A Critical Juncture

I am a recovering perfectionist.

In “A Skin Horse Awakening”, I wrote about my perfectionism, and what I believe the genesis of this “ism” to have been in my life. (Or perhaps I should say “who.”) I don’t believe I was born with the affliction of perfectionism.

Let me walk this back. Perfectionism is bandied about a great deal these days. People jokingly refer to themselves as a perfectionist, and we all think things like “Oh, they work really hard to get things right,” or maybe that they are a bit anal (as in detail-oriented,) maybe a little bit OCD.

According to Wikipedia, Perfectionism, in psychology, is a personality trait characterized by a person’s striving for flawlessness and setting high performance standards, accompanied by critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others’ evaluations.[1][2] It is best conceptualized as a multidimensional characteristic, as psychologists agree that there are many positive and negative aspects.[3] In its maladaptive form, perfectionism drives people to attempt to achieve an unattainable ideal while their adaptive perfectionism can sometimes motivate them to reach their goals. In the end, they derive pleasure from doing so. When perfectionists do not reach their goals, they often fall into depression.

When I say that I don’t believe that I was born a perfectionist or with a perfectionist gene, I am saying that I learned to be hyper-self-critical. I guess maybe perhaps you could argue that my being extremely sensitive is genetic, and therefore in a way that part of my perfectionism is genetic, as in I am extremely hard on myself and yet I am very sensitive to feeling like I am being criticized…maybe that being “so sensitive” is genetic?

If such a thing even exists. I can never know another’s internal experience, what life feels like for them through their nervous and other systems. I can only know my own.

So really, how can anyone, from my family (“You’re too sensitive!” “You are so sensitive.” “Don’t be so sensitive!”) to psychologists/people we label experts at such things be able to say that someone is “highly sensitive” or whatever? What do they mean? Are they really saying we are very emotional? More emotional? What does that even mean?

(I think perhaps it means that they are uncomfortable with our amount of feeling so they label us as “highly sensitive.” A label to explain away their discomfort.)

And if someone doesn’t “feel life”the way I or someone else labeled sensitive does, are they “insensitive” or unfeeling? Just because they do not seem to experience life the way I do, they are less sensitive? You see what I mean? (It is somewhat crazy-making for me, actually.)

Anyhoo. Perfectionism. Not genetic, in my humble opinion.

I learned to be hyper-critical of myself and to expect extremely high standards of performance from myself. I learned to care deeply and to depend greatly on what I thought others’ were thinking of me. To value other’s evaluation of me above all else, especially my own.

This relationship to myself and the world and myself in the world was learned. I learned it from a master, my father. I am not sure where he learned it. I am quite sure he suffered as much from it as I have. I am also sure that he had great regret later in life around the price of his untreated perfectionism on his relationships with himself, the world and the people he loved.

I am so grateful that I am in recovery around this. I do not have to suffer at my own hands anymore, or cause undue suffering in my loved ones out of my perfectionism.

One of the most tremendous sources of help around this for me has been the work of Brene Brown. You may have heard of her TED Talk on Vulnerability. If you have never watched it, I highly recommend it. Seriously, stop reading this and go watch it! Then come back ; )

She has been on my mind the past few days as she posted on Facebook from Houston, where she was volunteering her clinical services, making a plea for donations of clean, new underwear for those recovering from the hurricane. First things first, please take a view.

Here are three ways to give NEW (still in package) underwear. Please keep in mind that we need a variety of sizes for men, women, boys, and girls, including XXL.

1. https://www.amazon.com/…/2O89ZX93O…/ref=nav_wishlist_lists_1

2. Collect new, packaged underwear and mail it to the address below. It’s our local Hillel and they are collecting for us. This is a really great neighborhood or school project. If you’re purchasing, we recommend Hanes or Fruit of the Loom. UFE doesn’t process or give out anything but underwear!

Undies for Everyone
1700 Bissonnet St.
Houston, TX 77005

3. Give cash and Undies for Everyone will purchase wholesale: https://secure.lglforms.com/form_e…/s/uFpr61ITEItxPeN4Lo9zpA

Brene is an amazing woman. I could write blog after blog about her and how she inspires me. It has been through her work that I have had true shifts around my perfectionism.  I mean, I could understand before that I was one, but then what? What do I do to help myself out of it? Through it? She defines perfectionism a bit differently, and that difference has made all the difference in my being able to make shifts and heal. She defines it so:

Perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: “If I look perfect, live perfectly, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.”

She writes further:

Perfectionism is defeating and self-destructive simply because there is no such thing as perfect. Perfection is an unattainable goal. Additionally, perfectionism is more about perception – we want to be perceived as perfect. Again, this is unattainable – there is no way to control perception, regardless of how much time and energy we spend trying.

