Taking a Pass on Perfection

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Yesterday regular readers of this blog (okay, recent regular readers, I did take a three month break between February and May) might have noticed there was no Three Good Things post. By the end of the day, I was just wound down and didn’t have the energy. I didn’t exercise or stretch, and there were a few other things on my checklist (jeez, does this guy ever shut up about his checklists?) that I didn’t do. At the time, I was fine with not “getting them all” as I usually try to do.

But this morning, I woke up not in the expected mindset of “I missed some things on my list yesterday, my life is a failure” but rather “ow my back ow my shoulder ow my me.” I was in a lot of pain and so I allowed myself to take it easy. I did my vitals, I ate my breakfast, I set my glucose meter timer, and I went back to bed.

I’m now awake again (either that or this is the most lucid sleepwriting I’ve ever done) and I’m coming to grips with not only yesterday’s shortcomings but this morning’s as well.

And you know what? I’m FINE with it. Perfection is a subjective construct anyway. You can get a perfect score on a test, sure, but my perfect pizza (bacon, ground beef, mushrooms, light sauce) is likely not your perfect pizza. (Although you might be interested in my pizza, or at least craving pizza, in which case welcome to the club, go go gadget power of suggestion!) The point is that perfection is in the eye of the beholder, and what’s perfect for me is oftentimes not going to be perfect for you.

So as I write this my back is back to normal, and my shoulder pain is greatly diminished, although I have a heating pad on it still. But I’ve managed to do all the things that I need to have done by this point in the day, and I’m looking to accomplish more.

That’s the good thing about the morning. It gives each one of us a fresh start once a day. Today I hope to hit all my checkmarks. I have an appointment later on today and I hope that I remember to get things done around the appointment. (Usually sojourns outside the house throw off my schedule a bit and sometimes drive the whole day into disarray. The measure of how well I’m handling the change in the day’s usual and customary schedule is how well I can stick to my checklists despite the schedule.) And if I do, well, that’s great. If I don’t, that’s okay too.

Today I can do no wrong, even if I don’t do everything.

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Radical Acceptance

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Photo: The Holy Grail prop used in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” Image taken from indianajones.wikia.com; the prop itself is the intellectual property of Lucasfilm Ltd.

As promised in last night’s Three Good Things post, I wanted to talk more about the concept of radical acceptance and my rudimentary understanding of it. This is based off a revelation I had while reading “The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook” by Matthew McKay, Ph.D., Jeffrey C. Wood, Psy.D., and Jeffrey Brantley, MD.

The copy I’m reading originally came from my wife’s library. She purchased it for her own use, lost it, bought it again in an e-book format, then we found the original, which she’d barely written in with a pencil. Five minutes with an eraser and I had a virtually new copy all to myself.

It’s important to note that my wife was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder before I was, and in our attempts to understand what she was beginning to go through, I’d picked up a couple of books and did some research online. We knew that the first step was something called “radical acceptance,” where you accept yourself just as you are, warts and all.

This was a concept that I had trouble with even when I first learned about it. How are you supposed to accept who you are when you know all those mistakes that you’ve made and just thinking about them brings those same emotions washing over you just as they first did when the mistake first occurred? How does one even begin to break that cycle? So for a while, the concept of “radical acceptance” was something that was a nebulous thing, a legend, a myth – something that we weren’t sure could or did exist, but would change my life if I could just find it. (Even before I was diagnosed with BPD, I knew that the concept would be a helpful one for me. Did I know in my bones that I really had BPD all this time? Not sure if I’ll ever be able to say.) Radical acceptance became something of a Holy Grail for me to search for, doubting I’d ever find it.

Fast forward to last night, when I was reading in the workbook and discovered that radical acceptance goes beyond just yourself and your self-image. It deals with accepting your present environment, whether it be good or bad, as being the perfect combination of all the events and decisions that have transpired before it. This is a concept that I more or less adhere to. Oftentimes I reminisce about some of the experiences that I have in life, and usually my wife will ask if I wish that I had done things differently, that my life was somehow easier than it is now. Invariably I tell her that I don’t wish anything were different because I don’t know if one tiny change in my past may have resulted in me missing out on meeting her, falling in love, and marrying my best friend and soulmate. When I read those words last night, I was stunned to realize I’d been practicing radical acceptance all this time – I just wasn’t directing it inward toward myself.

The revelation came when I realized that I can’t be a different person than the experiences that brought me to this point have led me to be. The two are interconnected, and that means that I am exactly the person that I mean and want to be, right now, in this moment.

If I can radically accept what events in my life brought me to this point, whether they be good or bad, it’s not that far of a stretch to radically accept the person those events made me into.

