they can count, or if there are perfect baby books. My love in infinite and unable to the quantified.
So every time that red pen wants to grade my performance, I’m going to draw a big red heart. Inside that heart I’m going to write down what matters most: Wife, Mother, Daughter, Sister, Neighbor, Friend, Writer, Therapist, Pet Owner. I’m going to live inside that heart, in the peaceful knowing that if love is all that truly matters, I’m doing one hell of a good job.
So what’s your strategy when the beast of perfectionism shows up? Do you try to outrun it, or do you turn and face him and shower him with your love?
Angie Viets, LCP, is a clinical psychotherapist in private practice. She specializes in the treatment of eating disorders, body image, and overeating. Angie is dedicated to empowering others to nurture their body, mend their relationship with food, and to embody their most authentic self. Her passion for the field was born out of her own hard-won battle with an eating disorder.
Angie is currently in the process of writing her first book, where she will demystify eating disorder recovery and offer inspiration and guidance to those suffering in silence. Her writing is featured on Psychology Today, Huffington Post, Recovery Warriors, and recognized eating disorder treatment centers throughout the country. Connect with Angie.