It's Friiiiiiiiday again!!! The weather here is rubbish, it is heading towards winter, I am envious of you Northern Hemisphere-ites! This time last year we were getting ready for our trip to Europe... yep we skipped winter and had three summers in a row... so I shouldn't really complain.
I have never been a typical perfectionist. I am messy, I am disorganised and at school I couldn't care less about my grades. I am however, and have always been (as far as I can recall) an extremest. Things have always been black and white for me, all or nothing, life or death. This applies to my moods, my thoughts, my actions, my relationships and my plans. I was never too good at just letting things be, letting them unfold and accepting things as they are. I have changed this a great deal over the past six years of my journey - the time I have been in some phase of recovery from various things. I am much better at accepting that what will be will be and that I cannot change what I cannot change. I am not crippled by anywhere near the anxiety that I used to be. It is still there, but it is manageable.
Throughout my life, whatever I did, I did it to the extreme. When I was young I danced until I couldn't dance any more, and I had a black belt at age 17. I started drinking at 15 and within a year was out of control. I didn't care much about school but if I decided I would be good at a subject then I became obsessive. My first real relationship began when i was 17 and we were engaged by the time i was 19. I left home early and I lived it up large. Everything to excess and to the extreme. Adventure and dangerous sports excited me and I thrived on adrenalin, chaos and drama. My mother has commented that she could tell that I was never happy with myself because I was forever changing my appearance. I began acquiring piercings and tattoos and different coloured hair while I was still in high school and have never stopped. If i decided to do something, there was no stopping me, and if I decided to not do something then I wouldn't budge. I was and I am stubborn to a fault.
Maybe it isn't always a good thing, but it certainly isn't always a bad thing. My extremism has saved me many times also. I have given up so many destructive vices using my stubborn determination. When I decided for real to give up drinking, under threat of hospitalisation, I did it cold turkey end of story. Likewise with self harm, purging, negative relationships and the list goes on. A couple of years ago I decided to finally stop restricting and to eat proper food rather than the liquid supplements I had lived on for too long. I made the decision and I obsessively ate every meal every day for over a year. Like so many other things in my life I just decided one day to do it and that was that. Extreme, perfect, obsessive and stubborn
I know too many people will relate, whether it is extremism, perfectionism, obsession or any other kind of black and white thinking. It goes with the territory I hear.
Hand in hand with this kind of thinking is self criticism. I am my own worst critic and I see it happening with other people too. If I don't get something 'right' or how I wanted it straight off then I 'fail' in my eyes. Other's will tell me I am too harsh on myself and that I haven't failed but it is what I feel or what I tell myself like a broken record. It becomes irrational too, to the point where at university I would refuse to study for an exam, or begin an essay until after it was due for fear of failure... My logic was that if I failed then it was because I had messed up rather than because I had done poor work. If I could leave it until beyond the last minute and still get a good mark, then I had achieved. Thankfully I had very patient tutors. I know that I won't purge my food or drink alone no matter how desperate the urge because I am that afraid of failing, and that obsessed with keeping things perfect. I have been told for years that I am my own worst enemy, far too tough on myself, that I am actually good enough as I am. I try to be accepting of this however that voice is still there keeping me in line.
Recently I did slip. I lapsed with my eating. I was struggling in therapy and had began a new job and simply stopped. Of course two things happened, first the obsessive black and white thinking came in that since I had stopped eating I could not mess it up, I could not eat anything. Second the critic came in beating me up for failing at recovery.
Now I am clever enough to know that starving will get me nowhere, I have done that before and well I have too much to lose now and so I decided to throw myself back into doing the 'eating thing' perfectly. What happened? It got messy. My thinking became dangerous, my mood became disastrous and all the PTSD yuck intruded with force. I started to replace meals with liquid nutrition again, as I had done for years before I began eating last time however I felt like such a failure for doing this. I had started eating successfully before, why couldn't I do it, and be safe, this time too? I didn't want to give in to destructive of fatalistic urges so I stuck with liquid, but I have been so damn frustrated and angry with myself for this 'failure'. I decided to eat so why couldn't I once again do it 'perfectly'? Anything less than 'perfect' is failure right?
Over the past two days in therapy we have explored this. What I have just now realised fully is that last time I began eating I was also on uni holidays, not working, and able to go for almost daily half marathon walks. What enabled me to eat 'perfectly' was that I was compensating, and therefore it wasn't so perfect after all. Sure it was a big improvement on the past however it was still disordered behaviour. This time around, I am working and I am not compensating for eating. I am eating however I am struggling with some meals still and am replacing them with liquid nutrition. It feels like failure to me but it is being drilled into me that I need to be kind to myself and realise that I am making steps forward and in a more sustainable way. I don't need to do things 100% black or white if it is going to lead to destructive behaviour. It is OK to make steps and slower progress if it means I am safer, healthier and setting myself up for a better chance at long term recovery. As long as I keep moving forward then I am not failing. This still feels alien to me but these days I am open to trying.
And so I need to be kind to myself.
This post was somewhat self indulgent but I felt like sharing - I am sure I can't be alone in this kind of thinking...
And although the weather today is rubbish, it hasn't all been bad... It was actually nice earlier in the week...