Finding and Losing Perfection in Recovery
I don’t want to feel bad anymore. That’s natural for someone coming off a major depressive episode. But I think I’m hurting myself with my desperate desire to be healthy. I’ve got these high expectations of what “being healthy” feels like and maybe I’m selling myself short because of it. In putting my faith in these perfectionistic views of what being healthy means – in my mind, no anxiety, no depression, no fear, just total calm and readiness for the world – I’m not giving myself the chance to feel the little bumps and dips that actually happen to everyone along the way. I’m anesthetizing myself to what happens to healthy people in the real world. By waiting till I’m totally prepared to venture out into the world, I’m missing the point.
Healthy people aren’t always ready for what happens to them out in the world – but they are ready to roll with it. Feeling good is not a prerequisite to having a good day. If we accept that we can’t control what might happen to us on a given day, we take a step in the right direction. If we maintain a healthy perspective on ourselves relative to the things that happen to us on that day, we continue walking in the right direction. If we’re aware that we’re going to incur a couple of bumps and bruises along the way, but we possess the tools to handle them, then we’re taking the healthy path. It looks like it’s time for me to let go of this preparation, and to trust the tools that have gotten me to this point in my journey.
Being a perfectionist comes naturally to me. It’s a habit I’m still trying to break. So whatever I’m doing, I still find myself being haunted by the best version of what I’m trying to do.
And right now, I’m in recovery from suicidal ideations, major depression and anxiety. I’m trying to learn to live my life in a way that is healthy for me, that minimizes my exposure to things that trigger anxiety and depression for me. So ideally, I want to put myself in a bubble and go out into the world very carefully.
Here’s where we find the rub: the world isn’t conducive to bubbles. The world has its own rhythms, it ebbs and flows, it’s bumpy – all things that make it interesting. Try to add a safe little bubble to this world, and the bubble pops.
So what can we do when we’re a recovering perfectionist?
LET GO OF THE IDEA OF OUR PERFECT SELVES
It’s one thing when we’re early in recovery. We try to keep regular patterns. We take our meds on time without fail. We keep every appointment with our therapist. Maybe we’re not going to work and our spouse has taken over paying the bills. We can really reduce the pressure on ourselves and concentrate solely on getting ourselves better.
But when we do these things, all of which are beneficial, we can set ourselves up to fall into perfectionism’s trap. We get used to an easy going life, with no disturbances or upheaval. We can start to take for granted the things we are doing to cushion ourselves. And maybe we’ve developed this idea that our recovery can be perfect and whole and full if we can maintain these conditions.
But the world isn’t going to allow for that.
LEARN TO ROLL WITH OUR PROBLEMS
Isolating ourselves and having our recovery go perfectly is only going to get us so far. To live a full and fulfilling life, we need to get out of our bubbles and experience the world and all of its color and music and twists and turns. We’d be doing a dis-service to ourselves by being content with living in a peaceful tiny bubble. We didn’t suffer through all of that, survive all of that so that we could live in a little, albeit comfortable cage, did we? That’s not living.
So we’ve got to pop our own bubbles and face what the world has to bring. This means we’re going to experience some problems. In the first place, it means that we’re going to be carrying our problems out into the world. And in the second place, it also means that we’re going to face some problems that will inevitably crop up as we move throughout the world.
What this means for us, then, is that we’ve got to learn to roll with things. We might be forced to go into the world when we’re not at our best. That’s ok. We don’t have to be perfectly adjusted to be able to function in and even enjoy the world. We might also find that the world throws some curveballs at us that we’ve been able to avoid in our bubbles. And that’s ok, too. It might make us uncomfortable at times, but it will also allow us to flex our muscles, try our strength and do some growing.
STEP INTO THE FEAR AND DISCOMFORT
Rather than walking out into the world in fear, we should walk into it confident in the knowledge that we are not always going to be at our best and confident in knowing that being out and about in the world is going to present its own set of challenges. We will get nicked up a bit, and that is all right. We learn from the things that challenge us – whether they’re our own mistakes, some new experiences or daring adventures.
Knowing that we’re going to be uncomfortable sometimes does two things. One, it readies us to take on the unknown, to accept new challenges, and two, it places us on an even playing field with everyone else. Nobody knows what the world’s going to bring, today, tomorrow or the next day. If we embrace that unknown, we can step into fear and discomfort and live more satisfying and fulfilling lives.
Letting go of perfectionistic ideas of ourselves and of the world is going to prepare us in a more realistic way to go forth in this life. We have seen some dark days, but we’ve gotten through them. And we can only protect ourselves in recovery for so long. To continue to grow, we need to let go of our expectations, step into the world, and roll with what it has to offer us.