For a long time many of us walked around in a constant state of self judgement. Perhaps we grew up in a household where we were constantly criticized, demeaned or punished. Whatever its origins, those feelings of self deprecation were our constant companion. It was often those very feelings which drove us to drink or drug or binge on food. Rather than accept our perceived realty of who we were, we chose to self medicate.
Being in the program has changed our thinking on this matter. We have come to understand that admitting our character defects is actually the first step in our healing. Once we identified where personal transformational work was required, we could then go about the task of change. We used to think that admitting we were less than perfect was a sign of weakness. Our perfectionism blocked our taking an honest view of ourselves. As we began to drop that veneer of needing to be perfect, we began to experience the power of humility. For the first time instead of berating ourselves, we learned about self love and self care. We could love ourselves even with our shortcomings. As part of this process we also learned that we had often been far too critical of our actual shortcomings. As we worked the program we gained a more realistic view of ourselves.
Personal Reflection: Have I truly accepted myself for who I am?
Early on in sobriety we began to work the steps. Often our sponsors had us read from The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous. It didn’t matter if another substance was our drug of choice. The wisdom of the Twelve and Twelve was universal. Most of us went through the steps in the first year or two. Sometimes however a person would spend years on a particular step and be unable to move forward. When questioned, they would often claim that they were stuck because “it wasn’t good enough” or “not complete”. Part of the problem was that their perfectionism and fear of failure had carried over from their days when they were active in their addiction. In the past, they had exhibited the same type of behavior. They had often avoided challenges because of their fear of failure. If they did finally push themselves to take a risk, and they failed, they would fall into depression or turn to their drug of choice. In sobriety, we have learned that we can drop our perfectionism. That when we do take a risk and fail, there are many other options open to us. And as far as the steps are concerned; they need not be perfect. We will make the necessary changes the next time around when we do them again.
Personal Reflection: How do I react to failure?
Many of us make daily lists of things we need to do. Upon examination, we often find an interesting phenomenon. There are some items on the list which by day’s end we have accomplished. No matter how busy we are, we seem to be able to pick up the dry cleaning, and pay the phone bill. There are other items which might appear repeatedly on the list for a few days or even a week before they are attended to. Finally, there is the third group. These are items which appear on our list which never seem to be able to be crossed off because we never reach them. Within this category, there are also items which never even make it to the list.
Before program we might have said we never reached these items because our lives were just too busy. When we examined the issue more deeply; we found that fear was at the bottom of our procrastination. Many of us had concerns that trying something new would end in failure. The thought of this was too painful. What would others think of us when they saw how we had screwed things up or were less than perfect. As we grew, we saw that we were missing out on some amazing activities and people. We could experience life full throttle and still make mistakes and be less than perfect.
Personal Reflection: Do I use busy work as a buffer to growth?
For many reasons many of us had difficulty simply admitting that we were wrong. For some of us it was based on a streak of perfectionism. Were we to admit to being wrong, we would be conceding that we were no longer perfect, something we could not do. There were others who suffered from low,self esteem. They were afraid to publicly show how they really felt about themselves. They would wear the mask of perfection; for to admit to being wrong would just confirm their negative feelings towards themselves.
Over time we learned in the program that admitting we were wrong did not reflect negatively upon us. In fact it was a sign of personal growth. It demonstrated a level of self examination which was praiseworthy. After personal reflection, to admit to an error in judgement was highly laudable. It also demonstrated a,level of courage to be able to admit tor our mistakes. In addition, it showed a degree of personal honesty which did not exist before our sobriety. Over time, it got easier and easier to admit to our mistakes. We took to heart the 12 step statement, “when we were wrong we promptly admitted it”. Paradoxically, as we grew in wisdom, it became easier for us to admit our lack of knowledge and our fallibility.
Personal Reflection: Do I promptly admit it when l’m wrong?
Anyone looking for perfect solutions to all of their problems is going to be disappointed by 12 steppers. None of us is perfect. To varying degrees we are working on ourselves. What we have found is that our collective wisdom is quite amazing. The only thing is that it is not deposited within one place or within one person. This is often a disappointment to both the newcomer and even to those with time. Yes, it is difficult to see old timers, sponsors and fellowship friends saying and doing things that are less than sterling.
What is of greater importance is that those same old timers, sponsors and fellowship friends can often be of great help to us. We just need to lower our expectations a bit. Almost everyone from program has something of benefit to offer. Our task is to separate the wheat from the chaff. As we sift through the words and actions of others, our own program can be greatly strengthened. Given our own perfectionism, this is sometimes a challenge. We can smile at the fact that someone else in program is probably applying the rule of “take the best and leave the rest” to us right now.
Personal Reflection: Am I able to separate the wheat from the chaff?
There is a story told where a Rabbi asked one of his congregants to lead the prayer service on the High Holy Days. When the congregant had finished, the Rabbi came up to him and said, “welcome back”. The congregant said to to him, ” but Rabbi, you just asked me to pray, and I didn’t go anywhere”. To which the Rabbi replied, “while you were praying you were thinking about problems at work, problems with your wife and kids and problems with your friends. You certainly weren’t focusing on the prayers, so when you finished I welcomed you back”.
Many of us in program can really relate to this story. We may be present physically, but our minds our often racing at a million miles a minute. Being perfectionists, we are constantly reviewing events that have taken place in both the recent and distant past. Part of our growth is to begin to let go of the past. While not denying our past choices, we realize that usually we are not able to reverse our decisions or their results. Spending time on the past uses up precious time that could far be better spent in the present.
Personal Reflection: How much of your yesterday seeps into your today?