When You’re Real


“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

From The Velveteen Rabbit – by Margery Williams

For a long, long time I tried to be perfect. It was a need as deep as breathing and I fooled a lot of people including myself. “Oh Sherry, you’re so together. You’re always calm.” I heard it all the time and loved it. That was the image I created to cover the inside that was littered with guilt, shame, and blame.

But perfection’s a tough gig. Not only that, it lacks substance. Perfect is a china doll, an airbrushed painting, a lacquered wig. Somewhere along the way I began to suspect I was shallow, colorless. I was so tightly held, so carefully constructed there was no room for inspiration which, of course, added to the self-contempt. From age 26 to 56, this was my modus.

But something happened at midlife. It was like waking up from a Rip Van Winkle slumber. Who am I and where have I been for thirty years? Confused and disoriented, I consulted an insightful woman who told me to muck around in the nitty-gritty and don’t be afraid to get dirty. “I’m already dirty,” I said through tears. “I’ve tried so hard to get clean.”

“You’re not dirty, Sherry.” She plumbed to the depths of my soul with her eyes. “You’ve never been anything but perfect. The perfect daughter, the perfect wife, the perfect mother. I’m just asking you to be real.”

That may be the single, most profound thing anybody ever said to me. Putting perfect up beside real and seeing that the one made the other impossible, was revelation. As soon as she said it I knew it was true. I had no hope of being me unless I let go of perfect.

Of course, the person who emerged as the ‘perfect pictures’ slipped into the sinkhole of my shadow, was neither shallow, nor colorless. I found that I liked her irreverent, gutsy self. At first I protected her, didn’t say much about her past, just let her evolve and mature. But the more real she became, the less need I felt to gloss over the too-obvious flaws. The liberation that came when there was nothing left to hide, was the ultimate freedom.

Writing my memoir has been the full disclosure. I’ve filleted myself wide open to judgement but I’ve also let go at last of every shred of the need to look good as a disguise. I’m willing to let my hair be loved off, get loose in the joints and shabby, because at last I’m real, and I can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.

Photo credits to Sharon Lyon

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