“ Messages of perfectionism are tricks because we can never achieve their goal.” I am a perfect poster child for perfectionism. 8)
I spent so much of my life expecting to never make mistakes, to always know everything. to respond emotionally with perfect timing to some prearranged script like a veteran actress on a stage. I would keep myself on a tight course, never allowing for minor issues like traffic jams or a late spouse. I was always tightly wrapped and stressed out because I couldn’t let go of these crazy expectations. And I wasn’t much fun to be around either.
Many people tried to tell me to “relax” and “let go” but I really and truly never understood what the hell they were talking about. I tried to relax, reading self-help book after self-help book without results. Therapy helped some and so did the steps but it is only with the passing of years and more time to myself that I can truly see the cause of my problems - those huge expectations.
What a dilemma it was but one so easily solved. I just needed to turn my recovery over to my higher power and then I could let go of being perfect. Boy, it was hard for me though but not everyone learns as slowly as I do. Maybe you’ve already got it.
Two days ago my good friend died. While not sudden, it was very quick and I was not prepared at all. To make matters worse, I am alone here in Florida, away from my home and my friends and family. Thank God for phones and computers or I think I would have been in for a much rougher time. The program is always there when you need it.
This is not my first swing at grieving, of course. I am sixty-five and after three sober decades, I have lost other people that I have loved and I know that while grief is painful, it is a mental and physical and spiritual celebration of my time with the person I loved. And I am grateful that I knew I loved my friend and was aware enough to share that with her while she was alive and could hear it.
Once I was so disconnected from my feelings that I did not know when I loved or was loved. I had a fear of loving, terror that I would get hurt. I substituted other things that I thought were love. I settled for less than I was able to give and receive in order to protect myself from the possible pain of loss.
As I feel that very pain of loss now, I can tell you that loving is always worth it. Love is worth everything, one day at a time. Thank you my friend for all the love you gave me. I needed every drop.
I can often look back with the clear vision of having made it to the other side of things and I can see that any mistakes have been for the best. My higher power has always had my back and as long as I try to live a good life, I believe I will be taken care of. Of course, I don’t always get what I want but I always get what I need. I have a story I tell sponsees to illustrate this concept.
I once was madly in love with a man who still lived with his mother. This man wanted to marry me but his mother was against it. She said it was because I was a divorcee but I think she didn’t want to lose her son. Anyway, she won and my dearly beloved called the marriage off. I was bereft. I cried, begged and pleaded, trying to get my way. This ruined what was left of the relationship and we broke up.
I was desperately unhappy and I started to look at my life in the harsh illumination that pain often brings. I was willing to change myself. I thought about what I might do. Finally, I enrolled in nursing school. And despite enormous fear, I persisted and I graduated and became a nurse.
It was a few years later that I was looking back at my life as a sober woman when I realized that going back to school was what I had needed to do but I wouldn’t have done it if I had married this man I was so besotted with. And these many years later I can tell you that becoming a nurse did my life more good than marrying a man who was ruled by his mother could have. And so I continue to repeat this mantra,”Thy will not mine be done.”
I remember how it was when I was first sober. I told my therapist one day that I didn’t want to go into the house at night when no one was there. She asked me what the feeling was and I didn’t know. So we agreed that I would take a few moments out in the garage to think about it before I went in. I can still remember sitting out in that garage, clueless. Finally, I got it that I was lonely. What a revelation!
This weekend I have had to confront my loneliness again. I have been alone for less than a week - most of that was pretty busy. Suddenly this weekend, I realize I am lonely despite not wanting to be. So I had a little cry and made some calls where I talked about nothing much but the human contact from the program was helpful and I felt better.
Today I am still lonely. But I am grateful that I have all my feelings. For many years I ran from them to the bottle or other addictive behaviors. As a result, I was doomed to repeat past events because I couldn’t learn what was good for me and what wasn’t. To have feelings is an added radar that helps me move through my life.
Being able to sit with this loneliness has been such a gift. As I watch the intensity wane I am aware that I may be making a close approximation of normal behavior. I guess this is recovery.
Yesterday I spoke at the women’s meeting downtown. I had agreed to speak because I always try to say yes when asked. And while speaking, I felt that I did a pretty good job of “what it was like, what happened and what it is like now”.
Not unexpectedly I felt a wave of gratitude for the program and my sponsor of twenty-eight years. So I want to write today about my concept of sponsorship.
I feel I am especially blessed to have had the same sponsor for most of my sobriety. She loved me before I could love myself and taught me how to be a sober woman worthy of respect. She helped me navigate the rocky shores of my extreme thinking when I was unable to see the way forward through the 12 steps. And she taught me how to sponsor other women with the realization that there are many ways to get sober and that I do not know all the answers. She has always been there in a corner of my mind as a reference point even when I don’t see her for awhile.
I hope that I will be able to pass on some of what she has given me but I can only do my best. As she once told me when I was berating myself for not being omniscient, “You are an imperfect tool of your Higher Power.” That has stuck with me all these years and given me comfort from my perfectionism. I couldn’t ask for more.
Today I realized that I miss my cold Northeast home but I am so good at disconnecting from my feelings that I almost missed it. Meditation really helps to clear my mind and show me where I am at really - the sweeping the side of the street the program recommends. So what to do with the information? It is in the midst of winter with snow emergencies, freezing rain and all. I certainly don’t want to go home. Life can be so complex sometimes.
We continue our search for an acceptable vacation home. Today our new friend Penn took us to a nice development out of town and there was a neat looking smallish house with a backyard backing up on some woods. We supposedly will see it and two others tomorrow with our realtor. I am still ambiguous about a purchase but I will probably accept it. At least I have dealt with the fear of making a mistake that was keeping me from making a decision before. Progress not perfection…
Yesterday was filled with camaraderie and manatees. Elaine is still vaguely sick with a cold but up and doing. However, I find myself giving her a lot of direction because I am worried that she hasn’t fully recovered yet. I am also aware that I am trying to cure her and to do that I need to diagnose her correctly. This is one of the crazier things in my unrealistic expectations of Fran. I am not a doctor. I am still a nurse but I haven’t practiced in years. How can I be expected to diagnose anyone? Still, I find myself monitoring, monitoring, monitoring…
Besides, this is a cold not cancer. But even though it is a cold I find myself off in worst case scenarios at times and I have to return to turning it over. No wonder I am such a fearful person. With my mind, anyone would be.
So I ask my higher power to take care of Elaine because I can’t. Then I try to relax and just enjoy the day. Off to the beach.
Ah, today I realized that the fear of making a mistake is very clearly holding me back from making a decision to bring about this needed change. I have periodically suffered from a closely held belief that I should not make mistakes. Somehow the world will crumble and I will be turned out to live alone and unloved if any mistakes occur. I know this is a childish belief and illogical. I can’t be human and be perfect. How can I learn if I don’t allow myself mistakes?
And so today I try to remember to ask for guidance; make my best decision and then turn over the results. I give myself the occasional break if the results are less than expected. I try to treat myself as I would my beloved grandson when he makes an error, with love and compassion.
Lastly, I have begun to believe there are no mistakes. As I look back over the more than three decades of my sobriety, I realize that even my worst blunders turned out for the best. At any rate, they are part of who I am. They may even be some of the best parts of me. Certainly, they taught me a lot.
So I hereby turn over the results of my decision. Now to make one!
This is where we begin. Elaine and I are sequestered from the winter, armed with books and laptops and IPad. We are trying to think our way through to the next change. There is a lot of rambling, sitting, writing and gazing off out the window. I don’t know if any of it helps but it gives structure to our days as we approach the new horizon.