I'm a Mess

Recently, I joined a group led by Ariane Benefit, a professional organizer and coach, called "Embracing the Power of Good Enough." For many, like me, the joy of life is lost as we endeavor to make each moment perfect and maximize each second. For some of us this comes from a past or childhood where we felt we could never measure up, where even our best wasn't quite good enough. I have lived in that place for so long, I have trouble understanding objectively what good enough really is.

As part of the program, I volunteered to be coached during a group webinar. For the second week of "Embracing Good Enough," Ariane had challenged us to try two different experiments: 1. to do something without preparation, or the "wrong" way; or 2. to allow the people around us to help us but not to correct or criticize them if their way didn't match our expectation. I decided that where I needed coaching was my expectation--not only of others but of myself.

I live in a world of compulsion. I used to smoke. It was a horrible and nasty habit that I knew was gross and very bad for my health. But I was addicted. I lived in the compulsion.

These days, I have given up my cigarettes again but I realize that I still live in the land of compulsion. Just ask my kids. I obsess about my yard and house.

(Now, in case you've been to my house and you're thinking it doesn't look like I clean compulsively, you're absolutely right. Because of my perfectionist streak that cycles with depression at never being able to make my house look like the ones in a magazine, I don't clean compulsively. A compulsion can be completely mental, meaning that the activity occurs in the brain over and over obsessively without a matching physical action. I only learned this about six months ago, and immediately understood my own thought processes!)

Whenever I enter a room of my house, the first thing I do is scan the room to see what needs to be picked up or cleaned. If I am too busy to stop and do it, or if I'm in the zapped zone of depression, I keep thinking about how I want it to be. I think about the ways in which I could trick my mind and body into having the energy to fix the problem, or I craft ideas to train my children to pick up after themselves more.

If I sit idle for more than a few moments, my brain turns to the rest of the house. How many loads of laundry are waiting to washed? When was the toilet scrubbed last? the bathtub? the sinks? Should I vacuum now or wait until later? Are the kids' rooms clean? I can fill more than my fair share of time worrying about my house and its level (or lack thereof) of cleanliness.

For a long time, I've thought that this was a symptom of neuroses within myself. I mean, certainly, I have friends who don't sweep the floor once a week, let alone once a day, and they don't seem to pay much thought to it. I've spent afternoons in the home of a friend to watch them load the sink with dirty dishes and walk away.

But I don't live in that world. I am weird. I am the one who is off. I have the flaw.

Of course, I realize that if you are reading this blog, you probably already know the condition of the home I grew up in. Cleaning was not something glorified or expected. It was the exception and not the rule. When cleaning was done, it marked a specific event (risk of being kicked out, family visit) and was generally only done once every couple of years at most. And the state of clean was very temporary. In a matter of days, a clean room could return to the chaos and overwhelming state of clutter from whence it began.

In fact, I often cleaned willingly. I liked a clean house although I felt powerless to manage it. I couldn't keep it up. And because the weight of cleaning almost always fell on me, when it returned to the hoarded state, I felt like a failure.

For me, then, it is quite a normal and rational thing for a floor with sticky spots from spilled juice and pancake syrup to trigger a deep emotional response. I have seen that floor over and over in the past and lost control of the situation. I have experienced the trauma of papers that procreate overnight on the dining room table. I have witnessed the pile of dirty clothes that increases exponentially faster than they can be washed.

It is not weird or crazy for me to feel anxiety when things start to fall out of order in my home. It is a completely normal and rational response to a series of traumas that I survived as a child.

What is wrong is how I've been judging myself for the flashback response.

What I need is radical self-acceptance. My anxiety is not good or bad. It is real. It is a part of who I was. But it does not reflect who I am.

I am an imperfect yet lovely woman. I am fiercely loyal and strong. I have a heart for giving to others selflessly and reaching out to others to inspire them to become more than what they're selling themselves short as. I am good enough.

My house is never going to look like a magazine. And although I have wished for that for years, I am slowing starting to realize that it's not supposed to. I have long ago realized that my quest for a perfect home is in part because I don't want my house to give away how imperfect I am. But since I've established that I'm not perfect, and I'm reminding myself each day of that and that it's okay that I'm not, it's getting easier.

Yesterday, I tried to go to the park with the kids without planning and cleaning the house first. Sadly, I've trained my kids so well that they balk and are slow when I say, "Let's go now." They don't know how to respond to that. But I will keep telling myself that it's okay when I get anxious over a mess.

I am a mess. And that's okay. So are you. And you're okay too. I forget and expect too much of myself, but I know that someday I won't "freak out" about floors that need sweeping. I'll be able to sit down to dinner and just taste the food and enjoy the company.

And that...enjoying life, laughing, and loving others...is worth being good enough for.


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