Perfectionism is addictive because when we invariably do experience shame, judgment, and blame, we often believe it’s because we weren’t perfect enough so rather than questioning the faulty logic of perfectionism, we become even more entrenched in our quest to live, look, and do everything just right.

Feeling shamed, judged, and blamed (and the fear of these feelings) are realities of the human experience. Perfectionism actually increases the odds that we’ll experience these painful emotions and often leads to self-blame: ‘It’s my fault. I’m feeling this way because I’m not good enough.’

To overcome perfectionism we need to be able to acknowledge our vulnerabilities to the universal experiences of shame, judgment, and blame; develop shame resilience; and practice self-compassion.

When we become more loving and compassionate with ourselves and we begin to practice shame resilience, we can embrace our imperfections. It is in the process of embracing our imperfections that we find our truest gifts and strengthen our most meaningful connections.” B. Brown (2009).

Wow. I mean, just yes. And yeah, this is a daily practice. It is a struggle one day, a breeze for the next three days, and then the shit hits my internal proverbial fan and it feels like I am at day -4. And then I feel free of it again. But Wow and Yes. And I’ll take that over interminable suffering in the depths of the hell of my own mind being run by unchecked and uninformed perfectionism.

If you know of what I speak, I recommend her work and any of her books.

It is a lifelong process, but it is truly gratifying to find true relief.

Oh, what a journey it is, this coming to life. This learning to relax into all of the things I used to hate so about myself. To even begin to embrace and yes, even find love for all my parts. Especially the ones most imperfect.

To pull my own self down off the self-built marble column I had constructed so long ago into the real world where I can be with others, be a fully-fleshed human being among human beings. To smash the statue-like full body persona I had so carefully made and let the flawed imperfectly beautiful person I am start to live and breathe and love.

 

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: critical

In the Beginning…

I don’t buy the primordial ooze theory

Or the Big Bang, for that matter (pun intended)

I look at a flower, its perfect design

The hide of the cougar, its markings

The veins in a leaf, the pattern in a snowflake

My own body – my eyelashes, my skin cells!

The systems that keep me alive

It’s not random

It’s too brilliant

I don’t have a name for for what created it all

I don’t have a theory

But I sure do have reverence

And I sure do have awe

 

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: ooze

 

 

Going Postal

One of the longest and most satisfying relationships I have had in NYC has been with Phillip, my postal delivery person.

I have lived in NYC since 1987, thirty years the past July. (Wow!)

Since 1995, I’ve had a rental apartment in the West Village, near Bleecker and Christopher Streets.

Over those 22 years, I have gotten to know many of the “lifers” in the building by face. Watched them (and myself) grow older as our stabilized rents slowly rise.

I just know two of them by name, probably only from necessity. My neighbor Orlando, who, in times of unexpected need has helped me over the years in countless ways (and vice versa.) And my super, Sam, who has also helped me greatly in times of need. I have not reciprocated Sam’s help (due to the nature of our relationship,) but I do tip him generously, and I treat him with kindness and respect. I appreciate both of these men.

The neighborhood I live in has changed dramatically over these 22 years. When I moved in, the West Village was iconic: an eclectic, character-filled neighborhood filled with history, grit, spice, color, and diversity. Real New Yorkers lived there. There were grocery stores, corner delis, “Mom and Pop” businesses populating the streets.

Then things started changing in the late ’90s. Many of us blame “Sex and The City” and those damn cupcakes from Magnolia Bakery for the neighborhood’s demise.

Slowly, but surely, high-end fashion stores began taking over leases on Bleecker. Rents started rising, often astronomically. The “Mom and Pops” couldn’t afford them and were pushed out. The people who serviced these businesses with whom I’d developed working relationships disappeared with the neighborhood’s uniqueness.

In the last 17 or so years I’ve seen an ever-changing sea of young people who seem to be fairly affluent come in and out of the landscape of my building. We are now a mainly transitory residential building. The “lifers” have started to die off of move to supportive care.

There are some of us still there, adapting, as we humans do, to the changes in our environment. Holding out, and on, to our apartments.

We grumble about missing the West Village From Before. It had authenticity. It felt alive, pulsing, slightly dangerous, but in a good way.

We curse under our breath at the hordes of people who now walk on the Bleecker of today that looks just like Madison Ave. (At least before the tourists who came were interesting.) Fork out bucks for Starbucks or French coffees and steer clear of the obnoxious lines that still form in front of that damn bakery thanks to food and “Sex and the City” tours.

But one thing has withstood this tsunami of development.

Philip, my mailman.

He initiated our relationship years ago. I’d be out and about running an errand in the ‘hood and hear my name and a friendly hello. There he was. Philip.

