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letting go of the mask of perfectionism
Photography by natiya guin

letting go of the mask of perfectionism

by desiree bartlett desiree bartlett
Practice Yoga | Personal Story

A long time ago, I listened to a wonderful meditation CD by Ann O'brien. In the beginning of the disc, she spoke of how we all can have addictions, and that this does not necessarily mean drugs or alcohol. Addiction can be attachment to perfectionism, judgment and self criticism. Ouch! Those words struck a chord within me, as I felt the weight of their truth. The mask of perfection has long been one that I have yearned to let go of, but until recently did not know quite how to.

My childhood was a daily lesson on how to hurry up and grow up, so that I could protect myself. The home was not a safe haven, and I spent many hours at the local dance studio not just learning ballet, but also spending as much time as possible away from the house. I come from a long line of drug and alcohol abuse on both sides of my family, and somewhere deep inside of me, I knew that I would never allow that into my own adult life. Unfortunately, in an attempt to lock out all that was sick, and unhealed, I also locked in a lot of self expression. If I could have a voice that was not too loud, a way of being in the world that was not too rough, then I thought that I would have a much easier road. 

Perfectionism for me often rears its ugly head when I feel out of control. If I can endlessly pour over details and inform myself of all possible outcomes, then I trick myself into believing that I can create the perfect outcome. For example, when I had a Spanish track on one of my DVD's, I spent endless hours trying to perfect my accent. I listened to countless hours of romantic Spanish songs, parroted back lines on the novelas, and forced myself to start thinking in Spanish. In the end, a beautiful Chilean songbird was my voice for the Spanish track on the DVD. I felt as though I had failed. My heart sank when I found out that my accent was not good enough, that I was not good enough. 

Now I can look back at this experience, and see that my own addiction to perfectionism prevented me from feeling the full, expansive joy of creating my vision. My vision was to share the joy of movement with people all over the world, in English and Spanish. I now see that the vision was honored, and in fact realized. The thought that I was not good enough, was an old recording in my head. In fact, a few months after I released the pain from this event through meditation and mantra, I was invited to teach a Yoga class in Spanish for Univision to 1,000 people. No one criticized my accent, not even me. Instead I received a lot of hugs and recognition. This also was the first day time that my older son said the words, 'I love you Mommy.' I think that he could sense the shift in me. Old tapes were replaced with self acceptance and the joy of communicating freely, from my heart.

Rather than go through this gut wrenching experience of putting myself into turmoil for not being perfect, and then needing to use all available healing modalities to release it over and over again, I can now realize that the addiction is what needs to be released. I now have a better understanding of chemical dependency and the need to have a count of the days, months and years that one is 'clean.' My own tally right now is 90 days of recovery. So this process is very, very new, and like anything new, it is unfamiliar and takes daily practice. 

Today I am endlessly grateful for the practice of Yoga in my life. Svadhyaya or self study has allowed me to see through the mask of pain, the mask of perfectionism. Underneath thismask is a true yearning to do good in this world. The intention is for the highest good, so if I make a mistake, fall, fail, or make a mess once in a while, I am now in a place where I can finally be ok with that. Deep breathing helps. Meditation helps. Yoga helps, every day.