Posted by: innerpilgrimage | November 18, 2010

Progress on Perfection and The Heart Reader

Holiday Eating Season Countdown: 45 Days

      Yesterday, I noticed that more than a couple of my journal entries have the Holiday Eating Season Countdown incorrect.

      Last year, I fixed it. This year, I have decided to try to let it stand, despite the agony of wanting to go back and correct it. Perfection is what I’m after, and I want not to look like a complete idiot. Well, meh. Here’s my rigorous honesty for today–I calculated it wrong on a few entries. And it is okay for them to be wrong, just like it will be okay for ones later in this month and next month to be wrong. I mean, it’s not important. It’s not like people are relying on it as a calendar. It’s just a reminder to me to be aware that I, historically, have had issues with overeating during this time. It’s a reminder that I need to be more vigilant.
      I keep remembering how Easter broadsided me in 2010 as a surprise Triggered Eating Holiday. I knew what was coming for Thanksgiving and Christmas because it’s culturally understood that Americans tend to gain weight at the holidays because of the overabundance and the ability to hide it under bulky clothing. Decades of post-holiday diet commercials (to get into that Summer Swimsuit Body) made me quite aware that the last two months of the year were a minefield of trigger foods for me. Most of my permanent weight gain happened then. Family stress has been an emotional trigger since the beginning.
      In childhood, I was forced to eat my mother’s Christmas Stollen before I could open presents. This wouldn’t have been so bad except that a combination of the chemical taste of the candied fruit in the bread and the fact my mother never experimented with the recipe made for a yearly dread. I stared at the shiny presents as I ate the minimum possible. Later, my mother made a raisin and almond version just for me, and I appreciated it. Well, not then because I hated my parents and wanted them to suffer because I was suffering, but now I appreciate her going out of her way. That’s going to be in a Step Nine amends–not being kind about the effort she put into making the culturally traditional (for my family) Christmas breakfast bread.
      I remember the year she used my tip to rise the dough in a moist oven, using the steam from a pot of water (it’s how I keep my bread lighter instead of extremely dense and dry) as she rose the dough in the closed oven. She had, over the years, doubled the recipe because the dough did not rise as expected. That year? She made twice as many loaves as usual. And the candied-fruit-free loaf was pretty darned good. We had stollen for what felt like weeks.
      When my grandparents died, Christmas changed completely. My parents actually rejected us. I’m serious. They had my sister from Europe at their home no more than four hours’ drive away, and I asked if we could come for Christmas–to make a family thing of it. My mother said no, that she wanted to do it just with my sister’s family. That has been the status quo for almost ten years, now. The up note was that my husband, in an effort to comfort my older son and me, decided we were doing un-Christmas. We created a brand new holiday, named it after my older son, and created a mythology that bound our family together.
      The tree horrified my mother-in-law, which delighted my husband. Instead of ornaments, we put ski gloves and random flotsam from around the house on it. The tree topper was a Halloween skull. Thus W—mas was born; the next year, my younger son was added in, and the night before W—mas became J—‘s Eve.
      The mythology, created by the whole family, is hilarious. Uncle Mordecai comes up from the toilet, dragged through by sewer alligators. He’s a surly fellow, and if you’ve been bad, you get toilet paper. There’s a red-nosed alligator, whose snout glows red because he’s a chronic drinker. (My apologies to those still suffering from alcoholism and those who are in program, but the idea of an alcoholic alligator really brought the kids to hysterics). My husband prepared the bathroom by unrolling the toilet paper on the floor (and the addict me of course spent a half-hour carefully rolling it back onto the roll) and sprinkling water from the sink around the toilet. In the morning, he flushed the toilet a few times, and the kids came down. This was an homage to the yearly use of the Nepalese donkey bells to simulate Santa’s reindeer coming and going. I received the bells as a gift when my parents traveled to India in 1980 or ’81.
