It’s hard for me to explain “the voice” to anyone, but it’s constantly there.
I’m driving into a parking lot to go to a bookstore. There are half a dozen different routes through the parking lot and I randomly choose one. The harsh voice screams at me.
“You should have turned at the other entrance. You’re wasting time. What’s wrong with you?”
I’m sitting alone in my own home and I have my legs propped up on my own coffee table.
“What are you doing with your feet on the furniture?” the voice snaps in anger, as though to a child.
I’m exhausted and don’t feel like doing anything this particular morning, so I sleep late. But I have trouble sleeping, because the voice is yelling at me.
“Why are you so lazy?” the voice shouts. “I’m disgusted with you. Get up. You are lazy.”
In big ways and small ways, the voice is with me much of the time. When I eat poorly and I’m “self-medicating” with sugar, the voice attacks me. It viciously points out the weight I’m gaining. It reminds me that no one likes a fat man. It reminds me that a woman isn’t going to love me like this, because fat people are disgusting and embarrassing.
The harsh and critical superego inside my head is always there. It’s always telling me that I’m a failure. It’s always telling me that I could do so much more with my life if I would just fix everything about myself. There’s always “one correct way” to the voice. Unless I do things in that one way, I am a failure.
That harsh voice constantly reminds me that I’m not OK — that I’m not good enough.
The voice isn’t quite as strong as it was, but it’s still there. Sometimes it doesn’t even have to say things. Sometimes it just has to make a disgusted sound that goes with a grimace — that sounds like someone fuming in anger — to remind me how imperfect I am.
I’ve mentioned before that people told me for years that I was a perfectionist and I didn’t believe them, because I was confused about what perfectionism meant. A perfectionist would clean his house, I thought. A perfectionist would keep his car clean. A perfectionist would eat well and use all of his time productively. A perfectionist would be perfect.
A perfectionist wouldn’t feel this terrible about himself.
I’ve realized lately just how deep I had fallen into the perfection trap. Not only was I abandoning wide swaths of my life to chaos — simply because I didn’t know how to do those things perfectly — but I was allowing the voice to place the rest of my life on hold, too.
I somehow believed that when I had fixed everything about myself, then I will be worthy of love. Then people would like me. Then I would feel better about my core worth. And then I could finally do the things I want to do. I could make movies or write books or mount photographic exhibitions. I could have a wife who loves me.
But until I’m perfect, I’m too shamefully broken to do anything. That’s what I believed without ever putting it into words.
This belief has real-world consequences. I find myself believing that I can’t do any project — such as make a film — because I’m not going to do it perfectly. Yes, I made a short film 10 years ago, but that was a special case. Making that film was more like a “love letter” for a woman who I wanted to love me and approve of me at the time.
My short film was successful by the standards of small short films. My harsh inner critic has page after page of notes about what’s wrong with it — seriously — but that imperfect short made it into 25 smaller film festivals. It won a few awards. It’s been seen more than 300,000 times on YouTube and Vimeo. (Use the recently posted Vimeo link for better quality.)
But the voice tells me it was just a fluke. Because I am so imperfect, if I make another film, my flaws are sure to come out this time. I’ll be exposed for the artistic fraud that I am. It’s better to constantly delay doing anything than to let people see how imperfect my work is.
That’s what the voice keeps saying.
My fears about being imperfect even affect relationships. For instance, when I was planning to marry a woman seven years ago, one of the things that voice kept whispering to me was that marrying her would let her see just how imperfect I was. I had somehow ended up on a pedestal with her. That’s the way I felt. I felt as though she needed me to be perfect — and I knew I couldn’t be perfect.
I pointed out all my flaws, which she already knew, of course. But the voice kept whispering about how humiliated I would be to marry and then have her be disappointed in me. It was another terror in a toxic stew of fear.
I don’t know why I have been able to see this so clearly lately, but I’ve picked a place to start being OK with being imperfect. I don’t know how well it will work.
Late last year, I had started shedding some of my excess weight and I was happier with the way I looked. I dropped 40 pounds, because I started believing I could be happy again.
And then I ended up right back where I had been. I started eating again and regained all the weight I had gotten rid of. So I had to pull out of the closet the “fat clothes” that I had put away in hopes of never wearing them again. And every day, I look at myself and tell myself how terrible I look at this size. I need new clothes, but I refuse to accept anything about myself at this size, so I have refused to buy anything new.
As a first little experiment, I am going to try to accept myself — and like myself — as somebody who weighs a lot more than I’d like to. I have the voice quieted enough — at least for now, at least for this subject — that I’m going to give myself permission to accept being comfortable in my own skin, even if I’m bigger than I want to be.
I still know that I would like to get back to the size I was seven years ago, but I’m giving myself permission to like myself. I’m allowing myself to accept what I am for the moment — without beating myself up about it, because that clearly doesn’t work.
I’m never going to be perfect. I’m never going to be “good enough.”
I’m never going to be smart enough or talented enough to achieve all the things I’d like.
I’m never going to be good-looking enough or thin enough to be the ideal size for a woman to think I’m perfect.
I’m never going to be the mainstream financial success who fits in the “right” sort of high-end suburbs with manicured lawns and plastic people — as some have wanted me to be. (If I get wealthy, it will be because I stumbled into it by finding people who happen to want the art I want to make.)
My life is always going to be messy and disorganized at times, because that’s just who I am. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
I need to convince the harsh voice to go away and let me believe that I’m worthy of love and belonging — exactly as I am.