I unknowingly struggled with perfectionism for more than three decades. It took recovering from a 10-year Adderall addiction, alcoholism, an eating disorder, and five years of sobriety to reveal my true addiction: perfection.
It was the playground for all my other addictions. Control – check. Procrastination – check. Self-sabotage – check. Body image issues – check. Comparison – check. People-pleasing – check. Adult child issues – check. Perfectionism was the breeding ground for my coping mechanisms. I thought it was the answer, but it was the problem.
I began writing my memoir in 2019 and that was when I realized the extent of my perfectionism. Woah. After writing and reliving my history and my trauma, I realized that perfectionism showed up in all areas of my life – my career, my relationships, my finances, my self-worth, my body image, and health.
Perfectionism was the breeding ground for my coping mechanisms. I thought it was the answer, but it was the problem.
In intimate relationships, I avoided showing up as myself – because, one – I didn’t know myself, but two – I was afraid of being imperfect and therefore being abandoned. I played the role of the perfect girlfriend for most of my relationships and that kept me from unconditional love. I didn’t love myself unconditionally – so how could I love another or allow another to love me? I also avoided all difficult conversations because I couldn’t control the outcome. No conflict equaled no problem in my mind.
With my body image, I needed to be the skinny girl. If I wasn’t a size two then I was unworthy. Wearing a size four meant I needed to exercise more or eat less. It was a complete mindfuck.
In my career, I was the overachieving, go-go-go girl. No promotion was ever enough – every rung of the corporate ladder I climbed, another one was added. I needed more, more, more. I also procrastinated on every project because starting projects illuminated the possibility of me being imperfect. I needed more money, more accolades, and more responsibility to feel worthy.
With my finances, I completely avoided checking my account balance – because to check my balance would be too much reality and reveal my imperfection.
In my relationships with friends and family, I was in a constant mode of people-pleasing. I would phone 10 friends for advice before deciding on something as simple as what to have for dinner. I played the role of peacemaker and people-pleaser with my family and was completely enmeshed in their welfare. I would call my mom every day to see if she had been drinking, and I allowed her mood to dictate my mood.
I set unrealistic expectations of myself in every area of my life, I was plagued by black and white thinking, I got my value and self-worth from everyone else, I was in a constant state of lack and comparison, I avoided all conflict, I procrastinated on my dreams, and I outsourced my self-worth and self-trust.
If perfection had a bingo card, I was a winner. I was addicted to perfect.
I thought something was inherently wrong with me – but it was perfectionism. Perfectionism was my root problem – but it was also my way through. If I could heal my perfectionism patterns, I would find relief.
It took five years of sobriety and recovery — and writing my memoir — to understand that my main problem was perfection and that all the other shit – the Adderall, the alcohol, the people-pleasing, the eating disorder, the need for control and certainty – were all symptoms of my perfectionism. Realizing the vastness of my perfectionism was freeing, and scary.
I was up for the challenge because I was committed to my personal growth. It was time to heal my perfectionism. I was ready to break free. I started looking at every single area of my life through the lens of my root addiction, and I identified two types of perfectionism – slow and fast.
Realizing the vastness of my perfectionism was freeing, and scary.
Slow perfectionism is the type of perfectionism that keeps you stuck. It’s characterized by procrastination, indecision, and fear of failure. Slow perfectionism tells you, “you can’t mess up”, “don’t make a mistake,” and “imperfect is bad.”
Fast perfectionism is the type of perfectionism that keeps you going and going and going. It’s characterized by people-pleasing, approval-seeking, comparison, and control. Fast perfectionism tells you, “do more/do better,” “everyone has to like you,” and “your worth depends on your success.” It leads to burnout because you’re always doing more and trying to prove yourself as the “perfect” person.
My entire life had been dedicated to my shortcomings and my insecurities. It was time to uncover and heal my perfectionism.
And like any good perfectionist, I was both slow and fast in most areas of my life. The awareness of my patterns was the permission I needed to change. I started looking at each of my perfection patterns – I was both slow and fast in my career, I was both in my relationships, I was slow in my finances, I was fast in my body image – and I began healing each one.
The awareness of my patterns was the permission I needed to change.
I began viewing each perfection pattern as an opportunity to heal. I took each one and created an action plan to heal it. The biggest change for me was when I started curiously observing my thoughts and words – because that was the root of my perfectionism – my harsh inner perfectionist. I realized that love and perfection cannot coexist, and I started infusing love and compassion into my life.
I began a daily morning routine of journaling, gratitude, and affirmations to grow a mindset of love instead of hate. I looked at my people-pleasing and went on an advice detox. I started taking massive imperfect action on projects and tasks to overcome my procrastination.
As a recovering perfectionist, I can feel gratitude for my perfection. I can see that it was trying to protect me, but it was holding me back. It was keeping me safe, but I needed to bloom. I am grateful for my perfection patterns and my courage to see the patterns and take the uncomfortable steps to heal it. Healing my perfectionism is a daily commitment. It’s not a one-time deal. Perfectionism is now my guide for healing – every time my inner perfectionist creeps up, it’s an opportunity to heal.