Confession. I’m a speeder. Nearly the first lesson of driving that I gleaned, right after 1) “Always fasten your seatbelt,” and 2) “Keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road,” was 3) “The speed limit is just a suggestion.” Even before I was old enough to imagine myself with a learner’s permit, there was lead in my foot. I was the daughter of a world-class speeder. I was imbued with the genes and infused with the habits of a world-class too-much-to-do-er, always-running-late-er, never-good-enough-er perfectionist. It turned out that perfectionism did not extend to obeying the rules of the road, though. In fairness, I was also a daughter of the cinema and the silver screen. An epic car chase sent my heart racing and filled my arteries with fire.
In the days before I started down the path of my gradual, eye-opening introduction to my emotions and the painful, repeated practice of identifying them and permitting myself to fully experience them, those adrenaline rushes were about as good as it got. However, when I returned from partial hospitalization, waking up each day and waging the ferocious battle of recovery was a sufficient amount of high-drama for me. To the best of my ability, I made a conscious decision to eliminate negative and destructive influences in my life. It began with violent and graphic television. The daily tumult of emotions that flooded me from the moment I first stirred until I sank into the blissful reprieve of sleep were difficult enough to sort through, name, and tolerate. I didn’t need to go hunting for thrills. I imagined my mind as a fragile and impressionable place. Like a freshly planted garden, it needed both careful cultivation and grooming as well as protection from the elements of the exterior world. I meticulously guarded it from raging storms and hungry critters that might trample, wash out, or nibble away the first buds of new growth.
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9)
Whittling away distractions and unnecessariness, dropping back to part-time work hours, I strove to ground myself in simplicity. One of the issues that I grappled with was my chronic lateness and resultant speeding. At the same time, I was attempting to train myself to distinguish between actual needs and what I told myself that I needed. For example, if I didn’t finish all the laundry on Saturday, the world would not end. I would not be able to look at the empty laundry basket at the end of the day with the satisfaction of being the perfect laundress, but I would stand a better chance of being on time for my morning yoga class, because I wasn’t trying to squeeze in another load as I raced out the door. I was trying to incorporate imperfectionism into the fiber of my existence. For a while, it worked with some struggle. I consciously did less, and I left myself more time for what I valued as truly important. However, whenever I walked past the still-full laundry basket with my yoga mat in hand, I felt pangs of agitation. I didn’t give up my anxiety-fueled, perfectionistic, must-always-be-in-control-of-everything, must-finish-everything-I-start, no-minute-can-go-unwasted, rest-and-unfinished-laundry-are-for-lesser-people patterns passively. No. I waged a bloody, excruciating war against my dysfunctional, maladaptive natures.
“Never be in a hurry; do everything quietly and in a calm spirit. Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever, even if your whole world seems upset.”
~ St. Francis de Sales
As the roots of recovery twisted more deeply into the fresh earth, I gradually allowed myself to confront some of the influences that I was rigidly excluding from my life. I never returned to watching intense film or TV. I tried it, but the appeal was gone. Though, for better or worse, I slackened in my battle against my “doing” self. Some previous behaviors slowly, almost imperceptibly, began to re-emerge. In certain ways, these few weeds brought with them a bit of balance. I hurtled back into the world from which I removed myself. There was a very fine line between the isolation I inflicted on myself when I was neurotically enslaved by my eating disorder and depression and the segregation from a more challenging, active, engaged (i.e., busy) lifestyle that I imposed on myself while finding my footing in recovery. During those early months of recovery, I danced rather gracelessly along that boundary. Through a combination of conscious decision-making and a whole lot of tripping, I partly pushed and partly stumbled my way into a more participatory way of living. As I became acclimated and my confidence in my abilities grew, I found myself setting laundry-washing records… and running later and later to yoga and other appointments.
Then, this morning, I caught myself driving 75 mph in a 55 mph zone on my way to mass. Ironically, compared to the space I created for myself to make that same trek each Sunday morning over the past few months, there was time to spare. Speeding was not required to ensure my punctuality. Yet, I found myself racing along, jostling to maneuver around slower traffic. At that realization, it was hard to deny that speeding was become habit, once again. At least part of my old self was revealed. I was drinking in anxiety and adrenaline and choking myself on its bitter poison.
I want to hold space for myself. I long to be still and silent. I ache to allow myself my imperfections and accept my incompleteness. At the same time, I understand the strengths that my driven, striving, grasping self brings to my whole. She is the one who gets stuff done – both in the laundry room and in my recovery. She is the boundary-pusher and the limit-stretcher. If only there wasn’t such a constant war! If only I didn’t feel stretched as taught as a piano wire by the tension between these retcher. elf brings to my whole self. She is the one whotwo disparate halves. Maybe, the balance hangs somewhere in the middle. I am praying for the grace to find it!
“When you encounter difficulties and contradictions, do not try to break them, but bend them with gentleness and time.”
~ St. Francis de Sales