Perfectionism and alcoholism are the best of friends. Perfectionism relentlessly arouses feelings of shame, self-loathing, inadequacy, and frustration. Addiction feeds off of these feelings, manipulating them into excuses and reasons and motives. Perfectionism works to distort reality – and a harshly distorted reality is where addiction chooses to safely reside. Adopting a warped perception of self is fundamental to successfully perpetuating addictive disorders – if we saw ourselves as the capable, deserving, interconnected beings that we truly are, we would probably not begin abusing chemical substances in the first place. By clinging to the distorted notion of perfection, we disallow ourselves the beautiful gift of human fallibility – of humanity, essentially. We hold ourselves to unrealistic and harsh expectations, and punish ourselves for failing to meet unattainable goals. As addicts and alcoholics, we live in black-and-white worlds of extremes and absolutes. A major part of fulfilled recovery is learning how to live in the gray area – and learning how to accept ourselves as imperfect, flawless works in progress.
Perfectionism and Addiction
Rather than accept partially meeting our goals as ‘good enough’, we tend to abandon them completely when they are not met in full. Giving up on our goals makes us feel like utter failures, and we turn to drinking and drugging to help ease the pain of falling short. Of course, not every addict and alcoholic is a perfectionist, but because this mentality and addictive disorders tend to be so closely linked, it is usually the case (at least to some degree).
You may be a perfectionist if:
- You feel as if you are unworthy of happiness or love unless you meet your own impeccable ideals. You feel ashamed of your shortcomings, and have an extremely difficult time forgiving yourself for your past mistakes. Upon falling short of your unreasonable standards, you turn to drugs, alcohol, or other self-destructive forms of distraction in attempts to alleviate the unbearable guilt and inadequacy you feel.
- You find that you are never truly content, even when life is going well. You may be extremely solid in your program of recovery, doing well for yourself career-wise, and managing to repair old relationships while building new ones. But still, when something goes slightly wrong (meaning it does not go the way you had hoped it would), your whole world is thrown off-kilter. You use the slightest mistakes to discount your personal progress in its entirety, and convince yourself that it is only a matter of time before everything falls to pieces.
- You get stuck in a grandiose mindset. You see what others around you are doing, and you feel as if you should be pushing yourself to do more – to outshine them, or at least to match their successes. You feel different than others. You feel as if you should be able to achieve more than others. You judge yourself harshly based on the accomplishments of others, and constantly wonder why you seem so incapable of reaching your perceived potential when others are gliding through life on a blessed breeze of triumph.
- You have a difficult time differentiating the concept of total abstinence from the black-and-white thinking of failure versus success. If you have experienced a relapse, you beat yourself up about it incessantly. While total abstinence is the long-term goal, a slip-up does not equate to failure. Slip-ups are learning opportunities, chances for personal growth and spiritual discovery. But because you are stuck in the perfectionist mindset, you have an extremely hard time bouncing back after a relapse or slip. This could keep you out longer, and greatly impact your overall quality of life.
- You tend to push loved ones out of your life by inadvertently imposing the same unrealistic expectations onto them. You often find yourself isolated and lonely, but keep yourself at a safe distance from others – especially those that you believe will either criticize you or fail to meet your expectations. Subconsciously, you are actually alienating those who are the most likely to challenge your distorted and detrimental thinking patterns.
- You understand on a deep and logical level that perfection is an unattainable idea, but you still believe (or have convinced yourself) that you can accomplish the goal of sobriety on your own, without assistance. Magical thinking, some may call it.
Breaking Free from Perfectionism
If you allow it to, perfectionism will overwhelm and sabotage your recovery. Accepting that making progress is good enough can be difficult to do – at first, at least. But the more frequently you consciously attempt to go easy on yourself and meet yourself where you are at, the easier naturally resorting self-love and compassion will become. Celebrate all of your accomplishments – big and small. Did you successfully give up smoking for a week, only to pick back up where you left off after an especially stressful day? That’s amazing! If you can make it a week, you can surely make it longer than that when you decide to give it another go. And remember, building self-esteem does not rest solely on accomplishments and achievements. Building self-esteem requires an honest recognition that you are deserving and lovable simply because you are you. The antidote to perfectionism is not complacency, but acceptance and surrender. You are human! If you weren’t supposed to make mistakes, you simply wouldn’t make them. Trying viewing each misstep as an opportunity for growth.
Letting go of who you think you are supposed to be and truly accepting who you are is one of the greatest and most valuable gifts you will ever give yourself.