This is a quote from G.K. Chesterton that I have put a lot of thought into and I have come to believe it has a lot to say to anyone considering or walking in recovery.
I think back to some of the excuses I used to avoid beginning or continuing in the recovery journey. A favorite of mine was, “I need to get clean for a week on my own before I get help.” I think I accomplished that once but then I decided I needed to go 30 days. A few times I started the journey only to bail the first time I struggled or experienced a slip. Why do we do these things? I think it’s because as strange as it sounds, addiction and perfectionism are two issues that go hand in hand.
There are three key elements I want to touch on where perfectionism plays a role in addiction. The first is Shame. In active addiction we may believe that we only have value if we are perfect. When we fall short of this unrealistic standard it produces a lot of guilt and shame. When we fall short repeatedly it’s common to turn to drugs, alcohol, sex, food, etc. to medicate our emotions. We must begin to recognize that unrealistic expectations lead to an unhealthy view of who and what we are. This is the definition of shame.
Second is an All or Nothing Attitude. As addicts we become experts at picking apart a situation to find it’s faults. Then we beat ourselves up for shortcomings that others never see. This causes addicts to throw away recovery for the slightest slip. We think a slip means we have to start over from the beginning. If I leave my home in Indiana to visit my daughter in Florida and somewhere in Tennessee I drift off the shoulder into the ditch I don’t return to Indiana to restart my trip. I get pulled from the ditch with a few new dents and dings. Maybe I need to change a tire, but I pull back on to the road in the same general area I left it and I proceed on. A slip in recovery works the same way.
The final element is Fear of Failure. Perfectionism always carries a fear of mistakes. “If I can’t be the best the first time I try, then I won’t try.” This leads many addicts to avoid seeking treatment, but do we ever experience perfection in any area of our life the first time we try?
So, what do we do with the urge to be perfect? First, understand that small slips in recovery aren’t relapses. You’re going to experience a few failures through your journey. When these happen act quickly, before shame begins to spiral out of control. Reach out to a coach, a sponsor or a friend for support.
Next, examine your expectations for yourself. I ask myself if the goal I have set for myself is one I would recommend for a friend. Then I bounce that expectation off of my coach or sponsor and listen carefully to what they have to say. Growth always takes place quicker when we start with a small goal and build from there.
I think Chesterton was right, it’s better to start something, even badly, than to not even try.
If you think you may be struggling with perfectionism or unrealistic goals give me a call or shoot me an email. I’d love to talk with you.