Perfection is a big issue in recovery that will keep popping up again and again. It is well known that perfectionism is rampant among people in recovery, and that experiencing setbacks can cause paralyzing fear for many. That same fear can even prevent someone from beginning recovery in the first place.
Those who are in 12 step programs are especially aware of this perfectionism, and the program encourages members to aim for progress instead of perfection. The emphasis in those programs is on growth and learning rather than attaining an impossible goal.
So what does progress in recovery look like? Being committed to recovery and doing the work is an important part of it. Going to meetings and therapy appointments, talking to sponsors, working the steps, and always taking inventory is a big part of making that progress happen.
It can be difficult to stick with it, but remembering how we felt before recovery can be helpful. There are many benefits that come with recovery, and just remembering that can help keep us committed, even in the darkest of times.
Addicts and alcoholics have a few traits in common that contribute to a feeling that perfectionism is the only way to go. Growing up in unsupportive, dysfunctional environments where making mistakes weren’t tolerated is very common. The result is that a lot of us feel shame and are guided by shame in our life choices.
Because perfection can never be attained, a lot of us turned to addiction in order to cope. This kind of coping can emerge in all sorts of ways – in workaholism, in manipulative or codependent behavior, or in isolating oneself. When you begin recovery, all of these maladaptive behaviors are still there, and must be acknowledged and dealt with in order to make real progress.
When we discover that these coping methods no longer work for us, or we reach our “bottom”, that is usually the time when we reach out for help and begin recovery. And a big part of starting recovery is admitting that you are not perfect. By doing this, we can begin to take advantage of the safety and support that recovery offers us.
It is in that safe environment that real progress can begin to be made, and growth can occur. Recovery is also a place where mistakes can be made without fear of shame or judgement. Instead, we learn how to see our mistakes as challenges that need to be met in order for us to grow.
The idea that being in recovery means we are growing and making progress without trying to perfect may sound contradictory at first. It’s important to realize that perfection is simply not possible, but aiming to be a better version of ourselves is. Also, perfection is always about one result, while progress is much more complex. Anyone who is striving for perfection in recovery will likely be met with feelings of disappointment, sadness, and even despair.
This is where the idea of balance also becomes important. Somewhere between putting forth your best effort and focusing on progress is where we work to remain. Taking it slowly, one day at a time, and remaining committed to the work of recovery is necessary to maintaining that balance. Love is important too. Remember to love yourself and recognize the love that radiates from others.