Thursday, March 24, 2011

Letting Go of Perfection and Asking for Help

Lately, I've started several blog posts, only to abandon them when a couple days have passed and I've been unable to edit them--usually due to attempts at keeping the puppy out of trouble.  My need for perfection is standing in the way of blogging, so I'm giving myself permission to post sometimes without spending time editing and polishing my work. As my first therapist used to say, "Laurie, you can be perfect later." Amen.

That said, here's what's on my mind tonight.  After reading SARK's eLetter about asking for help and talking with my cousin, who's still on crutches after skipping a step on the same day as I did, I can't help thinking back to the last time I was on crutches and how hard it was for me to ask for help then.

This was in the spring of 2006.  I'd taken my very first spinning class and, not knowing much about the way the bikes worked, thoughtlessly took my foot out from the cage on the pedal and ended up having it whip around and do considerable damage to the front of my right shin.  An ambulance ride to the ER and many stitches later, I returned home on crutches with the fear that if I put weight on my leg, the stitches would not stay in place (to put it delicately).  I learned quickly that crutches leave you without any way to hold on to things as you travel from place to place, and they are not fun to use while climbing or descending stairs (I spent a lot of time bumping up and down on my butt!).  At the time, I was happily unemployed, but I felt the need to prove my worth by doing far more with each day than I had while working. I honestly don't know what felt so urgent to me, or why I was so stubborn and prideful (my mother would say that's my natural state...), but my determination to deal with the situation on my own and avoid being a burden in any way not only made things much, much harder for me, but caused a great deal of consternation for my caring, considerate, thoughtful husband, Sean.  He tried to help me in every way possible, and he never made me feel bad about the situation, even though it meant more work for him, regardless of my rejection of his help.  My reaction to his offers of assistance was downright surly, and left him very confused.  Within a week, he'd stopped offering to help, and I felt bereft and angry at myself.  My internal critics jeered, "Well, now you're stuck doing it yourself. You can't go back now and ask for help after you convinced him you're fine on your own..."

I remember thinking (when I was alone and no longer under the spell of the green-eyed monster who seemed to control my tongue) that rejecting Sean's help felt a lot like my experiences as a child: I wanted to be able to do things on my own, even if I failed. Not being able to do a task felt better, at least, than the failure of having to ask someone else to do it for me. I believed this even though I also believed--at the same time--that my injury was God's way of forcing me to slow down my pace after I'd ignored fifty less dramatic messages from Him.  Why didn't I take advantage of the experience to slow down?  Why did it matter so much to prove that I could still make dinner from scratch, even if I had to scoot around the kitchen in an office chair to do it?

It seems I spent most of my days feeling terribly alone, crying in frustration at what I couldn't accomplish, and cursing my body for being unable to do what I needed it to do.  Nevertheless, I turned away offers of help from Sean, my neighbors, and my friends.  I wish I had a pithy After School Special ending to this story, but I don't: eventually my body healed and I went back to my usual schedule, convincing myself that the experience had taught me to move at a slower pace. In many ways, I did learn that lesson: I became aware that it was possible for the world to go on even if I wasn't controlling every minute particle of my environment.  However, I didn't learn the most important lesson of all: asking for help, especially when you need it.

Even though I know that giving a friend the chance to help you can sometimes do more for your friendship than anything you might give or do for your friend, I still find it terribly hard to let others help me.  My therapist has guided me into asking for assistance more, and I've learned some new things from those experiences: not only do people appreciate the chance to help, sometimes they even find it fun!  For instance, every year before our big holiday party, I invite my female neighbors and close friends over to help me make food for the party.  We have the best time!  I feel guilty about it every year, but those who come truly seem to enjoy it and look forward to our time together.

I have a long way to go towards feeling comfortable asking for "more and more" as SARK encourages in her eLetter, but I have hope that I'm moving in the right direction. Hopefully you're doing that too...or maybe you've already learned how to accept help!  If so, I'd love to hear about your experiences and advice on how to get there.  If you're working on it, let me know what you have learned and what you hope to do in the future. 

Let's work on leaning into the support others offer us, just like we did when practicing "trust falls" at camp, where we yelled out, "Falling!" to let the others know we were about to lean back, trusting them to keep us from hitting the ground.  I have faith that, if we let ourselves fall into their offers of help, our friends will catch us.