I learned his name, and over the years grew to really appreciate him. Not just for his warmth. He always puts the mail in my box in a very organized way: no cramming or stuffing items willy-nilly.

When I go out of town, without me having to do anything, he holds the mail for me, leaving a test item to see when I am back.

He is an excellent mailman who goes above and beyond, and I reward that as best I can at holiday time.

But the best part is running into him in the ‘hood or in the vestibule. Something fills me when I see his welcoming face.

I don’t think I am alone. I sense that we both cherish the personal, familiar connection, the moment of old neighborly warmth, as we navigate the changed waters of our West Village surroundings.

When I hear my name and that “Hello!” or when I see him and call out “Philip! How are you?!” I am flooded with something I can’t quite name.

When I walk away, I feel lighter and happier.

Philip matters to me. I am so grateful I am on his route.

Together, maybe we can keep the spirit of the Old West Village alive, as best we can.

“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds”

Thank you, Philip, for being not just the greatest postman in the world, but my neighbor.

I need you now more than ever.

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: delivery

Rebel Without a Cause

Confession: I often poo-poo fads or things that get really popular really fast without even trying them firsthand.

I won't go see a movie that everyone is talking about, for example. Like The Revenant. Wouldn't go see it in the theatre.

It is an annoying habit. A strange, stubborn character trait that I both wear like a badge and admit is pretty ridiculous at the same time.

It's like I just have to go the opposite way because everyone else is all-over a thing.

Like when electric toothbrushes came out.

I had so much judgement around them!

I prided myself on staying old school. I harshly judged those who bought them as "Suckers fallen prey to marketing schemes of money-hungry dentists!"

I mean, come on! Does anybody really need a frigging electric toothbrush? Jeez! Lazy much?

And then, one day, years after they'd been out, I tried one.

And I finally discovered what all the fuss is about.

And now, it is one of my must-have items.

I still haven't passed over into the truly high-end versions.

I love a particular brand, the Colgate Optic White Battery Powered toothbrush. (Full disclosure: a big plus is that it matches my bathroom wall color, a detail that greatly influenced my choice.)

And so just as was the case with jalapeños, Diet Sierra Mist, Tab and QuestBars, I became a convert once I actually tried it for myself.

Sometimes, a fad is just a fad. (I finally did see The Revenant and still think it was way overrated and was not happy when Leo Di Caprio won the Oscar that year for it.)

But sometimes, a fad is a fad for good reason.

And sometimes, I eventually "get it," despite myself.

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: toothbrush

Lust Life

Much of my adult life has been about coming to terms with lust.

Having grown up in a fairly conservative family with mainly Protestant roots, I learned early on to deny and repress my lust: for life, for sex, for fame, for love, for food.

So much so that I lived a kind of double life from my teens into my twenties.

I hid many behaviors that all revolved around my various appetites. Somewhere in my somewhat stunted emotional development, I had learned that being seen as having a need (be it physical or otherwise) was weak, unattractive.

And so I learned to pretend I did not have them.

And yet, at the same time, I also had a very strong need to be seen as a sexual object. (See Sexual Healing, my previous post on this issue.) This presented quite a war within me. I desperately wanted to be seen and treated like a sexually desirable woman – that was sort of the ultimate need. At the same time, I had shame and embarrassment around this and had strong messaging that that was bad, and that I should be a good girl with no sexuality, appetites, strong opinions or feelings.

And so I pretended to be one one way while in secret I acted in other ways.

I invested a great deal of time into creating the illusion that I was chaste, a normal eater, and had  a very neutral opinion on just about everything. I monitored my emotions and watched myself around people, carefully choosing mannerisms and tones to project a good girl.

Meanwhile, I was living quite another kind of life, a life I hid from my family, my friends. A life of appetite and lust and danger.

There were certainly angels watching over me. I was often in the wrong places at the wrong time. Somehow, I survived.

At a certain point in my twenties, the jig was up, as they say.

My psyche demanded that I heal the split, and I began the process of recovering wholeness again.

Of uncovering my own genuine appetites from a place of love, curiosity and acceptance. Of letting go of the urge to keep my appetites hidden.

I began a process of embracing of my true nature and wants and needs as beautiful reflections of my own humanity. I began the shedding of the shaming nature that I inherited.

An unlearning of the social pressure that happens in middle school to put a damper on enthusiasm, to keep a lid on want to look cool.

I learned to let myself eat as I really wanted to in front of others.

I learned to let myself be seen trying, excited, wanting, sexy, hungry, angry, hopeful, happy, disappointed, frightened, messy, unhappy, empty, full, vulnerable, awkward, lonely, blissful.

I learned to let myself be seen. As I really am.

Today I value the self-honesty that I live from. Truth is of huge importance to me.

