I am largely a type A person (with the exception of my haphazard bedroom).
I also struggle with the vice of pride.
This is a poisonous combination.
As a person with perfectionist tendencies, I struggle to accept my own weaknesses. Combine this with insidious pride, which always whispers that I can and should do everything on my own, and one can quickly see the danger: a human person with a flawed nature desperately attempting to grasp perfection by her own merits.
Throughout college, the pressure I placed on myself to achieve my own perception of perfect grew, and in 2016 this pressure crystallized into an actual physical crisis that would ultimately force me to face and reconcile with my own inadequacies. During the beginning of last year, I was consumed more than ever with notions that I was a failure, I was too broken, I wasn’t good enough. I knew, logically, that these things were untrue, but that knowledge did little to assuage the constant inundation of disapproval I directed at myself.
Poisonous Perfection Manifested: Eating Disorder
I’ve always been kinda neurotic about food. Society surreptitiously perpetuates a view that anxiousness over one’s diet is an uncool sign of weakness, so of course I’ve become very good at pretending I’m not neurotic about it. But I’ll level with everyone: I am, and have been since the age of ten when I was told, upon complaining about clothes looking baggy on me, that it was a good thing I was skinny, because models are skinny. *Enter subconscious equivocation of thin = good.
This neuroticism never revealed itself in any way besides persistent and irritating mental fixation on food, but as 2016 rolled in, and the noise in my head clamoring about all my imperfections as a person grew more and more chaotic, food became the avenue by which I attempted to numb the noise. I’ve always had a wicked sweet tooth, and so at first, I attempted to silence the noise of my dissatisfaction by snacking on sugar constantly. The sweets helped a bit to drown away all the condemnation I leveled against myself. Soon however, I found that eating so much sugar simply added to the negativity. One night, as nausea from excess gummies and caramel rolled over me, a thought popped into my head: the food in my stomach was making me feel sick: why not just throw it up?
Afterwards, I realized that purging the food had left my mind entirely blank. Absolutely no noise. Absolutely no feeling at all.
I know there are people in this world that would give anything to feel something, to escape the doldrums of depression’s grey expanse, but for me that numbness was all I wanted. It very quickly became less about food, and all about that total empty silence that would be left after I purged and my body was left too weak to feel anything. Anytime the cacophony in my head felt overwhelming or swollen, I would fill and empty myself just to be left in that utter blankness. In the vacuum of that dead stillness, I had no energy to drown in my deprecation.
As this behavior continued, I quickly came to realize it wasn’t a good thing. Nothing about the habit was beneficial for me, and it made me view food less as a source of life and more as a means to numbness. But these types of mental habits are addicting, and by the end of spring I realized with no small amount of trepidation how difficult it was to fight the desire for the ringing emptiness when that terrible noise gripped me.
I went home and actually had a good, healthy summer, returning to school feeling strong and resolute. However, another sudden running injury sent me spiraling back into that shrieking brokenness. I continued struggling with my eating disorder during the fall, having good weeks where I teetered delicately on the edge of withstanding my flaws, and bad weeks where I fluctuated violently between feeling swallowed up in a maelstrom of not-good-enough and feeling absolutely nothing at all.
A Process of Healing
On October 3rd, 2016, one of my best friends died suddenly. Although this event was and continues to be emotionally devastating, it jolted me awake in many ways. My focus had been so narrowed in on what I considered to be success, what I considered a perfect life, and what I considered gave me value; Simon’s passing acted like a sudden and shocking zoom-out. I could suddenly see clearly both how I was perpetuating the cycle of my feelings of imperfection, and that the places from which I derived my value were incredibly problematic.
My healing process began then, but it took months to complete.
Throughout October, I was given the grace to understand that I was allowing all my self-worth to stem from material things; running, body image, grades, reputation, and all of these were contributing to my imprisonment within a noxious cycle. Not only that, but my pride was keeping me distant from God. I had held such anger towards God all of 2016, bitter that He had allowed these struggles to fall on me, and indignant that He had not given me the strength to deal with them on my own. I wanted to achieve my idea of perfection on my terms, but this outlook was futile. Within it, I will always suffer these feelings of inadequacy, self-deprecation, and worthlessness, because I am an imperfect person who is made perfect only through God. There is no perfection except through Him.
