Have you ever just wanted to be perfect? I mean really, really perfect? It’s totally crazy-making, that’s for sure! I know because I spent the first three decades of my life trying to get it all just right…straight A student, mad organization skills, ideal weight, cover-up makeup artist, scheduled outfits to ideally never be worn in the exact same combo more than once as a teen (wow. there’s my crazy bone). You see my grandmother shared a large part of my care-giving and that poor woman had some serious obsessive compulsion tendencies. I joke you not she alphabetized our canned goods when she was not mopping, vacuuming, or bleaching something. Needless to say I learned early on that if I wanted to get her love and affection I needed to hone my abilities to clean, sort, and purge personal belongings so as to never reveal clutter.
This means I got pretty good at color-coding my socks, shoes, and clothes; keeping my hands off of furniture and listening rather than speaking since she was also a hyper-verbal chain smoker. Really wish I could have introduced her to some calming aids like lavender oil or tension-tamer teas. You can only imagine what the idea of paints, crayons, and glue would do to a woman like this! Thus, I unfortunately didn’t get exposed to art until after leaving home.
Art became my thing as soon as I discovered paints as an alternative to chronic journaling. I wasn’t the best artist or a die hard art connoissuer, but I was able to get messy, express myself, and give voice to my emotion despite not knowing the words or how to share them verbally. I painted maniacally at times with raw energy and my whole body. I dreamed of how art could be an integral part of my life and I became more and more interested in how I could use this incredible tool to live a more meaningful life. I was blessed with an opportunity to travel abroad and research the efficacy of art therapy before I actually began my graduate studies and clinical career. l fell in love with the process of art as a healing tool. I continued my own body of work diligently and used such experiences to complete my thesis. Art had become the focal point of my life and I assumed it would stay this way. Being the perfectionist I was, I believed I would always practice my own art with the fervor that had once driven me to move cross country to live and briefly show in New York. I fantasized about another Master’s degree in Fine Arts to support my role as an Art Therapist.
I painted with patients while I worked in behavioral health hospitals and would still come home to paint more over the nights and weekends. I took opportunities to show work in AZ after leaving Brooklyn while juggling full caseloads of clients in a community based counseling role. I was committed to being an artist and a therapist because that was my perspective of being the ‘perfect’ art therapist…anything less just wasn’t good enough. So I did both and called it self-care but I was burning both ends of the candle and I’m afraid it took an autoimmune disease to slow me down. This was challenging to share in last month’s blog in honor of mental health blog day but I chose to be vulnerable as a reminder that we are all human. We all have limits and we all need to listen to our body which I discussed in more detail a few months back.
Without compassion we are just screwed really. How can we expect to heal if we are berating ourselves for being sick, human, imperfect, etc.? The minute we begin to soften our tone, our words, our internal messages, and even our muscles as we shift from fight to surrender we open a space that invites healing to occur. It’s like stepping into a therapist’s office. Would we stay if they used the tone of a critical coach who chastised us into better performance? I know I wouldn’t because competition is not compassion and it does not allow for us to be who we are without comparison to someone else. In striving to be better than our neighbor or evaluating ourselves as less than we lose the opportunity to just be our natural, amazing, unique and authentic selves…human flaws and all. When we can begin to see through the layered defenses, the armor of protection we have built, and the facade that this is somehow who we are, we can begin to dive into the luscious, juicy parts that are genuinely alive. They will be sad, scared, hurt, angry, disgusted, excited, thrilled, full of love, awe, beauty, and peace knowing each part deserves its voice and serves its purpose. This requires vulnerability but with compassion as the elixir there will be no need for superficial perfection, no need for compulsive achievement, and no need for isolation as community becomes ever more attractive when we are free to be ourselves.