Blog > Courage to be Imperfect

Courage to be Imperfect

Margaret Phillips
| February 28, 2017

I was referred to a psychologist during my senior year of college. The university counseling center gave me the referral because they were concerned about my drinking. Of course, I was positive they were wrong, but I went along with the appointment anyway just to prove I was right!

Well, the first appointment went as expected. He said I had a drinking problem and he was concerned. I am still baffled by this because he came to his conclusion despite on the fact that I lied about everything. One thing was for sure with this guy– he knew me better than I knew myself, and he was quick, too!

Over the course of a few months, he tried and tried to get me to consent to enter treatment. I would have no part of that. I kept trying to shift his focus away from my drinking and make it about my eating disorder. The only disorder with my eating was that I didn’t eat because it would interfere with the alcohol absorption– which seemed totally logical to me. Never mind the fact that I was a walking skeleton, smelled like a distillery, was malnourished, and drank 24/7. As you can tell, drinking was not my problem.

By graduation time in May, I had figured everything out and decided that moving to Myrtle Beach, SC would be the cure I needed for the drinking problem that I wasn’t ready to admit I had just yet. (Don’t you just love the cunning, baffling, and powerful ways of alcoholism and addiction? Crazy thinking, for sure!) So needless to say, that adventure didn’t go all that well.

Ultimately, I called the psychologist again about a year or so later and begged for his help. At age 22, I agreed to enter treatment for the first time under the premise that I had an eating disorder and not an alcohol problem. As if somehow one seemed better than the other. It’s hard for me to understand my thought processes back then because they make zero sense to me now. However, the head and mind can be a dangerous neighborhood for an addict or alcoholic, so never go it alone!!

That treatment was the beginning of a long journey that included numerous stints in various treatment centers up and down the east coast. With each one, I can honestly say another layer of the onion was uncovered– so for that, I’m grateful. It takes some of us longer than others to “get it” and I was no different.

Once I was discharged from that facility, I began seeing the psychologist on a regular basis. I learned a great deal from him– some of which I didn’t appreciate until much later. I’ll never forget one session in particular. He had me start writing in a journal, which was a new concept for me at that time. I had no desire to put my thoughts on paper for someone else to read! But somehow, he persuaded me to do so.

I brought my journal to our session and he took it from me to write something on the inside cover. He wrote “Courage to be Imperfect.” I literally had no clue what he meant. It probably took me fifteen years or more to truly understand what he was trying to convey to me. You see, when I was in my late teens and early twenties, I was driven by perfection. I felt that everything I did had to be perfect in my eyes. I felt I had to achieve some unattainable level and when I fell short (which happened a lot), I could use that as an excuse to continue to beat up on myself. By “beat up”, I mean abuse whatever was in my path. Self-destruction was the goal in my pursuit of perfection.

What’s odd is that my parents didn’t put that perfectionism on me. I did it all to myself, sort of. As a child I was molested by a neighbor over a period of a couple years until I was eleven. Once I got the courage to tell my parents, it stopped immediately. I didn’t ask any questions as to why or how it was stopped– I was just happy it was over. However, the lasting effects of that wreaked havoc with me for years to come. I only first started to talk about what had happened in that first treatment center with one particular therapist.

Somewhere in those discussions, he knew that my drive to be perfect came from feeling so imperfect. I felt as if I was full of damaged goods on the inside. My thinking was if I looked perfect, acted perfect, and performed perfectly on the outside, then no one would notice the damage on the inside. What was on the inside was all I could see.

I lived that way for such a long time. I allowed fear of failure and fear of not being perfect at something (or anything) drive me away from so many experiences. So when my psychologist wrote “Courage to be Imperfect” in my journal, he knew what he was doing. I would later rewrite that phrase in my Big Book and ponder over it for years. I have never forgotten what he said, because peace came along with the understanding of those words.

It really wasn’t until my last treatment center that I came to fully understand and appreciate what he meant. After being able to resolve that trauma, I was free from fear, from failure, and from perfectionism. I no longer saw myself as damaged goods. All I needed was the courage to face those issues. I had to accept that the kind of perfection I was seeking was unattainable and not real. Putting all of the imagined fears behind me gave me the freedom to accept myself just as I am, quirks and all.

I can say with certainty that I am far from perfect and the best part is that I’m OK with that. Today, I know I’m worthwhile and not damaged. I know that I have something to offer. I know that no matter what, I can never fail at anything as long as I have the courage to try. Moving that concept of having the courage to be imperfect from my head to my heart was a very long process, but one I am forever grateful for. Sometimes our journey through life’s trials seem never-ending. It’s only when we reach the other side that we realize the courage it took to get through those times when we overcame fears we didn’t think we could. Never forget that feeling.

Courageously Imperfect and Free,

Margaret

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  • Paul Phillips

    Having witnessed this “transformation” first hand I cannot stress how important it is for people to understand what is being said. Was admitting that you are “imperfect” the answer to everything? Not exactly, but it was the door that had to be opened in order for the other issues to be addressed and resolved. I have been educated enough to know that addiction is a disease and it is not a choice for someone to go down that path. We all are imperfect and everyone needs to realize that. The two important things I saw in Margaret’s message were first, she realized she was not perfect, and second, she realized that she didn’t have to be perfect. I hope the people that need to hear Margaret’s message can grasp what she is saying. We all have imperfections and sometimes they are not something that you can control on your own. Find the courage to recognize this and seek (and accept!) the help necessary to overcome the issues at hand. Margaret’s story proves that it is Ok to admit it and is a testament to what can come out of that realization!

    • Margaret Hobbs Phillips

      And this is why a strong support system is critical! I’m blessed beyond belief that God sent me Paul.

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