      The presents for W—mas are often very silly. And my kids still love it. It’s our in-joke holiday, and it makes no sense to anyone else . . . though people with a good sense of humor find it hilarious. That it came from a place of pain at being rejected by my parents? That doesn’t matter any more. I think it was one of the few times I stepped out of the addiction to serve my family’s needs. Recovery from overeating was inevitable–all I had to do was hit rock bottom and admit I am powerless over the food and over the people I trusted to look out for my children’s hearts over my own. That harm is a deep resentment I get to release in Step Four–and my part in it was trusting people whose actions rarely aligned with their words. (Yes, I know I need to get back to doing my Big Book resentment prayer for them.) That needs to go to my Higher Power, to be returned to me as the map to the footwork of boundary-setting with them. They, like most of my family, are blood-related acquaintances. I have to accept that, forgive them for my own sanity (taking care of my needs), and move on.
      Perfection study after today’s We Care message:
      If I had a nickel for every time I thought I knew what someone was thinking, I would be a rich woman. I’d be richer if I was right all of those times, using my many giant bags of nickels to open a Psychic Reader shop. I like psychic readers, mostly because they are really in tune with body language. It’s like having a therapist without the headache of insurance forms. But I’ve found that even better than going into a psychic’s is going into an OA room, where I learn more about myself than I would at a psychic reader’s shop. I don’t need tarot or coins or any of those things to tell me what’s going on–just a Big Book and the hearts and minds of people who are like me.
      We are a fellowship of heart-readers; through recovery, we grow that gift and share acceptance and love with anyone who is willing to come in the door.
      In For Today, it talks about our emotions. When we don’t understand people, it’s because we’re trying to look into their heads. As addicts, we don’t know why we ended up powerless over our actions and thoughts. Our balance comes from rigorous honesty with our emotions. And, to be of service to people, we look into ourselves, our hearts not our heads, to understand why others do what they do. And then we do a Fourth Step, to understand why we’re so frustrated when people surprise us with their behavior. Looking into our hearts, we gain empathy and connect to people on a level that we could not through trying to divine logic from an illogical source.
      In Voices of Recovery, program is described as a three-legged stool. When we work one side, that leg of the stool gets longer. However, if one leg is longer (say, physical recovery) than the others (mental and spiritual recovery), we can topple from the stool. If we’re feeling a wobbly foundation beneath us as we reach upwards, it’s probably time to look at our three-legged stool and see which leg is short. By working all three foundations of recovery–spiritual, mental, and physical–we find ourselves on solid footing and can reach farther in our lives.
      The Big Book talks about desire to stop the addiction and self-knowledge not being enough. In addiction, I think the question I asked most was “Why?”–usually while crying or being angry. I wanted to know people’s minds, to understand their logic behind something without logic. I removed the spiritual from it because I had no spiritual life. God was for other people. All that was left was to pursue ego-based willpower and self-knowledge to alleviate my disease. That brought me to diets, and I became a “Dry Overeater”. But that spiral into the insanity of the obsession made my diets shorter and shorter, until they eventually always existed in tomorrow. And as I worked to read minds, I shut myself off from reading hearts.
      I think that I could liken recovery as this–physical recovery heals the body; mental recovery heals the brain; spiritual recovery heals the heart. It makes me think of the two nearly identical Bible verses in the New Testament, Mark 10:15 and Luke 18:17. If we don’t enter program with the faith of a child, we can’t know the miracle of living outside of addiction.
      That faith of a child begins with understanding what kids are like, right? Well, I’ve never seen a four-year-old with a PhD, so they’re clearly not running on logic and education. A four-year-old, however, is more likely to run up to you if you’re upset and give you a hug. They want to comfort you; they want to help you. The child doesn’t go down a logic tree and take action based on your action, returning to that first state if failure occurs to try another logical action in order to resolve the situation. Kids work intuitively, they work from THEIR hearts. They know what heals them and they offer it up without reservation. They can answer that they don’t know and we accept it because they’re children. We know they don’t have a PhD or M.D., and we accept their form of therapy and are often more healed by it than the medical professionals we turn to for answers.
