By Alison M.
I am a perfectionist, which means that I find it impossible to accept people and situations that are less than perfect. And why should I? If I work harder, try harder, figure it out, and expect the best, I’ll be perfect in no time.
This is the attitude that brought me to my knees three years ago and gave me the willingness to change my behaviours around food. I was a perfectionist with my food, counting calories and weighing myself obsessively. I was always on a diet, trying to get the food and weight "thing" right. If I worked out more, if I restricted more, if I ate less meat, if I drank less water, then surely I would get the magic formula, and lose the twenty pounds I was dying to lose. Then, I would be perfect, and life would be great. Unfortunately, I used up huge amounts of energy trying to be perfect and ended up bingeing because I couldn’t sustain my "perfection program." I needed to escape from that incredible pressure. Of course, the bingeing forced me to control my behaviours even more stringently, which, in the end, lead to more bingeing. It was a cycle of trying to be perfect and then trying to escape the pressure of trying to be perfect, and it lead me to uncontrollable eating and a deep depression full of self-hatred, despair, and negative thinking.
It wasn’t until I accepted the weight I was at and gave up trying to control my food that the obsession was lifted and the weight came off. This experience has proven to me the power of acceptance: nothing changes until I accept I cannot change it. Then, and only then, can I begin to grow.
The only solution that has helped me deal with my obsessive thinking and perfectionism is acceptance. For me, acceptance feels like poison because it means letting go of my need to fix myself. Why would I give up fixing a flat tire or a leaky faucet? It’s broken, it needs to be fixed! In the same way, why would I give up on trying to be perfect when it is so obvious how imperfect I am? Don’t I always forget to put my dishes in the dishwasher, wear the wrong thing to parties, say the wrong thing to men. and what about those pimples on my nose, those flabby thighs and big feet? I need to let go of those thoughts and beliefs in a healthy way and trust that I am fine just the way I am, imperfect, human, and whole. But (and this is still my question, sometimes) how?
The way that has worked for me is to practice doing nothing. Acceptance is like surrender, it is giving up the struggle to fix and to be perfect. For me, surrender comes in the form of my meditation practice. By sitting quietly, or standing, and practicing the simple exercises outlined for me, I stop fighting and focus on surrendering to the process of letting go. This isn’t easy because it means accepting that I feel angry, ugly, fat, tired, depressed, or excited, and the last thing I want to do is feel those awful feelings. What if I am angry forever? Am I a bad person? What if I am fat? What if that horrible thing I did (or ate) comes back to haunt me? What if I never learn to be happy and end up wasting my life? When I surrender, I accept that I cannot do anything to improve the situation and that the only answer is to accept the unacceptable.
The magic happens when I accept where I am right that moment and let the process of letting go take over. The breath takes care of the feelings and before I know it, the negativity releases and I feel better. Some days I get an intuition about the truth of the situation and feel a deep unconditional love wash over me, others, I simply feel better and am able to get out of myself and be present in the world and with other people. Either way, the breath changes me, my attitude shifts from a negative one to a more positive one, and the unacceptable stops feeling so unacceptable.
The tough part for me is being patient and accepting that I am not always going to get those amazing insights or feel that incredible joy and love, and that sometimes it will take longer to release than I have time for. Accepting that even my acceptance will not always be perfect is difficult for me because it challenges me to let go of the results, surrender to the process and let the healing power of the breath work in its mysteriously perfect way. It isn’t until I am willing to stop trying to fix the problem and accept the unacceptable that I can get through to the other side and feel loved just as I am, imperfections and all.