Once upon a time, everyone I knew expected me to be perfect. When I wasn’t, I got into an extraordinary amount of trouble. Being infinitely flawed, never near perfect, I was nearly always in trouble.
I was too loud, I was mean to my brothers, I couldn’t sit still, I had a sassy mouth, I was messy, I wouldn’t eat my dinner. I would argue when someone wasn’t telling the truth to make them tell the truth, while I was often guilty myself of lying. Despite my high intellect, I couldn’t get good grades. I stole my schoolmates’ lunches because I believed I was being poisoned with mine. I smoked cigarettes so I could be popular…and this was all in grade school. The list is truly endless, and really…it doesn’t need to be detailed here.
Sadly this trouble never left room to get any love, so I grew up feeling that unless I found a way to be perfect, I could never be loved. When I was 15, it nearly cost me my life. Something in me rallied and I escaped where I was. But I didn’t escape the need to be perfect in order to be cared for.
Lots of life happened between 15 and 21, and while it all makes a great story, it was, for the most part, brutally painful, and filled with me still getting into trouble.
Fast forward to 21, and I found myself alone in Florida, with a small boy, a dead end job, no education. I was feeding my son, but didn’t have enough left over to feed me. I didn’t have many friends; certainly nobody close. My mom had died, I didn’t have a relationship with my Dad, and my brothers weren’t a part of my life. I hated myself more than anyone has ever hated me, and started doing things to injure myself (SIB).
I couldn’t let myself cry because I knew in my heart it would end my life to let the tears flow. And besides, if I began to cry, who was going to “give me something to cry about” in order to make me stop?
Always in the back of my mind was the sweet relief I knew suicide would be. I thought about it all the time. And one day I realized that’s what I wanted to do. There was no way I could fix all these things that were wrong with me, so why bother with all this? I would never measure up religiously, in my family, with my friends, in a marriage or as a mom. There was nothing worthwhile about me. I hated myself so much I couldn’t even look in the mirror.
But there was this little boy. And every day he did something cute. Every day he opened his little arms wide and ran to me when I picked him up from the babysitter. Did I want to fail one more time by letting him down? I was so torn.
So I thought quite a bit, and I made a plan. I made a list of everything I hated about myself, and everything I didn’t. There was only one thing on the like side of the list. My green eyes. Everything else about me? On the hate list. Impatient, loud, too much energy, rebellious against authority, sassy, socially awkward, interrupted, always thought I knew better, stubborn, fell in love too easily, got over-attached to anyone who paid attention to me, oversensitive, hurt all the time…I found some of my writing recently, and some of my journals not too long ago, but I haven’t looked for this list, so I don’t remember all that was on it.
What I decided to do was set a date for killing myself six months in the future. Then I decided to use that six months to change as many things on the list as I could. Why not? What did I have to lose? I was so relieved that all of this would be over in six months that I had a new burst of energy with which to move forward.
That list turned out to be the beginning of a new road for me; My Right Turn to Happy. See, every day, my son kept doing cute things. And every day, I kept noticing things I liked about life. I noticed I was laughing. There were things I really loved to do. And there were some people I enjoyed hanging out with. But what about all this stuff that was wrong with me? I started looking at each of the items, and thinking about them.
As the months passed, these things happened with each item on the list, while some BIG things happened inside of me.
First, if I felt like the issue was worthy of changing, and I felt like there was something I could do about it, I did a little something different each day that I felt would lead me towards changing it. This is where I learned the value of change done in Baby Steps. (EFFORT)
Second, if I tried to change it and found myself arguing with me about my desire to change it, I started defending that trait to myself. I began to look for the value in it, instead, so I didn’t have to change it, and I learned to appreciate it about myself. I found ways to set my life up to support that trait’s positive side, rather than focus on the negative aspects that could show up. (ACCEPTANCE)
Third, there were just some things I wasn’t going to be able to change, and wouldn’t really ever love about myself. Those, I learned to forgive. More about that later. (FORGIVENESS)
At the end of the six months, when the date came up on my calendar, I couldn’t imagine what I’d been thinking six months previously. (I’d found HAPPINESS)
This was a major detour in my life for me.
I’ve been through quite a bit in the pursuit of happiness, and I will straight up tell you that it has been a hard rocky road. The past two weeks have been exceptionally hard, but already I’m so grateful they happened.
This year and especially these recent times have been brilliant for me because I now see, so very clearly in my head, what my primary message is for others willing to hear me.
Life is about effort, sure. But it’s way more about acceptance and happiness, not perfection from your effort. Find a way to be happy with who you are. You’ll be surprised how quickly you’ll be happy with, and accept, everyone around you. If you can do this, I promise you’ll soon find yourself in a happy, beautiful life surrounded and astounded by the rich texture of imperfection.
And don’t underestimate the necessity of forgiveness. Perfection is not something that can happen. Expecting perfection from ourselves and others is only going to result in a path filled with disappointment and distance from ourselves and others. Instead, I realized back then and am crystal clear on it now that the ONLY way to be happy is to learn to forgive imperfections and failings.
I didn’t realize until this year, and especially until the past few weeks, how well I’d actually learned to forgive myself, and by extension others. In the end, my only true goal is to be accepting and happy. Forgiveness and moving forward quickly back to happy has to be part of that path.
And, just like the happiness you’ll see in others when you’re happy with you? You’ll be able to truly forgive others only after you learn to forgive yourself first.
Change what you focus on, and tell yourself a different story. Tell yourself a story where you love yourself for the beautiful, uniquely special person you are. Understand yourself and forgive yourself fast. Give up being perfect, and instead fully embrace that happiness and acceptance are not found on any path to perfection.
The only perfection I seek now is to accept and be perfectly happy. If you can figure out how to accept, understand and forgive, I promise you’ll be happier than you could ever imagine.
~ cj 2011.09.12
In the department of taking my own advice, I’m not 100% about the last half of this blog. The words could use some tweaking, I could narrow my message down. Here’s the thing, though….It’s not perfect. But I’m happy with it, so up it goes. 🙂 I figured an example of happiness with imperfection was worth more than the perfect blog post about giving up perfect for happy, no?