      That’s where the spiritual lies. Most kids have true faith. They believe that things will turn out all right. They don’t have inflated egos because they have few expectations on them. They can be silly or mad or sad and they are still loved. It takes growing up and gaining that logical ego over time to silence the intuitive heart–the part of us which does know how to heal by serving needs instead of bartering for wants. Time and experience changes us all, and the little child we once were grows up. Our minds are filled with logic trees, many of them which only served to get us to survive to the Promised Land of adulthood. Those logic trees are our addiction–our character defects which once protected us now stop us as adults. Our addiction which once comforted us through the worst of times is now the cause of the worst of times. The quiet meditation garden of our heart is left behind for the bustling metropolis of the mind–open 24-7-365. We don’t entirely forget about that garden, but we sometimes forget how to get there.
      Recovery is the journey to that garden. Step One allows us to admit that bustling metropolis of our mind which keeps us busy all of the time isn’t Utopia. We discover that the chaos has exhausted us and we can’t keep up. Step Two shows us there’s a mapmaker we can trust to get us back to the garden. Step Three is the acceptance of that map and the willingness to follow it, despite not knowing if it will lead us to our garden again. But it does when we trust the mapmaker, when we follow those directions. The journey isn’t easy (as anyone who has done Steps Four through Nine can tell us!), but we find that we can not only return to the garden, we can live there in Steps Ten, Eleven, and Twelve.
      With the faith of a child instead of the logic of an adult, we can work the program to the best of our ability. And, with program, we can resume our intuitive lives when play and laughter and self-acceptance with our imperfections were the order of the day. We become heart readers.
      I’ve worked under the “Progress, not Perfection” slogan a lot over the past year. It’s allowed me some relief from the pain, but not enough. I think the number-one character defect I will see when I work my Step Four inventory this time is that constant pursuit of perfection.
      The most frustrating thing about perfection is that it’s a moving target made of aether. I don’t even know what perfection is. I’ve set down many paths to it, and I’ve even reached those goals (like hitting my High School weight of 165 lbs.). Perfection is nowhere to be found where I’m standing right now.
      So, I say to myself, “Clearly I didn’t put the goal far enough out,” and I reset perfection to a new less attainable endpoint. Since “perfection” has a source in the logical mind (my heart certainly doesn’t mind my imperfection), I’ll start with a definition of the word.
      From, the definition of the word, perfect:

1. conforming absolutely to the description or definition of an ideal type: a perfect sphere; a perfect gentleman.
2. excellent or complete beyond practical or theoretical improvement: There is no perfect legal code. The proportions of this temple are almost perfect.
3. exactly fitting the need in a certain situation or for a certain purpose: a perfect actor to play Mr. Micawber; a perfect saw for cutting out keyholes.
4. entirely without any flaws, defects, or shortcomings: a perfect apple; the perfect crime.
5. accurate, exact, or correct in every detail: a perfect copy.
6. thorough; complete; utter: perfect strangers.
7. pure or unmixed: perfect yellow.
8. unqualified; absolute: He has perfect control over his followers.
9. expert; accomplished; proficient.
10. unmitigated; out-and-out; of an extreme degree: He made a perfect fool of himself.

      The others definitions are specific to arenas of study, so I didn’t need to add them here. Well, looking down the line, I see that definitions 1, 2, 4, and 8 are the core of the problem . . . especially 1 and 4.
      Conforming to an ideal. Whose ideal? That’s the problem I have. Like with religion’s request that I take on others’ idea of God to belong, I give others authority over me to define my personal perfection to belong. That’s not humility, that’s self-deprication or grandiosity. The problem with using others’ ideals of perfection is that I am not all things to all people. In fact, I’m too thin for some and too fat for others. Even with plastic surgery, I couldn’t be the “ideal” because there is no ideal. There is the core of addiction in that thinking right there.
