This thing about not being perfect can be a soothing balm to a perfectionist such as myself when I get things blown out of proportion. Mostly my recovery is about “progress not perfection… but I sensed so much frustration around this concept when I first came into recovery.
I call myself a perfectionist in recovery, or a recovering perfectionist. My striving for the perfect can drive me straight into suffering… and out of recovery. My Inner Critic had a field day with me when I made a mistake. I have worked to tone this down and have made progress.
Along the way, I discovered why I was having such a hard time harnessing my strident Inner Critic around this perfectionist obsession. I discovered that this penchant I had developed was one I had come by honestly. Let me explain.
Yes, humans are imperfect. Yet there are many things we set up in the ‘world’ that must be done ‘perfectly’ or they are wrong or just plain don’t work. And it starts early with us.
Our parents teach us ‘right’ from ‘wrong’ – for me, this was pretty much a black and white thing. In school, there is the ‘right’ answer and then there is the ‘wrong’ answer. And then there was all the bullying that occurred when I or other students got the ‘wrong’ answer, adding another layer of angst into the behavioral equation. Computers take us completely literally – the wrong keystroke can bring things to a roaring halt. For instance, as a graduate student learning coding, I once spent two weeks looking for what turned out to be a misplaced comma in a program I had designed for a computer mapping class I was taking. Literal. Perfection or nothing. And, in the case of my program, under deadline. So, pressure to perform at the level of perfectionism gets ground in a little deeper into us as adults.
The thing is, I got this all confused with everything else in my life that had gray areas, unconsciously driven to do ‘the right thing’, be ‘the right person’, say ‘the right thing’, etc. When I stumbled and made mistakes, I felt such letdown and frustration. But until I got into recovery and started giving myself a break for mistakes, I had never seen the distinction between “progress and perfection’. It was all perfection or not good enough.
Now, I realize I am making progress in my recovery and I will never be perfect at it. And I also realize that in part of my life, I must work on progress AND perfection.
The world is full of paradoxes… and this progress/perfection thing is one of them. Now, when I make a mistake on the computer, I just pause, breathe, and begin anew, realizing that the computer is requiring its version of perfection… and I do the best I can, giving myself a break along the way.