“Perfectionism is the destroyer of emotional health and addictions recovery.”
– A local counselor
Yes, but perfectionism is all I’ve got to try to make you love, like, accept, or approve of me. If I give up perfectionism, I give up my way to you. I give up any hope of any connection ever. I free-float, spread-eagled in chaos.
If I give up perfectionism, if I give up straining ceaselessly to get it right, I have to let things be wrong. And when they’re wrong, I am the Farmer in the Dell‘s cheese. I sit all alone in a bewildered, woebegone, forlorn heap of never being enough to make things go right.
And perfectionism is all I’ve got to protect myself from relapse. If I am not perfectly abstinent from alcohol, I risk destruction.
Today is 2.5 years for me without a drink. According to these numbers, I’ve got 2.5 more years to go to significantly decrease my chances of relapse. I can’t do another 2.5 years like the first 2.5.
I’m trying to be perfectly:
- abstinent from alcohol
- squeezed into the confines of “I only want positive people in my life” so people will want to be with me
- a good person, a good person in recovery, a good friend, girlfriend, mentor, counselor, citizen, neighbor, homeowner, housekeeper, gardener, cat care giver, daughter, sister, writer
That’s a full plate, but who doesn’t have one?
I have an overgrown garden. A lot of people do. It’s just a garden, right? Ah, but the local counselor is right. Look how unconscious perfectionism terrifies me, and destroys any hope for contentment, even acceptance or equanimity.
“Because I have failed at being a perfect garden owner, I am a bad person, do things badly, and deserve bad treatment. The garden is growing a maw like the monstrous flower Audrey and will begin to snack on me limb by limb and render me increasingly unable to anything about anything and I will be a legless, armless torso watching her smile approach, helpless against her petals as she lips me into her darkness.”
Isn’t it awesome to be me, to have my mind?! My friend Karan Rains says, “It’s harder with smart people.” Yes! I love my smarts, but gee.
I get “Lighten up, Anne” pretty frequently, but I can’t obey. While my spread-eagled self still has her feet on the ground, I’m going to take it full on the chest. Here’s one reason why: “More reliance on approach coping and less on avoidance coping…is linked to a higher likelihood of remission [among those with alcohol use disorder].” I understand the impetus to turn from pain. But it doesn’t work.
If I’m going to approach what’s bothering me instead of avoid it, however, I’ve got to be able to regulate my feelings, mood and behavior. A predictor of relapse is inability to self-regulate. If I become flooded with feeling, my brain gets flooded, too, and I can’t think. I can’t make sense of what I’m feeling – stress, distress, pain – and I become instinct. Pain is threat unto death. Instinct directs me to relieve it or die.
And that’s the double bind of addiction. Approaching either option risks failure. If I don’t address what’s eating me, distress will accumulate behind my back to such heaviness that I’ll be bent with pain before I’m aware of it. I’ll be called to drink out of hopeless anger or helpless despair.
If I do address what’s eating me, I’m eye-to-eye with pain. In agony, it’s very hard to see pain as teacher, not tormenter. I can be driven to my knees. Drinking would feel like mercy.
My near-relapse troubles me. The garden et al. troubles me. I gotta watch out for trouble. I wish my locale had more help, but it is what it is and I am determinedly my own addictions treatment planner and provider.
How to untangle that double bind? First, I become aware I’m in need of self-care. Then I calm myself. Then I use everything I know about addictions treatment and implement it for my own case. Then I practice self-kindness.
So. That little heap of woebegone is a child. I prescribed myself a stuffed animal which I bought yesterday. The stuffed animal can be a transitional object or comfort object that can help me heal my attachment issues, a tragic part of addiction. I kindly suspended judgment and let my 56 year-old self hold the little teddy bear. Not surprisingly, I began to sob like a child. And, as hoped, felt comforted.
Now for Audrey, The Garden. I prescribe myself support. I will try to find a gardener. I accept with kindness that I am not enough for the garden. But I am enough for me.
. . . . .
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