Everyone knows that human beings are not perfect.
Why, then, should we find it so difficult to comprehend that imperfections don’t mean that we are failures?
For the average person, embracing flaws may not be a huge struggle. But for those of us in recovery, it can prove to be a major hassle and lead to self-sabotage of our sobriety.
A critical eye
Say it isn’t so, we might exclaim. If only this were true but, sadly, it is not. The truth is that people in addiction recovery have fairly thin skins. We are easily affronted, disturbed, caught off-guard, and extremely sensitive to any criticism of what we say and do. Most important, however, is the criticism that we heap upon ourselves. This is the type of critique that we not only find the most troubling, but it is also usually the harshest.
We pick at the way we look, not liking what we see. We are too fat or too thin, not attractive enough. Our face is the wrong shape. We have acne or other skin imperfections that we want to hide. We don’t have the right clothes.
And these are just the superficial imperfections. There are loads more, most of them the kind no one can see but us. See of any of these sound familiar:
- We can’t talk easily with others, lacking appropriate social skills.
- We are fearful of others finding out our deepest, darkest secrets.
- Easily angered, we find it difficult to control our temper.
- Nothing seems to go our way and this agitates us beyond belief.
- Secretly we suspect that our loved ones are spying on us.
- Trust doesn’t come easily to us and we believe that everyone is suspicious of us, in turn.
- There is nothing that truly excites us.
- Boredom is our constant companion.
- Failing to immediately achieve a goal, we tend to give up on it.
- Our word means nothing to us, since we so easily break it.
- Who could love such a hateful person?
- Others are better off without us.
- Everything we have ever touched has turned to disaster.
- No one knows us like we do, so how can anyone else offer to help?
- The problem with goals is that they are impossible to achieve.
- Every time we come close to reaching a goal, some obstacle always crops up in our path, leaving us disinclined to pursue it any longer.
- We hate our current life. It is boring and unfulfilling, but we aren’t all that eager to do anything to change it, either.
- Life is just stacked against us.
- The lucky breaks always seem to go to the other guy.
- It has to be perfect or a job, project or task isn’t any good. That means that we will never be truly satisfied, but we feel like we are in a box and don’t know how to climb out of it.
The list could go on and on, but the point is already clear. We have so many imperfections that we simply don’t know what to do about them. We would like to clear them up and begin to make some substantial progress in recovery, but at each and every turn we feel like we’re stymied, blocked, and unable to get around or out of this way of looking at life.
What can we do? Here are some suggestions for just this difficulty. Mostly, they center on learning how to live with our imperfections, at least, those that we are unable to change at the present time.
Looking in the mirror, what do we see? Is the image that stares back at us one of a glowering person? Are we sad, distrustful, angry or ashamed? Do we feel pain of any sort, physical or emotional? Any of these emotions will show up on our face, even if we’ve tried our best to conceal them.
Life is so short, in the overall scheme of things. As such, we should learn how to make it through life with a minimum of negative emotions that tend to drag us down. By stewing in our emotions, particularly the more powerful and self-destructive ones, we are not only shortening our lifespan, we are also making what time we do have here on earth less than fulfilling.
One thing that we can do right now is to stop taking ourselves so seriously. Consider the fact that we aren’t the only people in the world that have ever encountered such an emotion or have gone through similar circumstances. Others, even those in recovery, have been down some pretty dark corridors and experienced rather painful and life-altering situations and they have been able to survive and thrive.
Perhaps this might have something to do with outlook? Maybe, just maybe, we can learn to adopt a more proactive view toward life. It may sound ridiculous to begin with, since all we have known recently has been just the opposite, but if we want our lives to be different, we have to learn to envision them in a more positive light.
Adopting a sense of humor helps in lightening up our attitude and giving us a fair shake at developing a positive outlook on life. The truth is that when we can laugh at ourselves and our imperfections, they don’t become that insurmountable hurdle that prevents us from being happy and fulfilled in recovery.
We don’t have to be a comedian in order to lighten up. This isn’t about telling jokes or being the storyteller that keeps everyone in the room rapt. It is about learning not to take things so seriously that we neglect to appreciate the little things in life. Look outward, not inward. Try to see life as it is, beautiful even with imperfections.
Find something we like and get busy
Another way to get our minds off our imperfections is to keep busy. When we are actively involved in a task or project or tackling a challenge, we don’t have time to indulge in self-pity or constantly obsessing about our imperfections. There simply are too many other more pressing things to do.
It helps to have something to do that we enjoy, so if this suggestion seems at all enticing, find something that we like and get busy working at it.
What that something is doesn’t really matter. As long as it isn’t harmful to others and doesn’t take us away from our recover-oriented tasks, the pastime or hobby or project or task should be just fine.
The other reason to discover things that we enjoy doing is that it gives us something to look forward to. That’s the big bonus in having a few activities we like to do. We can choose among them and always have something at our disposal that we find entertaining, informative, stress-relieving, and fun.
Celebrate small improvements
By focusing on what is really important, in terms of our short- and long-term goals, we can help ourselves in our quest to live with our imperfections, whatever they may be. One key to doing this is to recognize and celebrate the small improvements that we are able to make during the course of working on our goals.
This is more than just seeing the good in the little things we do. It is also a way to train ourselves to find the success in the incremental gains we make on the way toward the ultimate goal.
