PROCESS NOT PERFECTION
There is a famous twelve step quote Progress not Perfection and it’s meaning is significant for perfectionists like me and many women I know. The word PROGRESS though implies achievement so I have switched the word to say PROCESS instead. As I get older I have learned that relationships and life is indeed a process as I learn and continue to work on facets of myself to improve upon. At the same time I try to allow and accept them as they are knowing I when I place my head on my pillow I have been kind in my day. Perfectionism used to be my nemesis and its personality traits are the vaporous results of growing up with alcoholism or any ism for that matter. The need to get it right, the need for the outer veil to look gilded when the inner isn’t quite so. Perfectionism can be debilitating and energizing in the same span of the moment it takes its hold. Many perfectionists don’t even realize that their need to get it better than good enough is a driving force of the perpetual angst they feel as they try to achieve. I sure didn’t. I have struggled with the need for better and best for most of my life. It can be something that helps greatness in a business with the result ultimately ending in a successful company and it can also cause incredible disruption because nothing will ever be good enough. The latter can be the hardest for perfectionists because it is their own inner compass of feeling like nothing will ever be exactly a ten that drives the bus on the long trip with no final place on the map to actually stop and smell the roses.
Breast cancer the first time around started to free me a bit because as I went from doctor to doctor doing my own overachieving research, I realized that no matter how much I learned, how many tests I had, how many doctors I spoke with and google searches I navigated around, I still had breast cancer. Nothing was going to change the stark reality that it was out of my control. Breast cancer told me I am not in control. I can think I am, but none of us are. I can park the bus and take a nice nap in the resting spot coming up on the exit I would have otherwise driven past foot heavy on the accelerator. (unless I had to pee, which would have been highly likely, but if I didn’t I would have flown past onward and onward, no stopping necessary to get to that proverbial destination just around the corner over there some place).
Breast cancer twice sealed the deal, but in the middle of the first one and the second one, my mother decided it would be better if we didn’t speak. Again. Ever.
I prefer you never contact me again. She wrote this to me almost two years ago to the day. Mother’s Day time. My son’s high school graduation time. Between the first diagnosis and the unknown second one. I have written about this in my earlier writings and have done a lot of my work because of this significant event in my life, our lives. There is safety in I prefer you never contact me again. That last sentence may read strangely, but the finality of it and the response it requires is a large bold period at the time, not a comma, not a semicolon, not a dash. My first response besides the traditional sadness and fury one might expect was the word relief. It is no fun to be in a relationship with someone who you are on constant eggshell walking with; it is not a walk in the park to be on guard and feeling like everything I say has to be carefully orchestrated as to not invoke a negative. It is not enjoyable to be in a relationship with someone who seems completely disinterested in everything you say all the time, like you are a nuisance and like they are watching the clock to see when its over. This was how I always felt around my mother and it turns out, she seemed to feel the same way around me. Oil and water to say the least.
The second breast cancer diagnosis was actually easier because she wasn’t speaking to me, I just went through the entire experience without her, and instead surrounded myself with all of the women who have supplemented my mother for me. There are many and I am blessed with the superchick tribe I get to call my pretend mothers and sisters. But in the sadness of the reality, they are not my mother. So at the time of my grandfather’s one hundred year birthday party this past November, as I sat on the beach one of the days afterwards, an entire letter came to me in my head to write to her. Like the many eulogies that have come through me in the past, I scribbled it quickly to get it out of me and when I got back to his house, I feverishly typed it not knowing at the time if I would send it. So it sat. The fact that it came to me on my brother’s twenty third anniversary of his own passing because of cancer does not go unnoticed here. Death anniversaries are capable of this, bringing up unfinished business and previously thought surrendered emotion.
When I got home, I decided to mail it old school. The words were kind, gentle, understanding, but also truthful and direct and bare. They needed to be said and I said them as eloquently and heartfelt as I could. There is an old Indian saying that I have often referred to when I have needed to have courageous conversation as my social worker dearest mama friend, Karen calls it.
SPEAK YOUR TRUTH
DON’T BE ATTACHED TO THE OUTCOME
The reason for the bold fourth line is because this is the hardest one to have to deal with. It really means LET GO OF CONTROL, EXPECTATIONS, IT IS NOT ABOUT THE REPLY. Like an eager child though, it is a natural feeling to be hopeful that you will get the fantasy reply you dream of or any reply for that matter. This wasn’t the point though. The point was to let my mother know that her request was not something I agreed with. That I honored it to let the boiling water reduce to a slow simmer, to give it the time it needed, but that it wasn’t the finality she may have hoped for. I am not even sure it is what she wanted when she hit the send button that contained those seven words that made up the sentence difficult to unsend.
It took her awhile but she did write me back, and this started a very very light dialogue as we began our dance of reconnection. Distant, both physically as she lives in Alabama, and mentally as the fragility of our connection is like a frayed wire being slowly and carefully wrapped back up in electrical tape.
I decided this year to send her a Mother’s Day Card. Mother’s Day is difficult when the Hallmark version doesn’t match your own. So I created my own, handwritten in one of the beautiful cards a client of ours draws.
You are still my mother. I wrote. Thinking of you this Mother’s Day.
Process not Perfection. Baby steps on a path that will never complete other than the kind truth of the millions of pebbles sprinkled along the way. This is good enough and this is what makes my Mother’s Day this year better. Not only because I get to spend it with my son in the way we have defined for ourselves over the last twenty years, but because my mother and I are at least making an attempt in the way it works for us, throwing the pebbles towards the middle hoping they don’t take out an eye, but land gently at each other’s feet to keep the path open.