      The source of the need to reach that ideal came from the rejection of people who I needed. Their own imperfection (and potential resentments of it) put me in a position to seek love through physical and mental perfection. “Be the best”, “Be the smartest”, “Be the most beautiful”, “Be the meekest”, “Be a leader”, “Do what I say”, “Be a natural protege”. All of them held the promise of acceptance, of opening the door to a flow of love which was withheld most of the time. I tried. I failed. I despaired. Then I tried again. Failed again. Despaired again. I became unworthy, unlovable in my own mind. Not even the acceptance by some people could undo the damage of the lack of acceptance from the people whose opinions mattered most to me. I remember being a young girl and feeling loved by my parents. Then it dried up, and I was decorated like a tree with bright expectations. They were so hopeful, and I was burdened by the weight of it all. And when I failed and they were disappointed in me, I hated myself because I loved them and hated to see them hurt because of me.
      Okay, to step back a minute, this is the logic of my addict mind, coming from the hurt child inside me. My suitable punishment for not meeting the needs (in reality, irrational wants) of others was a form of self-abuse guised as comfort. If you are what you eat, I could be sweet if I ate enough sweet things. And I have gravitated toward triggered eating of sweet things ever since. Logic doesn’t have to be truth–it just has to follow the paths of cause and effect.
      When I try to break down perfection, I hit a mental wall. I feel it, too. I come in with a new idea, and it’s like a force field bounces it away into nothingness. There is a fortress around my religion of perfection. I can get that love back, my inner kid insists. I just have to figure out the right combination of things which will open the door.
      Okay, again, I’m going to pause. I see the HP-like power I give two addicts over me. My parents are powerless over their own compulsions, and they can deal with that reality. I had to; so can they. It is the truth, and it is the only way I can forgive them for the harm. Yes, I harmed them, too. I could rationalize that they started it, but that does not matter. The moment I was legally an adult, I was responsible for my life. I was also in the throes of addiction. The minute I was free to indulge in numbing away my grief at the childhood I lived? I sampled a smorgasbord of potential addictions until I settled on the ones that fit me: food, love, and smokes. My hatred of being out of control turned me away from mind-altering substances within a couple of years. Giving up alcohol was pretty easy because I got into a lot of trouble when I combined the other three with it. The smoking I kept because it was “cool”. With it came an image of sophistication in my naive mind. Today, it’s the nicotene and the need to soothe the anxiety away with it. I know it is a blecky habit. I know I don’t “look cool” smoking–I look like an addict and smell like an ashtray. Moving on.
      The food I kept because it was anchored to the good memories I had of family. I have idealized many of these times. That’s when the family got together. We feasted to celebrate, we ate to numb the imperfections of the celebrations away. I’ve spent perhaps 15 percent of my life at normal weight for my height. I’ve spent 50 percent of that time obese, and more than half of that time morbidly obese. I even had a brief time (maybe a month) underweight. What I never sustained was normalcy.
      My love addiction is where that perfection issue triggers everywhere. I want love; I need love. I set standards of love that others cannot reach and am hopeful when I decorate people with my expectations then look at them with disappointment when they don’t achieve them. It nauseates me to think that I turn to doing to others what was done to me. But that’s my “normal”. That’s what love looks like to me. I traded what others want (sometimes it was sex) to get the payoff–the chemical high of feeling like I’m falling in love.
      Sorry, I ought to correct that. That’s what love looked like to me. In traveling back to consult my inner kid, I’ve reconnected with my Higher Power. I know what “perfect” love feels like. I don’t have to trade groveling and martyrdom to earn its steady acceptance. I am part of reality–good and bad–and I am still here to do the work necessary to have purpose and meaning in my life. It accepted me when I thought it had gone. It was still there, behind the wall of crap people said I needed to climb in order to earn its acceptance. What irks me is that I listened to other people and built that wall myself, trusting they knew better.
      Yes. I said it. I trusted they knew better than me about me.
      Here comes the hard footwork of humility in order to break down the foundation of perfectionism. The first acceptance I must make a part of me, with the same clarity of truth that I accept I am powerless over my addiction and that my life is unmanageable when I have compulsive thoughts, is that I am no better or worse than anyone else. My record for abstention is 24 hours, same as anyone else in recovery. I cannot give advice on recovery to anyone because it’s my recovery, tailored to me. The program language did take time to learn; I’ll admit that others understand the technical side of program better than I do, but that’s because they’ve been doing it longer. That said, I have the same 12 Steps to work from. How to work the program to the best of one’s ability is individual to each of us. It’s THE program; it’s MY recovery. The Fourth Step I am currently working is supposed to be imperfect. The layers of protections I have set up between me and the deepest hurts have left me to carefully remove the layers until I get to that core.
