Recovery Isn’t Perfection; It’s Progress

By: Marilyn L. Davis

“The most dangerous way we sabotage ourselves is by waiting for the perfect moment to begin. Nothing works perfectly the first time, or the first fifty times. Everything has a learning curve. The beginning is just that – a beginning. Surrender your desire to do it flawlessly on the first try. It’s not possible. Learn to learn. Learn to fail. Learn to learn from failing. And begin today. Begin now. Stop waiting.” ― Vironika Tugaleva

Scared to Recover? Scared to Succeed?

Last night in a group, several of the men shared how scared the were to try recovery again because they had failed at their attempts so many times before.  When I asked them my usual question at this point, “Were you successful the first time you used IV drugs”, many of them looked at me strangely. But many were honest, as well.

They missed the vein and weren’t successful. They got sick. They knew it was wrong.  However, these “failures” didn’t stop them, or me, from getting it right through trial and error.

Learning to Walk in Our Recoveryfrom addict 2 advocate marilyn l davis

I then asked them if they would criticize a toddler who stumbled while learning to walk, or if when their children did stumble and fall, did they think, ‘Boy this kid will never walk.’

These questions usually get me some perplexed looks and the standard, “Of course not. Kids have to learn that stuff, and they’re going to fall. They just get back up.”

It’s the same for our recovery.

Just Don’t Use: The Only ‘Perfect’ in my Recovery

The only absolute in my life is – Don’t use. That makes it simple for me to follow. When I’ve reduced my “perfect recovery” to only one rule with my “Don’t use”, I’m not ignoring other aspects that need improving. It simply means that I don’t set myself up for a sense of failure when I don’t meet expectations of perfection in other aspects of my life and recovery.

Can I improve and strengthen other aspects of my life? Certainly, and I make an effort to be a better person today than I was yesterday. That sounds so pat and redundant, but simplifying my life makes improving easier.  I no longer define how anything “should be”, including myself.  

Those defined, restricted, perfect descriptions were unattainable. And then I experienced guilt, condemnation, and a sense of failure.

Where Did We Get the “Be Perfect” Message?

Where did I get these messages of what perfect was?  Some from childhood, some from magazines, and some from people in recovery support meetings.  About 20 years ago, I realized that I don’t live in my childhood; it’s long over. I have never graced a magazine cover. Anyone else in any recovery support meeting is not me, even when we relate, so their recovery is theirs and mine is mine.

Therefore, trying to live up to messages that no longer apply, or vying for a Vogue shoot, or comparing myself to Tom, Dick, Harry, or Susie were all doomed to fail. And I no longer wanted to fail; I only wanted to be the best me.

The ‘Best You’ is Success

None of us is ever going to mimic all the successes of someone else. Key in this is the all. I can match some successes and not others. If the successes are authentic for me, then I’ve made progress.

But if I continue judging my limited successes in some areas, with how perfect other people are, I’ll still experience that dreaded sense of failure.

Judge Today, Not Yesterday

As the group started to wind down, I asked each man if he had been successful in learning a recovery lesson for the day. Had they taken any actions to improve their recovery, and had they operated from some spiritual principles that day?  

fron addict 2 advocate marilyn l davisEach man gave me an answer quickly. No hesitation, and initially, no acknowledgment of how each of them had in fact been successful in their recovery for that day.

Regardless of past failures, regardless of whether it matched the lessons learned by someone else, or whether they demonstrated humility and someone else operated from diligence; each man improved his recovery.

Then I asked if any had used that day and all said, “No.”

I stood up and clapped, and told them how proud I was of their successful day.

Lessons Learned

One man is usually hesitant to talk; he stutters when he is nervous. I knew that when he raised his hand to comment, he was overcoming a fear and not worrying about whether he spoke perfectly or not.

When I nodded to him, he said,” I guess I don’t give myself or others the credit they deserve when they make improvements.  I’m going to start making progress and quit trying for perfection.”

I thanked him and said what a good teacher he was that night. The lesson taught and lesson learned.


Writing, and recovery heals the heart 

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