11300 W. 44th Ave.
Wheat Ridge, CO 80033
5 p.m. – Walk
7 p.m. – Event Concludes
Current status: Clothed in four layers, a scarf, thick wool socks, lying in front of a space heater on a heating pad set on high and topped with not one but two down blankets. I still feel cold. (Thanks low grade fever that won’t go away.)
I consider sharing this fact on social media, where my friends are busy sharing pics of skiing, marching, babies, working out, laughing, loving, traveling. Living.
I choose not to post.
I’d hate for them all to feel jealous of my perfect life.
Anyone who has ever struggled to find meaning and purpose in their life has likely read the advice to return to the things you loved when you were a child, way back before the world decided who you were and what you stood for and how you moved about your day.
Flashback to my 9-year-old self: Surrounded by my worn copy of On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder, six old copies of Reader’s Digest, the current issue of Country Kids magazine, a blanket draped over my head, a flashlight. Sitting behind Dad’s chair on the metal furnace register, burning my butt because I jacked up the heat far above the mandated 68 degrees.
This was my happy space. (Until I was busted for turning up the heat.)
I called my mom this morning to ask her when I stopped being this girl, this girl who put reading above all else. She said sometime around high school, I swapped novels for textbooks and farm kid articles for Teen Beat. “You were go-go-go,” she said. “You still read. Just short stuff.”
“And what about movies?” I asked. She laughed.
“You didn’t have the attention span to watch a sitcom.”
So from high school through my early thirties I continued to go-go-go, playing and socializing and experiencing and traveling and booze-hounding. This stopped six years ago when I got sick. And now I’m often stuck at home while everyone else goes out to play.
But then, a miracle. My partner and second true love bought me a Kindle. Every book that had ever been written was a single click away. (We did have to change Amazon’s “one click settings” when my habit exceeded my budget.)
When I was healthy, I rarely gave myself the luxury of a reading day. If you saw me in public with a paperback, I was using it as a cover for my coffee addiction while pretending I could go five minutes without checking my phone.
Nowadays I collect books like sweet old ladies hoard cats. And I still feel sorry for myself for missing out. But then I think about 9-year-old Carie, back there in Iowa freezing on the farm in the middle of January.
Little Carie would see my life today for what it really is:
I’d rather not be sick. But I’m ever-so-thankful for the reminder of my first true love.
I know. Ridiculous, right? Everyone knows there’s no such thing as perfection. Everyone knows that striving to be perfect leads to nothing more than a first class ticket to the nuthouse.
And yet. There I was. Unable to concentrate on the stuff that mattered, because my eyes only saw all the ways I fail in life: A tree, undecorated and lying on the floor. The floor, covered in fur and crumbs and renegade Christmas glitter. Dishes in the sink that interrupted cookie baking. Tubs filled with castaway decorations awaiting transport back to the garage.
The perfect image in my head of a wonderful holiday season did NOT match what I was seeing.
How to Let Go of Perfection
One of my favorite writers, Martha Beck, encourages those of us intent on recovering to go through a series of exercises- imperfectly, of course.
Exercise 1: Personify Your Inner Perfectionist. Beck believes perfectionism is something we have — like, lupus — rather than something we are. She says to create a visual of your inner perfectionist, name it, scribble it down on paper, then destroy it. “By just externalizing and rejecting your inner critic, you can decrease your anxiety considerably.” I named mine the Grinch.
Exercise 2: Embrace Creative Hopelessness. “Perfectionism never delivers on its promise of perfection.” Beck encourages you to write down your reason for maintaining perfectionism. I wrote down, “I will be able to relax and enjoy those around me once everything falls into place.” Beck then quotes Dr. Phil, asking “How’s that working for you?”
Looking around, I saw that my family was upset with my bad attitude. And even though chaos surrounded us, they were tired and decided it was time to relax.
Beck encourages us to laugh at our misguided follies, which will then allow us to open up to the joy that’s real in our lives. Once I simmered down and laughed at myself, the Grinch’s grip on my heart diminished – ever so slightly.
Exercise 3: Do something badly. Recently a client of mine gave my daughter a book about drawing. In simple steps, it teaches you how to drag dogs and boats and flowers and Santa Claus. I’m a terrible artist, so this was a perfect opportunity to give myself permission to fail. And fail I did. But it gave me and my daughter a really good laugh, and we both had fun trying and failing and being okay with the attempt.
Exercise 4: Just keep showing up. Beck says that the people who win at life are those who keep showing up despite subpar performance. And part of this is learning to let your perfectionism “fuss without succumbing to the anxiety she encourages.”
I guess this means I better keep showing up in my living room, sweeping up pine needles as I can, and laughing when my little girl decides my decorations belong someplace else. And each time I respond with a giggle, it’s less likely that The Grinch will steal my Christmas.
Cheers to a perfectly imperfect holiday season!