It’s common for recovering addicts to discover the perfectionist in them. There’s a strong desire to do it “right”. Whether you’re in an Alcoholics Anonymous community or in private therapy or in another drug addiction therapy program with a regimen for staying sober, you might feel the need to be perfect about it. And it’s understandable; there’s a fear that says if you’re not, you might relapse.
However, there’s a saying in the recovery community: “Progress, not perfection.” Although perfection is a trait of many addicts, it’s not the goal of sober living, progress is. What happens is this: self-doubt sneaks in and seems to create a lens through which to look at your recovery. There’s a lingering feeling, no matter how well you’re following the steps to your drug treatment, that you’re not doing it right somehow.
The experience of many individuals in recovery is allowing that painful feeling of self-doubt to sink in. The feeling of “not doing is right” makes many feel guilty and keeps them lost in an internal struggle. And there’s a belief that comes with self-doubt, which is somehow being internally flawed, or somehow lacking something essential and which only continues to contribute to the feeling of self doubt and even self hate.
Those feelings of self-doubt and self-loathing can be the largest obstacles to sobriety and to feeling an overall joy in life. Yet, it’s essential to tend to those feelings in drug treatment – both at the beginning of drug detox and in drug treatment aftercare – because often, those feelings can even lead to a return to drinking or using drugs. And frequently those feelings began the cycle of addiction in the first place.
Often, self-doubt and self-hatred are at the root of anxiety. And along with depression, emotional avoidance, and social alienation, anxiety is one of the risk factors that can lead to drug addiction. In fact, anxiety disorders are the most common type of psychological illness. According to Moretza and Karen Khaleghi, authors of the book Anatomy of Addiction, 19.1 million adults suffer from anxiety, which translates to about 13.3 percent of the U.S. population, or about one in every seven adults. Certainly, the need to be perfect originates in anxiety with an attempt to seek approval from outside sources by doing everything right.
There are many tools to help rehabilitate the heart and to find your way out from under the tumultuousness of an anxious mind. For instance, to help get out of the pattern of perfection, at least when it comes to your recovery, ask yourself the question, “What am I getting out of my recovery process?” This can help you determine whether or not you are getting what you need and want to stay sober and move closer and closer to long-term sobriety.
And isn’t that the most important factor to look at in your process? Of course, it’s important to return to this question when tendencies of perfection seem to cloud your vision. Doubt is normal. And the best way to determine whether “you’re doing it right” is to ask yourself:
Am I moving in a direction that is life affirming, healthy, and sustainable? Will this process of recovery work for throughout the length of time is takes to acquire a sober life? And is this process cultivating a love for myself and for others?
If your answer is yes, then you can allow yourself to experience doubt when you have it and trust in the drug treatment process you’re in. Although it might be hard at times, it’s about progress, not perfection.
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