Hello! I’m Jamonica, a recovering obsessive compulsive perfectionist control freak! Wow! That’s quite a mouthful!
Imagine if you had to introduce yourself pointing out your greatest flaws? Could you do it?
For the longest time, I never realized that I was indeed an obsessive-compulsive perfectionist. I mean everyone made their beds to rigid specifications every day, right? Color-coded their closets complete with master lists and numbered hangers so items always went back where they belonged? Insisted that not a hair was ever out of place when leaving the house? Had their personal library arranged in alphabetical order by genre? Refused to highlight or write in a book for the love of pristine pages?
No? Just me?
While most people probably feel they are simply born certain ways, what they fail to realize is that these things are usually triggered and simply fold into who we are.
I cultivated not-so-healthy obsessive tendencies with control issues to cope with all the things I couldn’t control in my childhood.
I was a well-loved, slightly spoiled only child until I was six years old. I had my own room, got all the attention and had a pretty perfect existence until my sister showed up on the scene.
Suddenly, I felt non-existent. My mother’s attention became solely focused on my little sister and her father who commanded attention always. A quiet shadow, slowly fading into the background, I began to insist on perfection because mom always paid more attention when my things were perfect.
As an incredibly bright child, I began to insist on nothing but top marks in everything I did. Anything less than an A in school simply wouldn’t do. Most kids were perfectly fine with a B. I, however, would be brought to tears and force myself to work that much harder so it never happened again. My papers were pictures of measured perfection. Any class project was executed with a fierce attention to detail, meeting every requirement to exacting standards. I was the perfect student.
As my sister got older and the attention I did receive dwindled further and further, I began to insist on perfection in all areas. My clothes were always clean. My hair was always in place. Getting dirty was not an option if I couldn’t immediately get clean afterward. Crashing my grandmothers beach cruiser into a tree and scarring my hands and knees nearly sent me into convulsions! My perfect skin marred with scars!!
Perfectionism wasn’t my only flaw. My sisters’ birth wasn’t the only trigger to my unhealthy habits. I wish it were.
I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. Some cope by taking to substance abuse, running away, anger or violence. I cultivated a personal culture of control. Extreme control.
I held my emotions with a rigid grip. All people saw was the smile. The carefully crafted smile that never let on to the pain within. I created schedules for my days. Even at a young age, I realized I could control how I spent my waking hours and did so with color-coded efficiency. I scheduled what time I woke, ate, worked and even slept.
My brief stint in the United State Marine Corps simply fed into my need for absolute perfection and stringent control. Covered and aligned when cleaning and arranging was my jam. Beds you could bounce a quarter off were a challenge I gladly accepted. Perfection in my appearance at all times? Yes please!
I lived my life one obsessively constructed scheduled day of color-coded perfection at a time. I was miserable. That kind of obsessive behavior takes a toll mentally, physically, spiritually. I never seemed to get enough rest. Tired was my constant state. My body hurt regardless of what I did. My mind never stopped processing ways to make things exactly the way I wanted them to be. Nothing was ever perfect enough. I was a mess masked behind a never-ending smile and a constantly sunny disposition.
It wasn’t until I had kids, some twenty years after I begun crafting my perfection personality, that I realized my carefully honed skills of obsessive-compulsive perfectionist behaviors weren’t going to serve me anymore. Children are random, messy, and constantly on the move. Picking up toys behind a toddler who just found their legs is a quick lesson in futile insanity.
Suddenly, nothing was where it belonged. Untidiness plagued me everywhere I looked, and this tiny human depended on me to be flexible and understanding of the mess.
My son was three when I finally cracked. Toys spilling all over the house, syrup on my nicely cleaned table, and tiny clothes he thought would be fun to play with all over his room sent me over the edge. I wanted to cry and scream and rage, but he was only three. I sat in the middle of a pile of tiny clothes and cried; something I don’t do easily.
I felt like a failure because I couldn’t keep syrup off the dining room table. I felt like a failure because there were Hot Wheels cars everywhere I turned. I felt like a failure because his clothes were no longer perfectly folded and neatly stacked in his drawers.
Crying into a pile of clean laundry, I suddenly felt the crushing weight of failure because I couldn’t keep everything perfectly as it should be. Failure was just losing control of a situation I should control. And losing control did not mesh well with my obsessive-compulsive tendencies. If anything was a mess, it was me.
Let’s fast forward fifteen years to the time of lockdown. Everyone is at home. There’s no spring break vacations. Parties are canceled. Even Easter was put on pause. I made my family matching shirts to wear. It didn’t make sense to purchase the standard new dress shirt and tie for the guys and dresses for the girls to watch church from the sofa. On the back of these shirts, I put “Not Perfect, Just Forgiven”.
Those four words have become a personal mantra. You see, Jesus doesn’t demand perfection. He never has. He doesn’t demand rigid structure and schedules. He doesn’t demand perfect hair and clothes. He doesn’t demand perfect homes, grades, or behavior. Although good behavior is expected. The only thing Jesus demands is that you love God and love your neighbor as yourself. That’s it.
Like any person in recovery, I backslide every so often. I begin to rigidly schedule my days, get annoyed when the unexpected happens, then remind myself that I don’t need to control everything. I get annoyed with my daughter’s room that is always messy by my standards, but reign it in before her lip begins to tremble because her room is a reflection of her, not me. I do not have it all together. I am a recovering obsessive compulsive perfectionist and thankful every day that while I am not perfect, I am forgiven.
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