The literature tells us that we practice progress not perfection. What does that mean exactly? Alcoholics like to be in control. That’s one of the main reasons that we drank. But now that we’re sober there’s a tendency to try and maintain control through perfectionism.
We might think that well I did all those bad things and now I’ve made amends for them all. I don’t want to have to go through that again. So I’m going to tread very lightly from now, make no mistakes, and not have to answer to anyone ever again. Not a good plan. We are all human. And making mistakes is just part of the deal. That’s what the tenth step is for. You screw up. You recognize it. You make amends. In fact, we’ve even known sponsors who try to get that amends muscle flexing really early on for their sponsees so that they realize hey it’s not so bad after all.
Another thing about the alcoholic mind is that it thrives with a very large and fragile ego as its foundation. Therefore, any form of criticism might seem like a literal threat to its survival. Because it is a threat to the ego’s survival. But guess what? The ego is not you. You might have heard someone say at a meeting that I’m just another bozo on the bus. And you might have recoiled the first couple of times you heard somebody say that. I’m no bozo you might say. I am the blah blah blah of XYZ corporation. Or I drive a Blah Blah coupe whiz bang edition. This is a popular saying for a reason. Nobody likes the “leveling of pride” that is talked about in the literature. But that leveling is exactly what we need.
So we’ve got two kinds of perfection at play here. The perfection or thinking we were perfect when we walked ourselves into our first meeting. And then there’s the perfection that we’ll never attain as a sober person. Kind of a paradox right?
So what do we do?
First off, don’t take ourselves too seriously. One of the greatest gifts of sobriety is the ability to laugh at ourselves. It’s not easy at first. But once you start to get it down, what a relief. And what a relief for those around us too. To not have to worry that we’re going to fly off the handle if our fragile egos are threatened.
Next, practice some gratitude. There is nothing more humbling than the practice of gratitude. But in a good way. Instead of thinking I’m the reason for everything good that happens in my life, you can say hey thanks for all these awesome opportunities I have and all of these other things that I take for granted. When you realize that there are a lot of things that have to conspire in your favor for your life to be a success that are completely out of your control it’s a lot easier to not feel like you have to be or are perfect.
Also, think about sharing some of your fears, weaknesses, and shortcomings with someone you trust. Even better do that with a newcomer. One of the greatest antidotes for the compulsion towards perfection is fellowship and identification with our sober friends. And when that person has less time than you, you are setting a really positive example for them. And bonus you are also creating space for them to unburden themselves as well.
So these are just a few examples of how to combat perfectionism. But there are many more. Remember that the journey of sobriety is always going to be two steps forward and one step back. Be easy with yourself and with others. Nobody’s perfect!