      That, alone, scares me. My addict self throws up the reactionary fear that once I grieve and move on, there won’t be anything left. Yet even in the midst of that, there was always a niggling voice that said “I wish I could be that little girl again, the one who loved without reservation, who had faith”. That inner child, the little Jess looking up at those stained glass windows and finding true serenity knowing God was there and was my best friend and loved me just as I was, is lost in the darkness of my adult addiction. I loved because I was filled with love. I could do and be anything because God was right there with me. I am starting to see that somewhere right before the break between potential addict and active addict was whatever event made me decide I wanted to become a nun so I could spend my life studying how to get closer to God . . . how to be perfect for God so I could have the reward of being with God in Heaven.
      The rules of religion were lain down. I had a goal–perfection on this Earth. I was taught that I was unlovable between the moment I found God and the moment I wanted to devote myself to God (even though I was not Catholic–which is where the first great disappointment came, because someone apparently taught me I wasn’t “born Catholic”).
      That’s when my parents lost their ultimate authority over me, when seeking God was my only hope for a happy life of being a singing nun in Austria. I always liked the other nuns; I always empathized with Julie Andrews’ portrayal of Maria the Nun when she went back to the nunnery mid-film because it was safe, because the human (and assumed unrequited) love she felt for Captain Von Trapp gave her intense pain. My happily ever after was to be a bride of Christ, not of a human being. And when I learned about the Vatican library, that was it. I wanted to be in Vatican City, taking care of God’s word and reading everything I could in order to please God.
      Well, life didn’t turn out like that, and it’s probably for the better. I would have been intensely disappointed the first time my faith was challenged. And when the first child abuse scandals came out, I would have lost God entirely. After all, I chose that life under the assumption that the faith of children was precious, and the idea that humans would use their authority in the name of God to rip faith from children’s hearts . . . that would probably have gotten me excommunicated when I spoke out with righteous ire against it–like St. Mary MacKillop before me.
      I could never have been perfect to others and been true to me. Even in that potentially idealized life, I would have ended up pissing off a whole lot of people in the Roman Catholic hierarchy.
      I guess that’s the core of it, then. Instead of seeking perfection to please my Higher Power, I have to accept that I was created this way–even before the addiction–because that was who I was supposed to be. This is me. I chose to numb myself with addiction because I was taught that love was earned by begging for it like alms. The world had authority over me, even as I tried to prove myself better than them, to be the first human to reach perfection as a not-so-subtle “Screw You!” to everyone who laughed at my expense. I think back to the part of the Body Image workshop I’ve got queued up to listen to (which I will be doing today), and one message sticks in my head. If I’m trying to prove something, I’m seeking approval from someone.
      My Higher Power approves of me, as is. Acceptance is the answer reminds me that nothing (not even me) happens by mistake. I am not a mistake, even as I walk through reality. I am a being capable of learning from the choices I make, of being teachable. I am a being who is filled with human emotion, whose character traits have both positive and negative sides. Those character traits were endowed to me from the beginning. They are a double-edged sword, capable of allowing me to fight for what I believe in. When I believe that acceptance and recovery are the answer, they serve me by bringing me toward my purpose and meaning. When I believe that control and addiction are the answer, they harm me by putting blocks in the way of a life of recovery.
      I have been called hypersensitive and overemotional. I think perhaps it’s time to rethink that in terms of character assets. I am empathetic and sympathetic and feel things deeply because I want people to be happy. I can’t make them happy, but if someone needs acceptance, here I am.

      My name is Jess and I am a food and love addict. Perfection is my bane, ever reminding me to place personality before principles and ever pushing me to seek approval from the world. It’s not happening. That’s unrealistic. But I can be true to myself and find purpose and meaning in my ability to care enough about others to accept them and my ability to care enough about myself to establish healthy boundaries through program.


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