One of the biggest blows to my (formerly) fragile ego hit me when I was in junior high. Early in life, I had been encouraged by my aunt to write short stories and by junior high, I thought of myself as a great writer. I even imagined that someday I would be a famous author. (We know how that turned out!) But in 7th grade, as I eagerly awaited the return of my graded essay from my English teacher, my dreams (temporarily) came crashing down. I looked down at the paper placed in front of me and saw — to my dismay — the letter “B” with a minus sign after it. I nearly burst into tears on the spot.
Frantic and trying not to show my desperation, I flipped open the pages and saw a lot of red circles between my paragraphs. My eyes fell on the following phrase, “Needs better transitions”. I couldn’t even comprehend what that meant, so (perfectionist that I was) I decided to ask the teacher after class. He told me that I had good ideas, but didn’t link those ideas together very well so that my paper didn’t really “flow”. I nodded my head and stumbled out the door… and held onto the words “flow” and “transitions” for the rest of my life. Never again would I write a paper without examining whether my paragraphs flowed neatly (sometimes ridiculously so), one into the next.
Until I let go of my perfectionism, I checked and rechecked everything I wrote. (Now that I’m free of the grip of perfectionism — for the most part — I still think about transitions but don’t obsess over whether they’re there or not.) I fully embraced this idea that paragraphs need to flow nicely and neatly in an organized way — until recently.
Tuesday morning I was doing a Step Sculpt class at my gym and getting increasingly frustrated that just as I figured out the series of steps the instructor was teaching, he’d move on to something else so that I was finishing up one step and starting the next a few moments behind everyone else. My “flow” was off. My transitions between movements were awkward, clumsy, not organized or graceful. As this idea came to me, it struck me as an important metaphor for my life. When have the transitions in my life ever been smooth, neat, organized? I can think of only a few. Most of the time, transitions have occurred out of necessity — a relationship that wasn’t working; a career path that had a dead end; an obsession with thinness that was destroying my spirit. And these transitions were not smooth. They were just as awkward and clumsy as my Step Sculpt moves. So, where did I get the idea that life’s paragraphs need to flow neatly from one to the next? Of course, as I pondered this while bouncing through the rest of the workout, I remembered that story from 7th grade English class. I realized that my teacher was trying to teach me a formula – a way of organizing my thoughts so that others could better understand and relate. That is certainly a helpful lesson when it comes to writing (though some radical authors have rejected this notion altogether and done just fine in terms of success). But I took the lesson too far, trying to apply it to real life and not just stories on the page.
Overcoming Binge-Eating Disorder was a journey full of ups and downs. There were plenty of transitions from one phase of recovery to the next, few of them neat, organized, or graceful. And yet, others who read or know my story can still understand and relate. In this case, awkward transitions were just as valuable to myself and others as smooth ones.
Peace, joy, and health.