Eating Disorders

Relinquishing Rituals: Letting Go of Perfection

What I didn’t realize was perfection doesn’t exist, which is why I was never satisfied with myself. No matter how much I controlled and ironed out my life, nothing was ever perfect or good enough.

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Rituals. We all have them, we all do them, we all count on them, and we all make them. Whether it’s double knotting your shoes or brushing your teeth each night before bed, they are a huge part of our everyday life.

Rituals can be very helpful at times, and a positive asset if they are used as flexible reminders and routines to help you accomplish your goals and find security.

However, when taken too seriously, rituals have the power to become greater and more important then any other aspect in your life, even yourself.

When you are struggling with an eating disorder, rituals are your worst enemy, your best friend, your sanity, insanity, comfort, and distress. They are the driving force, feeding every disordered thought, behavior, and fear that encompasses your mind.

Breaking rituals and developing new and healthy flexible routines is a mental barrier that must be conquered for recovery and freedom to occur. Essentially, you must simply give in and embrace flexibility.

In the midst of my eating disorder, I had one ritual controlling my life – perfection. Every moment of every day was devoted towards maintaining the “perfect” diet, keeping up with a “perfect” exercise regime, having “perfect” grades, always being a “perfect” role model, and getting involved in all of the “perfect” things. Any deviation from what I saw as perfection was simply out of the question, and wouldn’t even be attempted.

Perfection had become a ritual of imprisonment, confinement, and identity. What I didn’t realize was perfection doesn’t exist, which is why I was never satisfied with myself. No matter how much I controlled and ironed out my life, nothing was ever perfect or good enough.

Rather than bringing me happiness and bliss, my obsession with perfection transformed me into an apathetic, unemotional, rigid, inflexible, lifeless being.

Relinquishing Rituals: Letting Go of Perfectionism | Libero

My number one concern from dawn until dusk was to complete my day according to what I believed would make me feel perfectly satisfied. This meant waking up at 4:00 in the morning before a 13 hour workday to fit in my long run, and ordering the “perfect” meal of a plain salad when I would occasionally go out to dinner. It also meant I was sidelined from my favorite activity for over year due to a pelvis stress fracture from pushing too hard.

I spent my Christmas thinking about how I was going to get out of enjoying one of the homemade cookies I just made rather than partaking in the holiday spirit. My rituals slowly but surely became bigger than me, until I was lost amidst a sea of behaviors, “have-to-dos,” and patterns.

Although rituals are extremely difficult, scary, and intimidating to break, it can be done slowly but surely, one step at a time.

The first step is to realize that you must simply let go. When I first entered recovery, I continued to be obsessed with perfection, even believing that I had to recover in the perfect way. This resulted in constantly feeling negative about myself when I had a setback. My attitude made me discredit any step forward or small challenge I overcame.

Additionally, I thought recovery and weight gain needed to happen in a “perfect” manner. If I was going to gain weight, I was going to do so by eating the “perfect” foods, and put it on in a “perfect” amount of time. Little did I realize the only way recovery was every going to happen was if I simply stopped fighting.

I often imagine breaking a ritual looks like doing a giant belly flop into a pool. You simply fall forward in one giant leap of courage and let every ounce of energy, fatigue, resistance, and control fly out of you. When you first hit the water, it usually hurts, stings, and feels a little uncomfortable, but in just a few moments, you are laughing, smiling, and ready to do it all over again.

When you make the first attempt to break one of your rituals, it will be challenging. It may be one of the hardest things you ever do, but after you accomplish it, you will rejoice with how fulfilled, invigorated, and reenergized you have become. Eventually, you will become so comfortable in denying your habits, you will be able to jump up on that diving board and fall flat on your stomach and face with nothing but excitement in your bones, freedom in your heart, and peace in your mind.

Although I am far from being completely ritual-free, it is something I continue to work on, and it has become a huge part of my recovery. Every day I make an attempt to throw some spontaneity and diversity into my daily routine. It might be making something new for dinner, going out with a friend for an unexpected ice cream run, or even cutting out an extra exercise from my workout.

Each time it is a challenge, but with every attempt it gets easier and easier.

It is also important to remember breaking rituals does not happen over night. It is a long process of redefining, rediscovering, and recreating yourself, and becoming comfortable with flexibility, change, and the unexpected. “Rome wasn’t built in a day” and neither will the “new you.”

As you go through the process, recognize each accomplishment you make, even if it is as simple as making the decisions and commitment to begin working on relinquishing a little control. Don’t be afraid to be happy either. When I was first told that my rituals would have to change, I couldn’t imagine ever being happy without them, as they had been my sole purpose of waking up in the morning for so long.

However, every time I break one of my rules, an immense feeling of pure joy, elation, and exhilaration overwhelms me. Maybe being imperfect is pretty perfectly wonderful and beautiful after all. Go break some rituals, and finally let go!

Shelby is currently working on completing a double major in Psychology and English from Central Michigan University, and will graduate this spring. She recently applied to graduate school for doctoral programs in Clinical Psychology, and hopes to pursue a career in eating disorder treatment and yoga therapy. She is incredibly passionate about increasing advocacy and awareness for eating disorders, and has devoted her life towards providing support, guidance, and love for those inflicted by “ED.” She hopes she can use her experiences and writing to encourage victims towards recovery. In her spare time, Shelby enjoys running, yoga, and spending time in the great outdoors. She someday hopes to travel to Africa and help provide mental health services and yoga treatment to the African population as a part of the Africa Yoga project.


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