Although I realized all these things, it was still difficult to put them into practice; God led me slowly through the process.
First, I knew I had to permanently depart from the sport of competitive running. Running is not an inherently bad thing, but the sport had become toxic to me as I put too much of my own self-worth into it. Running had become an unhealthy and artificial means of making me feel good about myself, and if I truly wanted to fix where I was allowing my value to come from, I needed to cut it off. So, I took a deep breath, and let go of that which I had been using to justify myself for so long.
Next, I knew I had to confront my eating disorder. There is so much shame surrounding eating disorders, especially bulimia, (even writing that word is difficult for me), but this makes writing about mine all the more pressing. There’s a subtle pervasive attitude that those with eating disorders are vain or weak or unintelligent, and this simply perpetuates the silence in which most of its victims suffer. I began addressing my own eating disorder by talking with a counselor, who worked with me to discern strategies to deal with the noise in my head in a healthy manner.
The last thing I needed to do was confront my own notions of personal failure, shame, and inadequacy by speaking to the people I loved. Here, my vice of pride was such a major obstacle for me. I had carried this perception of not being good enough for so long without speaking to my family or God, and clung stubbornly to the idea that I had to fix myself on my own before I could be worthy of love from those closest to me. Not only was I fighting an impossible battle for human perfection, but I was obstinately refusing to allow anyone in to help me. This more than anything was the most detrimental aspect of the inward battle I faced throughout 2016, my hard-hearted refusal to allow God’s love into my heart until I was perfect. On the outside, I went through all the motions of my faith, but on the inside I felt a million miles away from God.
So I went home for Christmas break knowing I needed to again be open with my family and with God, I needed to somehow break down that wall and allow that love into my life. Over the course of break, I spoke to members of my family, and though it was difficult, by the time I rolled into 2017 I felt my fences disintegrating around my soul. I had put into words the feelings I had been carrying, this idea that I had failed in every way, and they had looked back at me with nothing but love, assuring me none of that mattered.
Honestly, I’m amazed at how much God’s grace has changed me since the beginning of December in 2016. There were so many times last year when I thought I was a hopeless case, that I could never be better, that I would spend the rest of my life in shame. But this realization, that goodness is never achieved by my own means but by entrusting myself to God, has rejuvenated my life and unclogged the poisonous stagnation I was stewing in for so long. I’m very aware that all my flaws are still there; my happiness does not stem from the fact that I now suddenly have achieved that perfection I was so fixated on. My happiness is that, although I am totally, completely broken,I am loved totally anyways.
I don’t ever want to go back to that black isolation where I am consumed by my will and my desires and my idea of goodness, and so I am, for the first time in my life, very deliberately setting aside time each day to bend myself to God’s will and God’s desire and God’s goodness. I have longed my whole life for infinite perfection; only this past year was I able to finally learn where to authentically find that infinitude.
My perfectionism and pride and eating disorder don’t just suddenly disappear in a puff of fairy smoke; their malignant shadows still lurk in the corners of my soul, and that is why it’s so important for me to recommit my will to God, to give Him my fiat, every day.
I’m sharing this story because (1) I think it’s still another important step in the healing process (specifically, letting go of material source of value #4, reputation); (2) because God is sooo good, and that’s worth talking about! And (3) because if anyone out there is struggling with a similar situation and I can be of any help, I want to be. No one would ever guess (at least I don’t think so) from the outside that I was fighting with these inner demons, including the eating disorder and misplaced notions of self-worth, and I personally have a hunch that there are a lot more out there than we think.
The peace that comes from letting go of trying to make yourself perfect, and allowing God to bestow His own perfection on you through His love, is stupid crazy insane. I’m not perfect. I’ve never been. But Holi Canoli, let me tell you, my God is. And His perfection, turned to each and every day, will suffice for me.