By: Marilyn L. Davis
Perfect Isn’t Possible – So, Keep Making Progress
“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. ― Vironika Tugaleva
Last night in a group, several men shared how scared they were to try recovery again because they had failed at their attempts so many times before.
When I asked them my usual question, “Were you successful the first time you used IV drugs,” many of them looked at me strangely.
But many were honest, as well. Some of the men said they missed a vein; others said they got sick, and they all agreed that they knew it was wrong.
However, these “failures” and guilty feelings didn’t stop them, or me, from getting it right through trial and error because I wanted to get high.
Learning to Walk in Our Recovery
I then asked them if they would criticize a toddler who stumbled while learning to walk, or if when their children did slip and fall, did they think, ‘Boy, this kid will never walk.’
Those comments and questions usually get me some perplexed looks.
Typically, I’ll get the standard response, “Kids have to learn how to walk. They fall and get back up.”
That’s when I remind them that learning to walk takes others helping us. It’s the same for our recovery.
We have to let others teach us, cautioning us about the bumps in the road and staying close to us in case we stumble.”
Just Don’t Use: The Only ‘Perfect’ in my Recovery
The only absolute in my life is – Don’t use, no matter what.
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 merely means that I don’t set myself up for a sense of failure when I don’t meet expectations in other aspects of my life and recovery.
Can I improve and strengthen other aspects of my life? Yes, 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. Click To Tweet
The ‘Best You’ is Your Success
None of us is ever going to mimic all the successes of someone else. Critical in this is the all. I can match some achievements and not others.
If the achievements are authentic for me, then I’ve made progress.
But if I continue judging my limited successes in some areas, I’ll still experience that dreaded sense of failure with how perfect other people are.
Judge Today, Not Yesterday
As the group started to wind down, I asked each man if he had successfully learned 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?
Each man gave me an answer quickly – no hesitation, and initially, no acknowledgment of how each of them had been successful in their recovery for that day.
Regardless of past failures, irrespective of whether they 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.
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 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 heal the heart.
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