Written by: Melissa Kenyon
Hi ViR readers!
My name is Melissa and I’m very honored to be doing a guest post for Voice in Recovery on the topic of perfectionism. I’m by no means an expert in this area, but I do think I have some unique perspectives to share since I started my blog, Project Bare, as a way of combating my own personal need to be perfect, both in my ED recovery and my everyday life.
I’m 22 years young. I had a serious eating disorder in college and, during my recovery, it sparked a passion in me for helping others who are suffering from EDs as well. I started Project Bare to convince myself and others that it’s OK to be imperfect, especially in recovery, and it has evolved into a beautiful place full of honesty and positivity. I am in the process of starting my own nonprofit called Reverb, which will help ED sufferers to stay in recovery by channeling their intensity and passion into healthy and productive outlets. Please feel free to stop by my blog, www.projectbareblog.com to see what it’s about or share a story of your own!
As I have shared with my readers, when I first started on my road to recovery, my natural inclination was to believe that, after reading a few books and going to a couple therapy sessions, I was “healed.” In my mind, I was stronger if I could just get over it quicker and fast track my life to being perfect again. I approached recovery like I would an all-you-can-eat buffet; I wanted to keep the good parts of my eating disorder on my plate and just skip over those parts I didn’t like. Unfortunately, we don’t get to be picky when it comes to recovery; getting better means being able to let go of your ED in its entirety; both the good and the bad. If you think you can get better without relinquishing your perfection, I’ll tell you straight up that it’s just not possible–I’m a prime example of that. Missteps and relapses were not in my game plan, but it didn’t stop them from surfacing anyway.
So here’s the real truth: there is no place for perfection in recovery. The notion sounds ridiculous, right? For many of us, our whole lives have been wrapped up in being perfect, how can we just settle now for a life of imperfection?
If you’re anything like me in my ED days, you’re used to other people’s praise reinforcing your behaviors. I used to think, “Why would I stop what I’m doing if everyone is telling me how great I look or how tiny I am?” But I’ll let you in on a little secret—it’s my imperfections that garner more praise and admiration now than any perceived perfection I had before.
I started Project Bare when I had just truly embraced recovery for the first time (about a year and a half after I thought I was “healed”) and it absolutely terrified me. Everyday, I would reveal something about myself that I had been ashamed to tell others in the past; a lot of which concerned my ED. I knew that I would feel better to get it all off my chest and just end the rat race of trying to be perfect all the time; what I didn’t expect was how overwhelmingly positive the response from others would be.
Every day since I’ve been doing Project Bare, I get comments and emails from people praising me for what I’m doing, admiring my courage to lay my imperfections bare. My point in telling you that is not to brag; I just want you to see how common it is for all of us—not just those of us with EDs—to struggle with our imperfections and want so badly to just come clean. It’s exhilarating! When I have a bad day and I feel like it would be so easy to just slip back into my old ways, I tell everyone. Strange, right? At first I thought so, too. But, after a little while, I found that no one was condemning me for how I felt—they all just want to cheer me on as I navigate my path to recovery and give me the support I need to make it. Your perfectionism makes you just like the other 24 million ED patients in this country struggling to be perfect; your imperfections are what set you apart.
I’ve learned a lot through my trials and errors in recovery, so I wanted to share a few things that worked for me. We’re all unique, however, so take them or leave them as you see fit for your own recovery 🙂
- Be your own critic… I burned a lot of bridges by being unable to take other people’s criticism, paranoid that they were exposing how flawed I was. When I started to acknowledge my own imperfections, I figured out that it was a LOT easier than hiding them—there’s not a single person on Earth that doesn’t have flaws, so I wasn’t alone!
- …but also cut yourself some slack. Admitting you aren’t perfect is healthy, but make sure you don’t go overboard with it. Berating yourself for your flaws is just as unproductive as trying to be perfect. The key is to strike a balance between being too hard on yourself and developing an “anything goes” attitude. I know how daunting that sounds, but I swear it gets easier.
- Embrace imperfection in eating. A book that truly saved my life was “Intuitive Eating,” by dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. A section of the book encourages ED patients to enter an “experimentation” phase in which we try out previously forbidden foods a little at a time and attempt to work them into our regular diet. When I first started reading the book, I made a list of foods I really wanted to try again, but had been afraid to eat for years. I can happily say that, with a lot of work in the experimentation phase, I can eat all of those foods whenever the mood strikes without feeling guilty. And now that they’re not forbidden, I never binge on them either!
- Give the people around you the benefit of the doubt. You may think they will condemn you for being imperfect, but the truth is, many of them will admire you for your bravery (and wish they could be that brave in coming clean about their own imperfections!) Start by telling someone you really trust and then work your way to others whom you’re not as close with. It gets easier as the positive reinforcement comes with each person you tell.
- Love your quirks. They always say “start small” when you’re tackling something that seems insurmountable. Maybe you’re not ready to lay it all on the line yet (that’s perfectly understandable!) but you can start to condition yourself to move away from your perfectionist tendencies by embracing those quirky things about yourself that you might be embarrassed to reveal. Do you still dance to boy bands on your iPod or talk to yourself when you’re alone? Those are the kind of things that make you YOU—so embrace them and know that there is no one else like you out there!!!
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