Though I am still in awe of the capacity I had within my own psyche to maintain such a dichotomy the way I did – that I could compartmentalize two such distinct worlds at once – I am so grateful that that is just a chapter in my story.

Today, I have one world with many parts: parts that co-mingle and bring me great joy in their diversity.

I celebrate my appetites, I revel in my enthusiasms and passions.

I love my lust. It is what lets me know I am human. And alive.

So today, I try to wear my lust like a smile.

 

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: lust

 

No Place Like Home

Sometimes when I am out in the world, I feel a compulsion to go home immediately.

I literally feel drawn, as if by a magnet, back to the safety of home.

I have lived with this sensation for many years now, since 2001. I blogged about it last year when I wrote about depression.

I am still unraveling what is contained in this dynamic within.

On the one hand, I love life, being alive. I crave connection. I love people. I love humanity.

I am an actress. Human behavior endlessly fascinates me. What makes people take actions. What drives us all to stay alive on this spinning blue ball. That we choose every day to love and aspire to things.

And yet. There are times when I am filled with a mix of emotions and sensations that compel me to get home as soon as I can. Fear, anxiety, panic.

I never thought if it before, but is this a version of a panic attack? I have no idea, no way to guage that. I hear people talk about panic attacks. I know  people who suffer from them.

How do you label an internal experience like what I experience? I guess if there are enough people experiencing  similar symptoms, someone names it and it becomes a way to discuss, diagnose.

I have brought it to conventional therapy. Past life regression work. Rebirthing. Shamanic healing work.

I’ve learned cognitive behaviors to manage it. All have been helpful in one way or another.

But I still don’t have a concrete understanding of why it happens to me. Is it genetically encoded in my DNA? Did my people learn to survive by keeping close to home?

In a past life, was I some tribal member who died traumatically when being away from the others and my soul just cannot let it go?

I know for some years, I withdrew from being in the flow of life because I did not know how to cope. I had to learn how to be in the world again. I had to mature emotionally, with help. That has been an amazing process.

But that period of time is many years past. I have never felt more healed, more whole, more integrated than I do now. I am in awe of the healing I have done, of where I am today. I have a truly gifted life, filled with love, connection, abundance, and creativity.

And yet. The magnet pull comes upon me still.

I believe my body has more to show me. There are answers coming from within, but on my body’s own time. Not my ego’s.

And so I bear patient, loving witness as it happens, listening for clues even as I experience the pull when it hits me. I have finally stopped adding to the pain of it all by beating myself up for its mere existence. Or trying to bully myself into being able to “just bypass it already.”

When I have that pull to go home, I choose to see it with the eyes of a loving parent. I take my own hand and ask myself if it can wait until I finish my day. I promise to give that part of me full attention when safe at home, later.

And I follow thru on that promise. That is crucial. I need that part to begin to trust me, to trust that I can handle whatever may go down out in the world.

I feel that trust growing inside. It is a deeply important feeling.

And I welcome this.

I am building a new home within. And when completed, I will be there, wherever I go, wherever I am in the world.

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: magnet

To Do’s Today

Here is what I can do today.

I can create:

Joy. By Taking time to find it in my body and then give it to the world in the form of smiles and kind interactions with others.

Peace. By listening and respecting others, staying unattached to needing them to agree with me or see things my way. By refusing to war with my self or anyone else.

Art. By choosing to use my body, voice, mind, emotions, instincts, words, will, expertise and talent to create in whatever ways I can. I can do this regardless of whether I get an audition or booking, or am in a show or film or not. Especially in today’s world, I can create art and share it daily, for my self and others.

Positivity. I can choose to meditate, practice gratitude, use mantras and affirmations and select an intention to guide my day. As many times a day as I need to, I can tap into the ever-abundant source of this that is within me. Every moment contains the choice of love or fear.

Justice. I can stay active politically for the causes I support. I can use my voice, body and energy as needed to take action. I can speak up when I see injustice.

Equality. See above. 

Beauty. I can allow my spirit to shine freely from within. I can reflect back to others the beauty I see within them, encouraging theirs to flow freely.

Comedy. I can listen for the clown (my unsocialized 4 year old) within, and work with her impulses instead of tamping them down. I can laugh at myself and at funny things and share that with the world. 

Music. I can hum and sing and make up silly songs in the grocery line. I can sing at the top of my lungs for the sheer joy of it. Or I can create art from the music in me.

Excitement. I can go against the grain of the social conditioning that started in junior high school and begin to allow my enthusiasm for life to thrive and be seen. I can choose excitement over “cool” and feel my own aliveness flow into the world. Maybe I will spark enthusiasm in others.

Intimacy. I can choose to be vulnerable with myself and with others, and perhaps help them to become vulnerable as well. Vulnerability may well be key to saving the world.

That’s what I can do today.

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word: create