subject line: Timshel.


houghton, new york

I am a perfectionist. I say that with the same heaviness that an addict says they’re addicted, and maybe that’s because I went through the years of denial; the years that I would say “ Perfect is overrated” then turn around and act like a hypocrite.

I blame half of my perfectionism on my stepfather. I wasn’t allowed to eat dinner if I didn’t match his quota of “what was acceptable”. If I got a B on something- no dinner. If my chores weren’t done to his liking, at his time- no dinner. If I started to look like I was “getting over-weight”- no dinner. Those years of his pushing that down my throat planted seeds that bloomed in the garden of my mind without me even realizing they were weeds. He planted the desire to match someone else’s wants as my own because then they would love you. And for a girl whose birth father left her, gaining this man’s approval was everything.

But I couldn’t. I physically was not able to match my step-father’s wants and he lashed out at that. I only began to push myself harder to please him. I pushed myself so hard, I got really depressed and that lead to a battle with a mental illness I am still fighting to this day.

But, I don’t want to put all the blame on him, although sometimes I feel that way... part of the blame is mine. I grew up jealous of everyone else around me, trying to grasp what it was I missing out on. What was it that made me incomplete? I threw myself into dance, running, softball, basketball. I ate less and studied more. I soon had top grades and a what society would deem “perfect”, body. I started to be content with that. Until I wasn’t.

I stopped losing satisfaction from the grades, the body, the sports. I was invisible. And in some twisted, dark way my mind warped images of me not being “perfect.” I wasn’t worth it if I wasn’t being seen.

My depression worsened at this point. I was flinging myself into drugs, and drinking, boy’s arms, trying to validate myself through them. But the emptiness that follows that isn’t something that fuels a perfectionist. it just weighs them down and pushes them to try to fix people. And I’ve learned that’s not our job. Humans can’t fix humans.

But I have this friend, and she wrote a book about brothers who find redemption and she tells me about this thing called Grace. She took me into her arms when I couldn’t stand by myself anymore and she gave me something that saved my life. And this might sound crazy to you, but she gave me East of Eden by John Steinbeck. Told me to read her copy and then get back to her. And I did. And I found myself within the pages. Not being perfect, but being human. Being flawed and fleshy and beautiful. And I told her that. I told her how the Hebrew word timshel- thou mayest (rule over sin or give into it, as the book describes it)- has altered my view of this thing called life and the gift of Grace. Making it easier to swallow. Easier to sit in my heart.

Right before I left that town for my freshman year of college, she told me something that is still stuck in my soul to this day, a quote from our favorite book:

”And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.”