Last night, I found my Holy Grail. And unlike whatever Indiana Jones tells you, it resides within me. And my wife’s resides within her. And yours resides within you. All it takes is just accepting this moment as being perfect within all the imperfections that led to it. Accepting yourself as a product of all the moments before this is just a simple leap of faith. And any Indiana Jones fan worth his or her salt will tell you that’s the way to finding the Grail.

December 8, 2014: Three Good Things

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Today’s good things:

1. I started the day on a rough note, but was determined not to let it be what defined my day. As a result, I managed to get the non-time contingent items on my checklist done earlier than I can remember doing before, which made me feel like I’d accomplished a lot with my day.

2. I got to watch the cat launch herself from the foot of our bed into the living room in midair, then tussle with her in-flight luggage: she brought a sock in her mouth with her. The gigglefits over this were epic and memorable.

3. I learned that radical acceptance is not necessarily accepting yourself for who you are, warts and all, it’s accepting all of what has transpired in the world, both good and bad, to bring me to this one single perfect moment in time. This is a minor breakthrough. I struggle with trying to change what’s already happened, and in doing so become more and more irrational. That irrationality makes more sense now that I see what I’ve been doing all this time – trying to change the unchangeable rather than accepting it for what it is and moving forward from this point in time. This realization should make it easier for me to transition this new thought process into accepting myself for who I am rather than dwelling on what could have been. Rarely, I get glimpses into this “it is what it is” mindset with regard to my current status in life, but generally speaking I obsess with what could have been, even though I profess to have no regrets and swear up and down that I wouldn’t change anything for fear of losing what I already have in my life that’s good. I’ll be writing more about this tomorrow, because this was a big step for me to make today.

Self-Esteem and Cherry Blossoms

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Photo credit: WindyLife@deviantART

I’m currently reading a book entitled “The Buddha and the Borderline” by Kiera Van Gelder. It tells the story of one woman’s struggles with borderline personality disorder (BPD) symptoms for years before having it properly diagnosed, and her use of dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) and Zen Buddhism to recover. I’m five chapters in, but it’s a fascinating read. Van Gelder is almost bluntly transparent about her struggles, and it’s refreshing to hear someone else go through similar experiences to what I’ve been through in my life.

One of the main tenets of DBT is a concept called radical acceptance. It essentially means that you accept who and what you are, right now, in this very moment, strengths and weaknesses, flaws and all. Mindfulness is a big part of this concept, and the yoga is helping with that. But how do you accept who and what you are when you don’t know what that is?

I thought I’d address the topic of self-esteem today, since that’s one of the parts of the title of this blog. I know I have pretty low self-esteem, but what does high self-esteem look like? So I hit Google to try and find an answer.

The Mayo Clinic was my first hit, in an article called “Self-Esteem Check: Too Low or Just Right?” It talks about healthy self-esteem rather than high self-esteem, and to be honest, that’s more along the lines of what I’m looking for anyway. I came across this passage:

When you have healthy self-esteem it means you have a balanced, accurate view of yourself. For instance, you have a good opinion of your abilities but recognize your flaws.

That sounds so much like what “radical acceptance” starts with. But does self-esteem lead to radical acceptance, or is it really the other way around, with radical acceptance blazing the trail toward healthy self-esteem?

I have so much to learn about this new diagnosis. Looks like I’ll be starting a DBT group therapy of my own on the 10th, so I’ll find out.

In the meantime, I can just acknowledge who and what I am, right now, in this very moment, strengths and weaknesses, flaws and all.

I am a compassionate person.

I am disabled.

I am very talented in the kitchen.

I don’t think I’m worthy of love most of the time.

Sometimes, I believe I’m a pretty awesome guy.

Other times, I don’t think I’m anything.

I am a very good listener.

I get distracted easily if I’m bored.

I’m working hard to improve my physical and mental health.

I’m so tired most of the time, all I want to do is sleep.

I am all these things and more, and I acknowledge them all. Right now, in this moment, it’s okay to be a flawed human being. Technically, we’re all flawed.

One of the minor subplots of the movie “The Last Samurai” is Katsumoto’s (Ken Watanabe) search for an elusive cherry blossom.

The perfect blossom is a rare thing. You could spend your life looking for one, and it would not be a wasted life.

At the end of the movie (I won’t spoil the rest of the plot), he has an epiphany as he gazes on a spectacular tree of the beautiful flowers, some blowing away on a light breeze.

Perfect. They are all perfect.

Perhaps that’s how we should view our humanity. Perfect in all its imperfections.

I am like a cherry blossom.

I am flawed.

And that’s just perfect.