I spent my entire life believing I had to be perfect. The perfect daughter, sister, friend, wife, and mother. The perfect dancer, singer, and Army officer. Failure was not an option. Being anything “less than” what I saw as perfect was unacceptable.
My drive to be perfect touched every aspect of my life from the time I was young. I thought being perfect at everything was the answer to making everyone happy… except me. It was my life and I was not happy.
My desire to be perfect reached a new level when I entered middle school.
Struggling to determine where I fit socially, as well as in the dance world, drove me to turn against my body because it wasn’t perfect; therefore, it was the root of all that was wrong in my life. If only I could be thinner, lose the extra weight I was carrying, then all would be right with the world and I would be able to be perfect. I just needed the “perfect” body to get me there.
Slowly, I began limiting food I could eat until the list of food I was allowed to eat was much shorter than the list of food I was not allowed to eat. My sixteen year battle with an eating disorder just started and I was completely unaware. I thought I was doing well; I was reaching my ultimate goal of having the perfect body. In reality, I could not see how much weight I was losing and the drive to be thin took over my life. I still wasn’t perfect.
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My inner battle for perfection stayed with me in high school, college, and my time as a U.S. Army Officer.
I had to be the perfect officer. Being a woman in a male-dominated workforce meant I felt I had to prove myself over and over again. Earning my Airborne wings was not enough. Obtaining a perfect score on the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) was not enough. I needed more.
The one area in which I was lacking was having the perfect military body type. I struggled to meet the weight standard, and when I felt less than perfect because of it, my eating disorder was there to pick me up and help me become perfect through false promises. I continued to struggle with restricting and purging food throughout my time in the military.
Then I became pregnant.
During my pregnancy, I cared less about myself and more about my child, so I ate and did not purge. I gained weight, and at the time, weight gain signified perfection. Until I gained more than the “recommended” amount and I was, again, “less than perfect.” Within weeks of my daughter’s birth, I began my desperate attempts to regain my pre-pregnancy body. After all, the media and society tells us the perfect mother is one who looks like she never had a baby and exercises daily. I fell under the spell and tried desperately to lose the post-pregnancy weight as quickly as possible by resorting to eating disordered behaviors. I had to be the perfect mother.
Trying to become the “perfect” mother with the “perfect” body landed me in treatment for my eating disorder.
It took months, but I learned “perfect” does not exist. Perfection is not reality. While I am still working toward being fully recovered and my body is still learning to trust me again, I have discovered the following:
Life is not 100 percent and neither is recovery; it is a process and it is not perfect. No one else looks like me and no one else gets to be me.
While I may not have the “ideal” body, and I am certainly not the perfect mother, I am perfectly imperfect. I am me. No one else gets to wake up and be the mother of my daughter. No one else has my exact physical features. I am unique in every way possible. I make mistakes, but I also make happy memories. I no longer break myself trying to be perfect for others. My daughter does not want a perfect mother, she wants a real mother.
Just as I do not want perfect recovery, I want real, sustained recovery. Both are messy and both take time, but that is why I say I am free from perfectionism.
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