“No one would ever see a drunk, passed out in the gutter, and say, ‘There lies a perfectionist!’ But that’s exactly what I was! If I couldn’t do life perfectly, then I wouldn’t bother even trying.”
These were the words of a member of Alcoholics Anonymous, describing himself before he was “restored to sanity” by the principles and practices of humility contained in the Twelve Steps. I was listening to his story on an audio tape at an Overeaters Anonymous meeting I attended in 1981. I weighed well over 300 pounds. I was praying for the Holy Ghost to protect me from any false ideas on the one hand and to open to my understanding any truths I needed to absorb on the other hand. I was desperate for some clue as to why I could not control my eating behavior for any effective length of time.
I was bowled over by the way the Spirit (of Truth) likened this man’s-this alcoholic man’s-story to me. I heard the following thought go through my mind, “No one would ever watch a 300 pound woman walk by and think, “There walks a perfectionist,” but that is exactly what they would be seeing—a perfectionist!” And I knew the thought was for me and I knew it was true for me. “Humble,” self-depreciating, self-loathing me—I was a perfectionist. How could I tell? Because if I couldn’t eat in the strictest, healthiest, most perfect way possible and be the perfect size ASAP, then forget it! I wouldn’t even try!
To this day, perfectionism continues to be one of my greatest stumbling blocks, continues to undermine my trust of God’s willingness to accept my imperfect performance. In other words, I can still spend inordinate amounts of time and attention stalled out, trying to figure out how to do the one right thing in the one right way—the perfect way. For example, it causes me to feel sick to my stomach when I push the “send” button to submit an article to Meridian ! I mean what if this isn’t the one best way to say this thing? What if it isn’t the one right thing to share this month? What if…
Let me offer a definition of perfectionism: The idolization and worship of perfection, of superiority, which in turn demands one to always think in comparisons and competition and demands unhealthy judgment of what is good, better, best.
Tomorrow, read Part 2: Perfectionism is the Core of Addictive Behavior
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