For example, we know that it takes time to complete all of the 12 steps in the self-help groups. If we get hung up on where we are in that list, we’ll find ourselves becoming stuck, worried that we’ll never finish or concentrating too much on a particular one that we’re having difficulty with.
Suppose we want to tackle making amends. We know, just by reviewing our list of all the things we have done that have brought harm or caused pain to others that we have a fairly good number of amends that we need to make.
Some of these amends may be near-to-impossible tasks, at least in our initial assessment. We may feel that what we have done is so heinous, so reprehensible and unforgivable that no amends can ever suffice. We may not know where to start, so the tendency may be to give up on this particular amend — or all of them. Instead, try working on the one that seems most likely to be something that we can wrap our heads around and do something about.
By successfully making the first of our amends, we will have some confidence that we will be able to go on and work on another on our list. It isn’t the whole list of amends that we’re celebrating, just the completion of the first one.
Maybe this sounds a bit simplistic, but it really isn’t When we are in recovery, we are so quick to beat ourselves up over our imperfections and find fault with our limitations that we often fail to see the good that we are able to accomplish. These good things usually arrive in small steps.
How do we celebrate the small improvements? Simply by acknowledging that we have taken the action to completion of the desired outcome, we are, in fact, celebrating its achievement — one that we have worked hard to accomplish.
Let go of what people think
If we continue to carry around with us our baggage of constantly thinking about our imperfections, we’re doing ourselves a great disservice. At the core of much of what we fear about ourselves may very likely have to do with what we’re afraid other people think about us.
In other words, we’re always worried that others are judging us for our failures, particularly our failure with respect to our addiction. We secretly think that they are constantly talking about us, dredging up the past and unable to get past the fact that we have turned the corner and left our addictive ways behind. They cannot see the new person that we have become, the clean and sober individual who is committed to sobriety, yet still needs support and encouragement in our recovery journey.
The only way around this dilemma is to learn how to disregard what other people think. This doesn’t mean that we adopt a callous attitude about other people’s regard for us. On the contrary, it is just the opposite. We should be mindful of other people feelings and their behavior towards us, but we shouldn’t allow their disapproval or rejection to either define us or stand in the way of our recovery efforts.
Think about it this way, if it is any help. Other people have their own troubles, their own preoccupation with the imperfections they feel they have. What they may be expressing could very well be a projection of what’s bothering them.
We should, therefore, tend to our own knitting, to coin a phrase. What this means is that, rather than worry about what other people think, we should focus on doing the best we can on the task at hand. Do our best each and every day in all that we do. Say what we mean and mean what we say. This is living with integrity and learning how to get past our imperfections and get on with the business of life in recovery.
Getting past fear
At the root of much of what we feel our imperfections are is fear. We are afraid of scarcity, of never having enough. We fear that we are not good enough or smart enough or don’t have the background or skills to be a success.
While this is usually far from the truth, the fact that the fear is present is enough to do some serious emotional damage. We simply have to learn how to get past the fear if we are going to make any substantive progress in recovery.
Experts in recovery say that the key to getting past fear is first to acknowledge its presence. How can we get past what we aren’t able to identify? By isolating the root cause, we may be able to separate fact from fiction, to put a shape or boundaries on what it is that we are so afraid of. This is the initial step in learning how to get past it.
It is also necessary, in many instances, to feel the pain, to not only acknowledge the fear but also go through it — at least temporarily. How does this work to help us get past the fear? Here is an example.
Suppose we are afraid that we will give in to our cravings and urges and resume drinking. We can’t just wish away the cravings and urges. They have both a physical and a psychological basis and they will occur for some time in early recovery. How we deal with them effectively is not to deny their existence. We need to acknowledge them, know what precipitates them, how long they last, and, most important, what strategies we can employ to effectively deal with them.
This takes time and practice. We can help equip our recovery toolkit by talking with others in the rooms of recovery, as well as conferring with our 12 step sponsor. What has worked well for others may very well work for us. If nothing else, we may gain ideas that we can then adapt to our own situation.
Once we learn how to effectively deal with cravings and urges, we no longer need to fear them. We have acknowledged the fear, put together a practical approach, and implemented the plan, thus overcoming and getting past the fear.
Life is full of deadlines. It is also filled with stressful situations, impossible deadlines, conflicting needs, and not enough time to get everything done. If we allow ourselves to get caught up in the turmoil, we will find that it is impossible to get off the merry-go-round.
Here is where the recommendation to cultivate calm is so important. When we are able to find that center in ourselves where everything is still, whether we do that through yoga or meditation or prayer or walking in the woods, we will be able to quiet the noise and chaos that surrounds us.
Even doing deep breathing exercises is often helpful in allowing us to calm ourselves. Once we achieve the calm state we’re after, whatever was so pressing or distressful or anxiety-provoking will tend not to seem as severe or impossible to deal with.
Summing up, there are many things that we can do to learn how to deal with our imperfections in recovery. We can begin by lightening up and not taking ourselves or life so seriously. Finding something to do that we enjoy and getting busy doing it is another way to alleviate so much focus on our imperfections. Since we will be working on various goals, learn how to celebrate small improvements along the way.
We also cannot allow what other people think to deter us from our goals or to question our self-worth. Much of what bothers us about our imperfections involves fear, so getting past fear is critical to our ongoing recovery.
Finally, learning how to cultivate calm and quiet the chaos around us will go a long way towards helping us learn that we are okay just as we are — imperfections and all. Besides, we are working on making those incremental improvements, right?