Do you often feel like a caterpillar in a world full of butterflies?
Meal times were always stressful in our home growing up. We never knew if it was going to be a peaceful mealtime or a time filled with stress. The mood of my uncle was our barometer. If he was in a good mood, then we were all in a good mood, laughing and joking. Yet we knew that atmosphere could change in an instant. So we learned to eat quickly and behave, never wanting to be the “one” to cause a sudden change in his mood.
One very vivid memory stands out in my mind. I believe this is where the lie of perfectionism took root for me. Or at least it ingrained it in my mind that day.
This particular mealtime was a happy one, peaceful even. We were enjoying our food and were somewhat relaxed that evening. I innocently asked for more milk. My uncle suggested that I pour my own glass.
In those few moments everyone waited to see what I would do. We all new this could be one of those times when we were being set up. If I refused to pour my own milk he could get angry, the mood broken. And if I chose to pour it myself and spilt the milk then there would be hell to pay.
I made a decision and took my chance. I cautiously and with great care lifted the milk jug and poured milk into my glass, careful not to spill a drop. I, even at age 8, meticulously accomplished the task. I was quite proud of myself. But I should have known it wasn’t good enough.
Too late I realized my mistake. It mattered not that I’d poured the milk into the glass not spilling a drop, what mattered is that I didn’t hold the jug and pour it the way “he” thought I should….the façade of peace around the supper table exploded. My uncle, in an instant rage, began yelling in my face, spit flying from his mouth, eyes dark with anger and the next thing I knew the perfectly poured glass of milk was thrown in my face.
The rest of the family sat in stunned silence, too afraid to even breathe. I quietly and obediently sat still in my chair with milk dripping down my hair and face. All the while tears pouring from my eyes, silent tears as I uttered not a sound. I was too frightened to move, to speak, to breathe, because I knew if I did I would then feel the end of his cowboy boot as he sent me to bed without any supper.
And so we all finished our supper in silence. The jovial mood broken and it was my fault. Why could I do never do anything right? Why couldn’t I be perfect?
I was terrified of making choices. No matter what I did I was damned if I did and damned if I didn’t. That night as a little girl I learned that it was more important to be perfect than to be real. If only I had done it perfectly I would not have been hurt, and somewhere the lie took root that if I could live a perfect life then the pain would go away and I could avoid future pain.
…to be continued……