When I was 17, I was required to go to a psycho-educational support group. My memories of these weekly summer evenings is almost non-existent. I have a few images, mostly from a bird’s-eye, depersonalized vantage point. A bunch of teenage girls with eating disorders sitting around what could have been a kitchen table. I don’t remember anyone’s name or face. I remember staring at my knees a lot; I always wore jeans because I was cold all summer.
A nurse practitioner ran the group. One day we wrote affirmations on note cards for each other and she wrote on my card, progress, not perfection. I tucked this tidbit back in my head somewhere and refused to think about it until recently. My expectation is perfection, all the time. This leaves no room for learning and growth and progress. In the twisted logic that is sometimes my brain, progress doesn’t matter because I’m not already perfect, flawless, Good At Everything. Which means that all my mess ups are mess ups. Failures. Doom. End of the World Doom.
I’m bringing it back. Progress may sometimes look like failure. Actually, it almost always looks like failure because failure means I tried something. Which is Scary Scary Scary in my world, but I’m going with it. Progress, not perfection. And maybe my progress looks like a fuck-up, mistake, illogical to the extreme to other people… but it is progress for me because I’m trying and failing and learning.
Here are some non-traditional ways I’ve made progress in the last while:
- Twice I’ve gone to work, realized I don’t feel well, and then gone home. This is progress because I’m willing to leave work when I realize I don’t feel well. Ideally, next time I will call out before I actually get to work, but you know, I’m learning. I also realize this makes me look like a doofus at work, maybe, and highly unprofessional, but I’m trying to not think about what others may think.
- I’m getting better at doing it all one day at a time. Not every day, but some days.
- Three times in the past couple weeks I’ve recognized that underneath massive amounts of irritability and anger is utter sadness, pain, and grief. I’m recognizing my emotional mind and realizing when I’m getting back into what we could call Wise Mind. Being able to recognize these different states is new to me, and is undeniably huge progress. It’s hard to self-regulate when you don’t realize you’re dis-regulated, after all.
- I gave myself a time out on Thanksgiving to regroup. Adults need time-outs, too. After a time out, I’m better able to be present.
- I’m arrogant and entitled. I often think I’m “better than” … which I’m not. A first step to being more humble is recognizing that it’s a challenge. It’s a truth that I dislike about myself, but it’s a truth.
- I’m acting with compassion towards myself more often than I did at this time last year. I think. I think it’s progress. I’m counting it as progress.
There never will be perfection, but I can always do better tomorrow. And when I mess up, try and do the next right thing.