How Perfection Can Ruin Your Sobriety

You’ve made the decision to get sober, and now that you have given up drugs and alcohol you want to do the right things. In meetings, you’ve probably heard the saying “progress not perfection,” but somewhere deep down you might believe that doesn’t sound good enough. You want to strive for perfection. You’re afraid that if you make a mistake, you may pick up a drink or a drug. And if you pick up a drink or a drug, you may not be able to find your way back to recovery. The reality is that there is no such thing as perfection in recovery. Things will gradually get better, but there won’t ever be perfection, and having a goal of perfection is unrealistic. It can even ruin your sobriety.

The Problem With Perfection

When you believe that your recovery should be perfect, it isn’t long before you start to feel uncomfortable in your own skin. You begin to doubt your ability to live a sober life. You may mentally beat yourself up for experiencing out-of-control emotions, and you wonder why you don’t seem to be getting well fast enough. You compare yourself to others and convince yourself that they are all doing better than you are. Many recovering alcoholics and addicts experience cravings. Learning to get past cravings and to avoid triggers is part of recovery, but if you think you’re supposed to know how to do everything perfectly right from the beginning, you may feel angry or disappointed in yourself for feeling a desire to drink or drug. You may start to dwell on the idea that you are completely flawed, hopeless or not worth loving. These negative feelings can block your efforts at sobriety, and it all started with perfection. Being too hard on yourself makes it seem like recovery is impossible, a gigantic mountain that you can’t possibly climb. While striving for perfection, you have become your own worst enemy.

Perfection and Relapse

Relapse isn’t a necessary part of recovery, but for some people, relapse does happen. If you pick up a drink or a drug, it doesn’t mean that you have permanently failed or that you won’t be able to learn how to get sober and stay sober. For some people, taking a couple of steps backward is sometimes part of the recovery process. You can learn from your mistakes. Those who think they are supposed to be able to do everything perfectly may have a hard time forgiving themselves for a relapse. Feelings of self-loathing destroy feelings of faith in yourself and the process. You may start to dwell on the idea that you can’t figure out how to do it right, and nothing you do seems to be good enough in your eyes. Self-abuse and self-doubt are the enemies of people who are trying to live a sober life. The more you believe that you can’t live up to your own standards of perfection, the more you set yourself up for a possible relapse.

Trusting in Progress Not Perfection

As you travel the journey of recovery, it is important to be gentle with yourself. You are human and you will make mistakes along the way. The question isn’t if you will make mistakes; it’s when. Mistakes don’t mean you are hopeless. The only step out of all 12 steps that can be taken perfectly is the first step, in which you admit you are powerless over your addiction. All of the other steps are part of a journey that is unfolding one day at a time and can’t ever be completed perfectly. Don’t keep questioning whether you are doing it right. Give yourself a pat on the back for all the little things you’ve done right so far. Did you get through today without a drink or a drug? Did you show up at meetings or counseling? Are you moving in a healthier, more positive direction? Trust in the process. Give yourself credit for baby steps of progress, and before long you will be amazed by how far you have come. You can get well one day at a time. It’s OK to let go of perfection. Progress is good enough.

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