From a young age, I had a taste for alcohol. I desired the delightful woozy, boozy release wash over me.
For as long as I can remember, I also had a thirst for perfection.
The more I learn about myself, the more I see how my behaviors came to be.
Like everyone, most of my ways of being were formed in early childhood.
My behaviors perhaps originated to protect me, and stayed long after their job was done.
My enneagram tells me I am a high achiever (3), perfectionist (1), and helper (2).
This makes *perfect* sense to me.
One time I took the test as a 1,2,3 and the next as a 3,2,1.
Regardless, the way I operate is, 1- everything needs to be perfect 2- I want to help and please others immensely and 3- I have to be the best at everything all the time.
I was the first child of divorce in both my families at a very young age.
Naturally, anyone who loved me, was concerned for me. This kind of childhood trauma can last a lifetime.
I used to think the word “trauma” was a bit dramatic and should be reserved for shock and awe accidents or war type situations. I didn't want that word associated with me. How tragic and imperfect!
Trauma is defined as our emotional response to a distressing experience. Few people go through life without trauma. Even though I don't remember it and everyone protected me as best they could, my parent's divorce, naturally, had a lasting effect on me. There was nothing wrong with me. It is normal to have an emotional response to a distressing experience.
I was loved deeply by many. However, I took my Dad's absence personally. I thought if I was better, more perfect, a higher achiever, or more helpful, then I could earn his love.
Now I know that wasn’t true. He loved me the best he could. He had his own challenges and struggles that limited his availability to me.
I saw it as my job to comfort those around me and to protect both of my parents.
If I was doing very well for myself, that would send a message to everyone that everything would be ok.
I desperately wanted everything and everyone to be ok.
My Mom’s ok.
My Dad’s ok.
I needed us to be ok. I needed everyone to know we were fine. I communicated this by being as perfect as possible.
The times I looked forward to were the rare times when both my Mom and Dad were together.
This usually happened annually at my parent teacher elementary school conferences.
I got lots of attention for good grades and positive remarks.
The better I performed, the more I was loved, or so I thought.
I desperately wanted my parents, my family and myself to be ok. So I pretended I was ok and swept everything else under the rug. I taught myself to stuff discomfort at a young age.
By the time I found alcohol, I was primed to love it. Living in a small town Wisconsin, it was celebrated as a right of passage. My environment encouraged it. My genetics craved it. I had loved ones with tricky relationships to alcohol on both sides of my family. I loved alcohol at first sip. It took the edge of my demanding inner critic telling me that I wasn’t perfect enough. This was a constant tape running in the background of my mind on repeat. What a relief to shut the inner critic up for a minute and just let myself be. Thank you warm Busch Lite!
My perfectionism later in life prevented me from addressing my alcohol problem for a long time. I had many limiting beliefs that I am still working to overcome with a new mindset.
Here’s a few limiting beliefs and the ways perfectionism kept me drinking.
I don’t have a problem.
I am not allowed to have a problem. I cannot have problems. There is no struggle. Everything is fine. I always desperately need everything to be fine.
Still today, I have a hard time admitting mistakes. I want to be right about everything. Being right, perfect, and problemless proves my worth. It was the only way to be in my past.
Now, I know that problems are opportunities to overcome and practice resilience. There is no life without problems. There is no perfect life. Problems are part of living a wholistic life. Having no problems would not be a realistic goal. I am not in control of everything. If I expect to not have problems, I am set up for a disappointing life. I didn’t realize the internal messages I was telling myself.
My face burns with embarrassment just thinking about admitting I might be struggling. One extreme example of me ignoring problems was that when I was still drinking, I swept the kitchen floor with a broken leg. That is how out of touch I was with myself. Absolutely ignoring and denying that there was anything wrong. I was so far from the truth. I was trying desperately to protect myself and tell myself everything was ok, even as I stumbled around in excruciating pain trying to sweep the kitchen floor as the most important task.
Ironically, it was the opposite that ultimately saved me. It was me saying, “there’s something wrong. I am not ok.” These are the words that saved my life.
