Like many people who find themselves unwittingly attracted to the allure of trying to save addicts, I developed a need for perfection and outside validation at an early age. In my household, emotional displays were criticized as sensitive and I was discouraged from discussing my feelings or sharing the family business. This was reinforced by encouraging guilt and shame when I did not live up to standard with lectures, disappointment, and sometimes language that could border on cruel.
I was the kid that had to build Lego from the instructions and wash my hands or clothes immediately if they were dirty. I didn’t understand at the time, but I think I was so obsessive because I thought being anything less than perfect would bring negative attention… It just wasn’t safe to be anything less.
Of course I didn’t realize that I was absorbing all these experiences as a critique of my worth and I thought all families were cold and uncommunicative. Over time I began to believe that there was something wrong with me and everything that happened to or around me was my fault. I started to associate vulnerability with feelings of panic and fear and over time developed the expectation that people would betray me. I created a hard shell and lone wolf persona which held everyone at a safe distance to keep them from seeing the traits in me that I had come to see as negative and weak: a big heart, need for acceptance, and the deep cracks that were developing in my sense of self-love and confidence.
Today, I know that my parents did the best they could. They passed along the same lessons they got from their parents, and so on. It doesn’t make it right, but it wasn’t totally their fault. I understand all too well how painful and difficult it is to look in your own blind spots and how low I had to go to take this journey. My family’s legacies include a deep need for perfection, a mythical and impossible thing.
I’ve done a staggering amount of reading and research in the last year on a variety of topics. This is one of the healthier things I’ve done for myself: investing in trying to understand and accept the reality of things as opposed to my unfulfilled expectations.
One interesting thing I stumbled across is Kintsugi, an ancient Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with resin and precious metals such as gold, platinum and silver. What results is an amazing and unique piece of art marked with a spider’s web of shine. The philosophy behind Kintsugi is that we can embrace the flawed or the imperfect as beautiful. There is no need to hide the damage or throw away something broken. In fact we can illuminate the repair and celebrate the change as an improvement.
Even early in my efforts to repair myself this idea brought some encouragement as I hope it does with you. I didn’t have to remain a pile of broken shards; with enough effort maybe I could be better… maybe even beautiful.
A little more reading on Kintsugi, for those craving more: https://www.nbcnews.com/better/health/how-japanese-art-technique-kintsugi-can-help-you-be-more-ncna866471