I have often heard it said that most addicts are perfectionists. I don’t know why that’s true. What I do know is that a life in which only perfect things are celebrated is a life designed for misery. That’s why I love how the “Big Book” of Alcoholics Anonymous says that we celebrate spiritual progress rather than perfection.
Let’s suppose that the worst happens, and after a period of being sexually sober, I end up breaking one of my bottom lines. Am I able to celebrate the time that I was able to put together up to that point and the lessons I learned along the way? Can I use those things as the motivation I need to start over again at day one? Or do I allow my setback to overshadow all of the work God has been doing in me thus far?
A key here is gratitude. When I look at a person, an event or a circumstance through the critical eye of perfectionism, I see only flaws. What could have been better? What falls short? My life becomes grey and joyless. Before I know it, I am spiritually constipated. I clamp down on the free flow of joy, humor or any kind of true connection to God and others in my life. I get so fixated on establishing a ruthless standard in each area of my life, that I feel like a constant failure. And then our deadly poison: shame, creeps in. Eventually, this will lead to defeat: defeat of my aspirations, my relationships, my spiritual life, and my sobriety.
Maybe you’ve experienced this in relation to food before. Did you ever go on a diet and do really well for a week or two and then, in a moment of weakened resolve, ate a handful of Doritos or a king sized Snickers? What came next? Were you gentle with yourself? Did you have a sense of humor about it? Did you put it behind you and forge ahead? Or did you, as I have done, throw up your hands in disgust and say to yourself, “Well, I’ve ruined everything. I might as well eat the rest of the bag… and then a carton of ice cream… and then a block of fudge… and then the neighbor’s puppy? Just kidding. But you get the idea, right?
I’m not saying let’s all lower our standards to the point that we might as well not even bother with bottom lines, or to where we have no backbones anymore. What I’m saying is that it’s okay to find delight in the little things along the way, even when we feel far away from our ideal selves. When it rains, look for the rainbow. It’s not just some kind of trite little Pollyanna exercise. This is the difference between spiritual starvation and a life worth living. Won’t you join me?