ADHD, Sobriety, and The Myth of Perfection

A year ago, today, I was so laden with anxiety, so overloaded with moving out of our home of ten years, that I was ready to call the entire thing off.  But it wasn’t just the move itself that was causing the stress, it was the overwhelming pressure I put on myself to move out of my messy, piecemeal, house- the one with mismatched furniture, rugs stained by years of toddler traffic, couch cushions ripped by gnawing animals, and a faint smell of dog pee in the basement- and into a new, clean, well-appointed home.  This home was going have clean, perfectly decorated rooms, it would be a real, adult home.  Most importantly, it would be the opposite of the home we were leaving behind.

The other day I was talking to my sponsor who also happens to be an LCSW.  She was wearing both hats while helping talk through a particularly challenging situation I was having at my internship.  I have had thrown for a loop by both a client and a colleague and it had my spiritual fitness in a funk. 

“Give yourself a break, Laura, you’re new at this, and you’re doing great.  You’re not expected to be perfect.”

This morning, I ordered a product called Skinny Fit (I’ll let you know if it works ladies).  We are headed to Florida- bathing suit country- in a few weeks and no matter what I do, I cannot get rid of this holiday spare tire.  If I’m being real, it’s more like the “giving birth spare tire” that I acquired almost seven years ago after having two c-sections in 18 months.  It’s never really gone away no matter how hard I worked out or how well I ate, and I’m tired of it.  I could hear the disapproval in my husband’s voice when I shared this new idea with him.

“No one is perfect, honey, do it if you have to, but I don’t think it’s necessary, you look great to me no matter what.”

Currently, I am sitting at the kitchen island in my house.  When I look up from the screen, my gaze falls upon a half empty room and a large bare wall.  You see, one year later, my house is not perfectly decorated, most walls remain empty, and we still need quite a bit of furniture.  But we are here, we are happy.  Having empty rooms has not stopped us from loving our new home and making new memories within its walls.

My need for a perfect house was gingerly tossed out of the back-door months ago.  Rooms will be filled over time and walls will be covered when we get around to it.  I let go of my expectation of perfection and a peace and tranquility settled over me.  I can enjoy my house, empty rooms and all, because it’s not about the furniture in the room, it’s about the family that fills it. 

I went back to my internship after talking to my sponsor armed with the knowledge that clients were supposed to challenge me.  I’m supposed to make mistakes and learn from them, and I’m certainly not supposed to have all the answers.  That’s what being a student and an intern in all about.  Furthermore, being a clinician is a life-long learning experience, I will forever be gaining knowledge from new clients and other clinicians.   I lowered my expectations for my interactions with my client and it helped tremendously.  She didn’t expect me to have all the answers and since I was visibly less frustrated with myself (and her), she was able to open up in a new and exciting way.  Giving up my need to be the perfect clinician actually allowed me to be the best clinician I could be in that moment.

As for the Skinny Fit, the jury is still out.  However, I did take a break from writing to take a huge scoop of peanut butter and lather it on an Oreo cookie, so I have my doubts as to its full effectiveness.  I’ve had two children and I love food, especially sweets, my body will never again be that of my 16-year-old self.  Some parts will still jiggle, many will still sag, and I can actively feel the folds in my belly touching right now, but I would rather have the perfect forbidden snack and be happy, than the perfect body and feel deprived. 

If it’s not obvious already, the theme of this post is perfection.  As a person who grew up with ADHD and as a parent watching my child grow up with ADHD, I can tell you that one characteristic is feeling like we can never reach our full potential- it’s like our best self is in a lock box buried deep inside and we cannot find the key.  I often watch Man, his brilliance stifled by his impulsivity.  Just last night at chess club, he imprudently made his next move and, voila, he was in check within 30 seconds.  When we were talking later that night, he was frustrated with himself, “I knew what to do, mom, but I made the wrong move anyway.”  This is a theme that permeates his life, and mine.  Feeling, no KNOWING, we can do better, but being unable to figure out how. 

It took me well into sobriety to realize that this was one of the reasons I drank.  It’s maddening to feel like you are capable of so much more, but not knowing how to get there.  However, while sobriety did give me the ability to get closer to achieving my best self, it also gave me permission to be imperfect.  I spent so much time trying to be better, to do better, battling an uphill battle, that it wore me down.   I see now that it’s not about winning the battle, it’s about deciding whether or not to fight the war in the first place. 

Perfection his highly glorified.  It is something that very few, if anyone, EVER attains.  There is only one gold medalist, one valedictorian, and one winner, and their perfections were equally hard work, luck, and confluence of other circumstances that affected their competitors.  It’s an image we all try and portray, I mean, when was the last time you posted a picture on social media that wasn’t perfect?

My friends, I give you permission to be perfectly, IMperfect!  Allow yourselves to make mistakes, but make sure you learn and grow from them.  Understand your own limitations, and accept them, embrace them, flaunt them!  Be who you are, defects and all, and love that person unconditionally.  Always remember, it’s progress, not perfection.

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