04 March, 2008

perfectly imperfect

Natty recently wrote a post about the ways that a discipline relationship helped her to be able to give herself permission not to be perfect.

It really resonated with me, and I found myself with more to say than it seemed fair to fill up the comments section of *her* blog with, so instead, I'm writing here.

For me, and I mean this collectively, I've worked for at least the past 20-odd years on being perfectly imperfect. What I mean by that is, somewhere late in grade school, and definitely by middle school, I realized that being *too* good meant that I wasn't appropriately demonstrating that everything was ok. It was vital for me to seem to be like the other kids at school. Home was something of a different story. At home, not only did I need to maintain levels of perfection that, looking back, were *insanely* difficult, but I needed to behave as though I was not, in fact, doing so. I needed to look as though I didn't consider myself to be especially good, or smart, or hard-working. So I guess some of the perfect imperfection happened at home, too.

So what could I do? I didn't have the space to make mistakes with this. It wasn't something I could really do through trial and error. I had to figure out how to be perfect without ever calling attention to the perfection (not that I achieved it, naturally. Not bragging here!)

I started by reading. I would read stories about normal kids, or kids who had access to magic but were otherwise normal, or kids who lived in the past but were otherwise normal. I would see that they made mistakes, or misbehaved. I memorized how they would respond, and practiced it in my head. Then I began to write my own stories, stories about kids who were normal, or maybe they had access to magic or lived in a different world, but were normal. That is to say, kids not going through abuse.

I did this for a couple of years, until I felt like I had some sense of where the boundaries were. How to be a little snarky in safe situations (ie, school), but not cross over the line into misbehavior.

And I learned to create a semblance of normalcy. I learned to put out a vibe that let people think that everything was ok, that the reason I didn't go to parties or really hang out except for at school functions was more that I was introverted, and not that there were things going on behind the scenes that made it impossible for me to be a normal kid.

I learned it well enough that I don't know if any of my teachers realized that the hard work I put in to doing well in school was that the only, absolutely the ONLY escape route I had been able to see was getting into college and leaving home. Because I practiced being like the other smart kids, the ones who had always known they would go to college, the ones who had some reason to be confident it would happen, the ones whose families might even be helping them to figure it out. I constantly watched the signals, figured out what to do by guesswork.

A lot of what I mean by talking about being perfectly imperfect is that I also did everything I could to act as though mistakes weren't life-shattering. By high school, I had a good sense of what "normal" looked like, and I was getting pretty good at imitating it. I don't mean that I tried to fit in much with the other kids, because there wasn't a snowball's chance of me doing that. But I *did* know that there was nothing wrong with being different, and I figured if I had the persona of being quirky, that might mask the deeper differences beneath the surface. So I was a nerd, I didn't bother trying to be fashionable. I made myself not care about not being able to do lots of normal teenaged things.

By adulthood, I realized another thing. Someone who had gone through my childhood was gonna have issues. I had issues up the wazoo. They were causing some problems.

However, I also had a community where this was... I guess normal enough. I knew lots of people who had issues, and I knew what to do. You go to therapy. You work to heal. And I knew what healing looked like, and did my best to copy that. Probably, if I didn't have DID, it would have worked.

The thing with being perfectly imperfect, though, is that the point is, you have an obstacle (lets say, oh, fibromyalgia and DID). And you accept it. And you do all of the right things, and choose to overcome that obstacle. By sheer force of will, in the Zen sense of force of will, which is to say, by accepting it and working through it, and doing all of the right things. You know, by walking with a cane and resting when necessary, but somehow, being able to continue to overcome. By going to therapy and support groups and writing in your journal and deciding that you're going to communicate with the different parts, and somehow, being able to make it all work.

I am desperate for that vision of perfection. The version where yes, these things are here, and there is something I can choose to do that will hurry me along to the place where I can continue to be perfectly imperfect. Someone with flaws, but who is able to be... I don't know. Perfect, without being perfect.

So then there's discipline, or rules, or this thing we do. And I still strive to be perfectly imperfect. I expect that maybe just by having the rules, or by breaking them very rarely, and then getting punished, then I will miraculously be able to have self control, and not need the rules any more. That I will be able to stand on my own, needing only the help that makes other people feel good for helping me, and not the help that makes other people (W) frustrated and overwhelmed.

Part of being perfectly imperfect is being able to be helped easily, with the first thing a person tries. Or, if not that, it's being able to explain clearly what it is that I need, and how to give it to me.

The fact is, though, I'm not perfectly imperfect. I'm just plain old ordinary imperfect. I hate that like poison.

I break a rule, get punished, and break it again. And again. And again.

W gets exhausted and frustrated, and I'm not able to make myself trust that she's not going to give up on me, so I marshall all of my persuasive abilities to get her to agree to stop having the rules. And then I am furious with her for giving up on me.

Or I go to therapy, and I learn strategies, or I talk about the things in the past. And somehow, it doesn't get through. I find myself unable to use the self-care strategies, and instead, spiral into things like not eating, or pulling away from the people who might be able to help me. I close off, I shut down.

Even when everyone around me insists I really am working hard, and making progress, I find myself unable to accept it. Instead, I push myself to get better faster. Or, more likely, I get furious with myself (myselves) for being unable to get better faster. I struggle to make myself do the right things, and fail. I push myself to do more, and fail.

Not quite sure where I was going with this. I guess the point is, I'm never going to achieve that level of perfection, the one where I am flawed yet perfect. I'm just going to be plain old ordinary imperfect. And I'm not sure how to allow myself to accept that.

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