Ready or Not….The Holidays Are Coming

It is that time of year again where EVERYONE gets crazy.  If you are a recovering perfectionist that has kids, no matter how far you have come, you feel the anxiety and perfectionism slowly take hold of you.  That can be me.  Honestly, no matter how cool I play it, if I do not fight it really really REALLY hard, perfectionism and unrealistic expectations will ruin Christmas EVERY DANG time.

First, let me tell you something.  My husband thinks I am old enough and mature enough to have Thanksgiving at our house.  And I agreed.  I am not sure what planet I was on at the time but I responded with a “WOO HOO!  YES!  Let’s do it!”  Then, when I was wide awake at 3 am one morning…..like a slow vine it began to sink in…. I, me, the girl that my mom refused to eat any of my food when she came over, is going to prepare, host, etc…an entire holiday for people.

How does a perfectionist that has had all kind of hurt happen at Christmastime ACTUALLY enjoy the holidays?  HHhhmmmm…. I am not really sure. I will share what I have learned.  I will be direct.

There is a Facebook Christmas and the REAL Christmas.  Know the difference.

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This picture is my family standing by our soon to be Christmas tree.  You do not see me.  I am taking the picture.  I am also NOT speaking to my family.  In my opinion, John was acting like a jerk BUT I am pretty sure I was the biggest jerk of all.

I only spoke to them to tell them to get in front of the tree because I was going to show everyone how great our Christmas was.  Also, John was actually with us this year and not in bed sick.  We were SUPPOSED to be holding hands, singing songs, and dancing around the Christmas tree like the movies.  But that didn’t happen.  The good news is we were talking to each other 24 hours later.  Some days it takes me that long to calm down.

Behind every perfect staged Facebook post is a real story that isn’t told.  Be aware.  Depending on my mood, I may be responding to posts in only Grinch GIF’s if applicable.  This is your warning.  Also, we say that we know this about Facebook but we also need the reminder.

Be a Grinch or Martha Stewart….but be you and do not pretend.

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In the course of a day, my attitude and mood can fluctuate.  I can wake up feeling like Mary Poppins (I almost spelled it Poopins and that could be correct, too.) and in 10 minutes with kids, dogs and husband can feel like Cruella Deville.  If I look at the world around me I could imagine that I am the only person like this but because I talk to so many women, I know that I am not alone.   My goal is to not always stay in the Cruella Deville stage but I do give myself a couple moments there to own it and then move on.

If that is me on a daily basis with the normal amount of stress from life, what happens when you add shopping, wrapping, baking, decorating, etc….  with a big scoop of perfectionism on top to that?  You get ugly.  Then you try to pretend that you are Martha Stewart when on the inside you are the Grinch and you get a woman that is going to explode on a close family member that never ever saw it coming. (That may or may not have been me a time or two.)

You are not responsible for anybody’s happiness.  Not your husband’s.  Not your kids’.  Not your in-law’s.  You are responsible for you.  If your family does not enjoy themselves, that is their problem.  If they have a bad attitude, that is their problem.  If they are not appreciative that is their problem.  Their attitudes, moods, and opinions are more about them than you.  Now, if you act like a jerk to them and yell, you will have to apologize and make it better.  I have missed many moments because of a poor attitude and self-pity.  That is on me.  Nobody else is to blame and when someone else in your family is at that ugly place, understand that they have to work through that themselves.

Go small or go big….but it is your choice.

I like a big tree.  I like a really big tree.  A big tree is a lot of work.  Since I choose this, I can’t complain about it.  It takes all four of us to get it up.  Some years we have to anchor it to the wall.  Some years it falls over.  And when it falls over it is my fault because I always insist on the BIG GINORMOUS tree.  I take full ownership and I do not complain when it goes bad.  If you choose to go big and things do not go perfect, own it.

The tree is the only thing I go over the top with.  I do not do elaborate decorations.  I do not do perfect wrapping for every gift.  I do not buy a present for every person that my family knows.  I choose small and intimate.  That is how I roll.  I do it because this is how I have chosen to do Christmas.  It works for me.  Moms make Christmas happen.  Each mom has a choice on how they do Christmas.  Are you trying to meet your expectations?  Are you trying to meet other’s expectations?  Why are you doing this?  Once you know your why, then do it.  Do what is important to your family.

When John was lying in bed that first Christmas, we knew he wouldn’t be with us on the tree hunt.  I suggested that we get an artificial one.  The girls cried and insisted that we get a real one.  To them, a real tree was so important.  So we did the real tree.  It was smaller but it was real.  We found one of our “must have” traditions.

Ready or not, Christmas comes.  Ready or not, your kids grow up.  Ready or not, we choose our attitude toward it all.  Some days I will be Grinchy.  Why?  I will be Grinchy because there are a lot of pressure points from life that hit me at the holidays: my hospitalization, watching one of those hospitalized friends die, John’s sickness, my father’s death, going “no-contact” with my remaining family, and Coop’s death.  Christmas can make me cry.

On the other days, I will say no to say yes to the people that matter the most to me.  I will make time for friendships that sustain me.  I will make time to hang with the family I was told I would never have and I never thought I deserved. I will grieve the losses and celebrate the growth made because of those losses.  I will laugh when I feel joy and cry when I feel sorrow.  All of these things make up life, so why do I expect them not to be there at Christmas?

I decided at 3 am that I would make Christmas the best that it can be not by any outward thing I do but by how God has transformed me through the hurt.  I will celebrate the hope that each day gives let alone each season.  The holidays always come and go, how I respond is always my choice and “perfectly imperfect” is my go-to response.

 

All or Nothing

“Nikki….you are all or nothing.”

