I just realized an interesting paradox, that I’m able to accept the fact that I’m flawed and imperfect, yet while recognizing that fact, I still expect myself to be perfect.
My pursuit of perfection has led to thousands of incidents of self-abuse over the years, yet if I acknowledge that I’m imperfect ~ as is every single member of the whole human race ~ then such a quest is a fruitless endeavor, and will always be one.
Then why do I continue to pursue it?
I don’t know.
Maybe I can figure it out, with a little Spirit-led assistance.
For one thing, it may be rooted in the cult and its rituals, which seemed to be never-ending. For instance, there was the one that they started doing to me when I was as young as two years old, where they had me in a room with a high ceiling, and a huge bonfire in the middle of it.
There was a metal table suspended from the ceiling by pulleys and a big timeclock on the wall, and there was a naked man tied down to the table. They would ask me questions, questions which had no answer, but they would expect me to come up with the right answer, and when I couldn’t the pulleys would lower the table closer to the bonfire. And the timeclock gave me a certain amount of time before it dinged. Once it dinged it was too late for me to answer that unanswerable question, and the pulleys were triggered to lower the table.
Because the table was metal it was like a frying pan, so as it got closer and closer to the fire the man’s skin began to burn, and the man started screaming in agony. He begged me to make the table stop moving towards the flames, and pleaded with me to answer the questions correctly. But given that the questions were unanswerable, and that I was only two or three years old, that was an impossibility. So all his screaming and pleas did was confuse me and make me panic-stricken and frantic.
That was the kind of perfection that was expected, even demanded, of me throughout my childhood. Nothing I did was ever good enough, no matter what I tried, and if I made a mistake, my mother made like I’d done it on purpose if I didn’t act remorseful enough. I remember spilling a glass of milk at dinner a few times when I was a kid, and if I didn’t act abjectly apologetic, she accused me of doing it on purpose.
Like, who knocks over a glass of milk on purpose, especially if doing so is going to result in a beating and/or getting raped, considering that Harry used rape as punishment for anything and everything.
I’ve wondered if having to feel that kind of abject remorse for a simple mistake is the seed that was the genesis for the self-abuse. It makes sense to me that it was, but even knowing that doesn’t seem to make any difference in being able to stop doing it, and that is extremely frustrating to me. Sometimes I feel desperate in my desire to not do it anymore. Lately I’ve taken to asking God to take me Home ~ that’s Home to Heaven ~ just so I don’t have to go through it anymore.
It’s just so painful, and I hate doing it!! It can’t be pleasing to God! It just can’t!!
The first incident of self-abuse I remember was while I was a student at Ripon College, and it was during my junior year. I was taking pipe-organ lessons (Ripon had a small, two-manual pipe organ), and one day during a practice session that wasn’t going at all well, I got so frustrated that I completely lost it, and I scratched my forehead so badly that I drew blood. I ended up having to find a Kleenex to staunch the blood-flow so it wouldn’t ooze down my face and make a mess. I also ended up ripping the pages of the music, so I had to figure out how to mend them so they were still readable.
The other early incident of self-abuse that I remember was when I was visiting Priscilla and Malcolm in Colorado, and they asked me to macramé a plant hanger for Bernice (Malcolm’s mother). They paid for all the supplies, and everything, but I only had a week to complete it, and somewhere in the middle of it I figured out I’d done a whole series of knots wrong and had to rip out a huge section of work and do it over, so I was terrified I wouldn’t be able to finish by the deadline Priscilla had given me. As a result I scratched my forehead and my arms, making an enormous bloody mess of myself.
They didn’t ask me how I got the scratches on my face, but I’m sure they knew, and I was too embarrassed to mention them.
I was able to get it finished on time, even a few hours early, though I ended up having to stay up all night to do so. I was so sure Bernice wouldn’t like it that I couldn’t be in the same room with her when they gave it to her. I had to hide in the other room. That’s how afraid of her criticism I was.
Fortunately, all my fears were for naught, because she loved it, and it remained hanging in her house until the day she died, several years ago. In fact, from what Katharine says, it’s still there.
So that’s my story, my terrible, horrible, no good, very bad, perfectionistic, and painful story. I feel a desperate craving to be free of it. If I could open up my skull, and find the part of my brain that contains the self-abusive perfectionism, I would rip it out so I wouldn’t have to struggle with it anymore.
But I can’t, so I won’t. I guess I’ll have to trust God to do that part.