I don’t need help.
I don’t want to worry anyone. I don’t want to bother anyone. Don’t worry about me. My needs come last. Let me take care of you. It’s not ok to have needs. Don’t be needy. Always be breezy. Don’t have emotional needs. Don’t rely on anyone. Be independent. You’ve got this. Do it on your own. No complaining. You’re fine. Don’t be dramatic. Don't be such an attention hog. Get the spotlight off of you.
This is impossible. Connection is everything.
What is life, if we don’t share honestly in our relationships?
We all need help sometimes. As a helper, I love helping. Giving others an opportunity and some direction on how to help me is a gift for us both. I see it this way now.
I am practicing asking for help all the time. It is so much better this way! Who knew?!
I don’t have to do everything on my own. I am learning to give and the bigger challenge, to receive.
It’s not ok to receive
I watch my dog Rocky absolutely lavish in love and attention. He is the best receiver of love that I know. I watch him and I see that it is hard for me to accept love. I don’t feel worthy of it. I didn’t allow it and for most of my life I pushed it away. Even something as simple as a compliment I had to discard. I had to give credit elsewhere. Anywhere but myself. Do you like this shirt? It was on sale. It’s dumb. You think I’m doing a good job? It could be better. Let me tell you how…
Enough already. I am enough. I am worthy. I am trying to let love in. It is a work in progress. It feels so good though to not only love but also to be loved. I can be loved in my current condition. Progress is progress, I'm already perfect.
I should be able to handle it, all.
Pile it on. Everything. Every single responsibility in the world. Just keep piling the weight of a thousand men on my shoulders and I’ll keep going up the hill at full speed. How the heck is this supposed to work? Why have I done this to myself? It’s insanity.
This is how I rolled for most of my life. I’ll never forget taking on a big job, as one of few females in a high level position, surrounded by men. We were on a weekend long corporate retreat and the men in my same position were sharing their goals to be so successful.
The collective, biggest, goal for them was to earn enough money so their wives could be full time stay at home moms. I thought to myself. I am The Full Time Stay at Home Mom. And I have the same demanding full time job as you. WTF?
I see it in my own house. My family is relaxing (as they should), while I, on the other hand, am running around, absolutely sweating, trying to complete everything that “needs” to be done.
Why do I put this pressure on myself?
I should not be able to do it all. I should learn how to take care of myself. First. Top priority.
Do I want to live my life carrying around these unrealistic expectations and the weight of the world without asking for help from perfectly capable people around me? Do I want to be an absolute servant to my high demands of pleasing others, an impossible task mind you? No, I don’t!
I want to let these things go. I want to only handle what I can handle. I want to have a joyful life, not just a productive life. I no longer want to overfunction. I don’t want guilt and shame to be the fuel that has me in a life of servitude in my own house. I want to rest and restore myself.
Positive Vibes Only
I have a naturally upbeat and sunny personality. I also have a full spectrum of intense emotions. In short, I cry a lot. Tears spill out at times without warning. A song on my playlist, a memory, looking at my cute dog.
I mean just about anything has me in my feelings. I used to put on a happy face. I was literally class clown. I love to laugh. I love to have a good time. Alcohol helped me wear that mask of good vibes only. Joking about having a drink seemed to lighten up any mood in any room with any audience. All the time I was stuffing and hiding my discomfort that seemed to come out eventually, sideways in a messy thaw.
Through my sober journey, I have learned to let myself feel all my feelings. The goal is not to be happy all the time. The goal is to take care of myself through the whole spectrum of human experience. I now let myself be seen, even when I feel vulnerable. I let others see when I’m scared. I share when I’m sad. I wear every emotion and not just a mask of happiness. Ironically, when I allow myself to feel and share the truth, my joy is deepened.
I see how my need for perfection helped me in my childhood. I also see how it became maladaptive and delayed addressing my alcohol problem in adulthood. I still have many perfectionist tendencies. I am working on releasing my grip a little at a time. I am taking a pause and learning to accept things more how they are. This has been one of many beautiful lessons in sobriety.