Friday, November 5, 2010


I'm in the process of making myself a new item of clothing, from a material with a distinct pattern. I've realised how easily my perfectionism can still be triggered, by the length of time it took me to cut the pieces out. I had to match the material pattern in every possible place on the garment - front and sleeves, seams, pockets, inner and outer lapels...

Now I grant you, any tailored garment in a material with a repeating pattern, looks much more professional if the pattern is matched at seams, etc, but it was the obsession to get it "perfect" that took me over at moments. I spent twice or three times as long on the cutting process, because of this matchy-matchy thing going on inside my head.

I found myself, at one point, leaning down to check that one teeny tiny diddly bit on the pattern piece was lined up just exactly perfectly with the teeny tiny diddly bit on the other pattern piece, and had to stop, walk away, and give myself a mental shake. It was insanity in action. It's just a new piece of clothing, for me to wear. I'm not making it to sell, I'm not wearing it at a command performance before the Queen, my life does not depend upon matching the pattern on a microscopic level - it's just a garment.

When I catch myself in this craziness, after the little talking-to I give myself, well-laden with Al-Anon wisdom, and a slogan such as Easy Does It, inevitably, the next feeling which will wash over me, is gratitude for my program. Before Al-Anon, I thought my crazed perfectionism was a good thing; I had no understanding of the misery I inflicted both upon myself, and upon those around me, of whom I had such unrealistic expectations.

In Al-Anon, I have learned that my best is good enough. I can celebrate my efforts, and not be always picking at myself because I didn't achieve perfection. I have learned that my perfectionism was rooted in childhood experience, and that I can shake that off, and choose my own standards.

 In the major city where we once lived, I had a program friend who was also a mad perfectionist. I'd arrive at her place, she'd have her coat and shoes on, but getting her out of the house would try my patience. (Patience is not one of my virtues, I've had to work like the dickens for every drop I now possess.) She would almost get out the door, have one foot upon the sill, but would then drop her purse and rush across the foyer to pick a dead leaf from a plant, or rearrange the shoes on the shoe rack, or straighten the hangers in the closet, or ... I started saying to her, "Screw it! That's good enough; leave it alone. It's fine. Put that thing down, woman!"

The day that she said, "Maybe I should..." and I replied "Screw it!" and she agreed, "Right, screw it!" and marched across that doorsill without a backward glance, we knew she was getting somewhere with all her efforts to let go of her perfectionism. The next time she came to pick me up, and I hesitated when the phone rang just as I was closing my front door, she said firmly, "Screw it!" I closed the door, locked it, and we walked arm-in-arm out to the car, feeling enormous satisfaction. My time in program is filled with such memories of achievements. They might seem slight to someone whose life hasn't been ravaged by alcoholism, but to those of us who have been locked away in our own small and lonely boxes of self, they are our victories, and we celebrate them.

I have another piece of checked fabric in my stash of material; a lovely soft wool blend, in autumn golds and browns. I want to enjoy this fabric when I work with it. To achieve that, I may need to make a reminder sign for the wall above my cutting table, reading: How Important Is It?


  1. I just enjoyed every bit of this and would love to have a perfectionistic friend to link arms with and say, "Screw it!!"

    ~ Robin
    ~ A hard-core perfectionist

  2. Such a great slogan "How Important Is It?". I have said screw it to guilt quite a bit. It is a useless thing. I once was a perfectionist but the years of living with alcoholism slowly chipped away at that defense. I have become much more tolerant of myself and others.