Sure, when you start recovery and take the first steps towards sobriety, you might want to get it all right. Whether you’re in an AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) community or in private therapy, or even in another support group 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 best sober living mindset, approach, nor goal — progress is.
What-if questions and self-doubt starts to sneak in, and seems to create a lens through which to look at your recovery — there’s a lingering feeling. However, no matter the steps, all that truly matters is that you already took the first and hardest step; the first step forward towards betters yourself, life, and future. That being said, as you get ready for the next phase of the recovery journey, here are a few things to remember that will help you and get into the best sober living mindset possible.
According to Guy Kettelhack, who is a recovering alcoholic and author of Sober and Free: Making Your Recovery Work for You, it’s common among those who have or had an addiction to display black and white thinking. Those who are in a recovery process will feel fanatical towards their method, their way, their process towards the best sober living approach and mindset. This can often leave others feeling inadequate and that the path that they are on is not the right one or that the way that they moved through an AA step wasn’t entirely thorough.
The author, Kettelhack, reminds his readers that it’s all about progress, and not to get stuck in which system might be better. If you’re experiencing sobriety and if you’re getting progress out of your program, that’s what matters.
Yet, he also describes the experience of many individuals in recovery who continue to allow that painful feeling of self-doubt to sink in. He writes that the feeling of “not doing is right” makes many feel guilty and keeps them lost in an internal struggle. 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. Often, those feelings can even lead to a return to drinking or using drugs, and it is frequently those feelings that began the cycle of addiction in the first place.
If you’re having these feelings in recovery, this could be a good sign that there are some underlying concerns to be addressed. Often, unresolved traumas or issues can perpetuate a pattern of relapse. If this sounds like you, you might have the thought, “I’m always incapable of being the saint that I am expected to be. Why should I keep pretending?” You say to yourself, “screw it,” and go back to the self-harming cycle of addiction.
The feelings of not doing it right or the need to work through each AA step with perfection go hand in hand with self-doubt and self-loathing. To help get out of the pattern of perfection, at least when it comes to your recovery, Kettelhack suggests to ask yourself the question, “What am I getting out of my recovery process?” in order to decide 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, Kettelhack offers a reminder to return to this question when tendencies of perfection seem to cloud your vision. He writes that doubt is normal and that 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 process you’re in.
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