This wasn’t the first time I had heard this.  It had echoed in my mind during the early stages of recovery, in almost every failed relationship, and even at work.  Every strength can be a weakness but this mindset of “all or nothing” kept me from living a life of freedom.  Instead, it built walls, kept me busy with my own agenda and kept me distant from relishing in authentic relationships.

Perfectionism thrives on control.  It is addicting and is a mindset that convinces you that your performance gains you love.  It tells you critically that your flawlessness and unrealistic expectations will make you the happiest you have ever been.  You become obsessed with the approval of others, your outer appearance, and your checklist of performance.  It ruins relationships and you become an excellent liar to cover up your imperfections.  The image is the most important.

I was a workaholic.  I was relentless in my expectations of myself.  I had tunnel vision that only focused on the outcome whether it was a grade, an evaluation, an award, or a number on a scale. I spent hours running myself into the ground with the expectation of being thinner than my body was meant to be. This obsessiveness choked out reason and reality.  Instead, it was replaced with self-absorption and self-criticism. I gave every ounce of energy to make it look good because if I did….then I would be loved.  I would be accepted.  I would be valued.

The problem with this is that my value wasn’t based on my performance, my looks, my weight, my title, or my accomplishments.  Discovering my value without these things took much learning and unlearning to become free.  I tried all the drugs….Prozac, Paxil, etc.  They treated the symptoms but not the thought processes.  Some made it worse because the suicidal tendencies were real and self-harm was my friend of escape.  I did not realize the prison I lived in until I tasted freedom from my extreme thoughts.

My goal to let go of perfectionism and become a realist began with identifying the lies.

Perfectionism whispers, “Do it all or you are nothing.”

Reality declares, “Do the small things now to grow the bigger things later.”

Change The List

If you are like me, you live by lists.  Deadlines, appointments, errands, groceries…the list never ends.  If you are a perfectionist, your value comes from the check offs.  I completed. I crossed off.  It feels good when the day goes as planned and the all the things get checked off.

Unfortunately, life doesn’t always follow the list.  If we are honest, our list can get in the way of enjoying life.  I know.  I know.  If I do not do it, it will not get done.  What ends up happening when people get in the way of our lists?  You know….kids, husbands, friends, strangers…that can really mess things up.  Inevitably, my true colors  CAN come out when my day does not go as I have written on my list.  When perfectionism wins, usually people in my life lose.  It is just the way it is.  There are 24 hours in the day and if I expect it to go as listed or prescribed, I tend to miss out on the people I care about the most.

In the last two years, I went underground to search my soul and to heal.  While underground I discovered some severe character flaws that needed to be addressed.  I joke about them often. Friends that spend face to face time with me know that I say, “Well, I am going to put that on my list.”  My list consists of character traits that I am working on building:  humility, gentleness, setting boundaries, finding peace in chaos are just a few on the list.  I choose 2 to work on to grow.  I do not do anything fancy but as stress and daily life take place, I work on my small list.  Focusing on this list helps me to minimize the other list.  I have found that the to-do list is always there but character growth trumps everything.

 

Embrace the MESSY Process

Nobody likes a mess especially a perfectionist.

  • Laundry is only finished for a moment.
  • A clean house stays clean for 5 minutes if you have kids.
  • Dishes are put away only until the next meal.

I often think about the process of raising our kids.  The mundane creeps in….laundry, breakfast, dinner, cleaning, homework…it all has to get done but which parts really need to be perfect?  The laundry will never end.  They are always hungry.  The dust keeps coming back.  My kids are almost grown and if I am waiting for that “perfect” family moment in the midst of my goals, I am going to miss out on the most important moments.   Life isn’t all of nothing.  If we only live for the accomplished tasks, we end up missing most of life.  Life is lived in the process and in the mundane.   Life is lived in the moments in between the perfection.

Get Used To Feeling Uncomfortable

I was a dancer.  I danced or taught dance for over 20 years.  Imagine my surprise when my husband told us that he signed us up for swing dancing this past summer!  It was really great until the second class when the footwork became complicated, I wouldn’t let my husband lead, and you had to rely on somebody to do it with you!  Every person in the class was so frustrated.  Why?  Because we were uncomfortable, we were not perfect at it right away, and WE DID NOT LIKE THAT AT ALL.

Perfectionists do not grow because they do not take risks.  Risks are messy, uncomfortable, and out of our control.  True learning takes place after there is an uncomfortable struggle.  When we struggle, we learn.  As we age, adults do not want to risk being vulnerable or exposing weakness. We tend to stay in our comfort zone where things are the same, predictable, and routine.

In order to recover from my eating disorder, I had to begin recovering from my perfectionism.  As always, I started with the small things.  When I did this, I realized how often I told myself, “I can’t.”

I can’t eat that. I can’t go there. I can’t reach out.  I can’t have friends. I can’t get close to anyone. I can’t let anyone see what I am.  I can’t be spontaneous.  I can’t… 

The words, “I can’t.” held me back from growing, trying, failing, and trying again. When I took the time to tally how many times I said it in a day it was well over 200 times.  Those words limited me and limited my life.

Because I do not do things cold turkey, I changed my thought processes by saying, “I can’t do that now but I can do _______________.”  Baby steps are my best friend.  I can listen to my inner voice and I can identify if it is my perfectionism or eating disorder talking.  After 27 years, some days I can change the channel and other days I  can still let it ruin my day.   If that happens, a new day brings new possibilites.

Am I where I want to be?  No. No. No.  Am I where I was?  No. No. No.  I have learned that in the messiness of life, I can be a masterpiece and a work in progress all at the same time.  Perfection does not rest on my shoulders anymore.  Yes, it still does whisper in my ear but I have learned selective listening.   “All or nothing” does not own me.  Over a period of time, I have grown to be a little bit better and learned to rest in being a beautiful mess.