Sober, Sober-ish, + Shh, it’s fine, I’m not that drunk
In my first post, I talked a little bit about getting sober-ish recently. As in, back in December, I was throwing back more than half a bottle of vodka most days. For some reason, that actually didn’t solve any of my problems and actually created some new ones. Hindsight, you know?
I don’t practice the Sandra “two shot” pour anymore and, actually, I’ve been mostly sober so far this year. This definitely has not stopped me from feeling bad about the “ish” in sober-ish or the “mostly” in mostly sober.
As a card-carrying perfectionist, I’m used to killing it at anything I try. I have high standards and I’m willing to work hard and fast to achieve them. That’s something I expect from myself in every area of my life. When I apply that mindset to recovery, though, everything kind of falls apart.
So, my question today is this: Does the obsession with perfection actually get us there? Or can perfect be a roadblock to progress?
Behavior Change (For Math Nerds)
In a book I read recently about behavior design, the author describes behavioral change in terms of the likelihood that a behavior – either the old bad one or the new good one – will occur.
If you don’t do anything to change, the odds are pretty good that the old behavior is going to keep happening pretty much 100% of the time. So, your new behavior success rate is gonna be about zero.
But the more you practice the new behavior, the stronger the neural pathways that support that behavior become. It becomes more likely – but not certain – that you will perform the new behavior. We’ll call it 50/50 odds. Sometimes things feel easy, and you stay sober. Sometimes you’re tired and just want to do something that feels good for a minute, and, oh, cool, yeah, great, you’re drunk (again).
On the other side of this whole mess is the idea of perfection. You never do the old behavior again no matter what, and everyone lives happily ever after, the end. 100% success rate.
Relapse: Why Perfect is the Enemy of Progress
But what happens in between 50% and 100%? Oh yeah, that little thing called relapse. In the space between starting to make a change and seeing that change stick, there will be times when you choose the old behavior – even when you know you shouldn’t. And that’s part of the process. The new behavior is getting bigger and better and stronger every day, but it’s still the underdog.
You know how in movies the underdog gets 85% of the movie to work and get better before they challenge the national champ? And how, throughout the movie, the underdog get stuffed into a locker or can’t get funding or loses their very first game? Progress takes time and shit happens.
Relapse isn’t the enemy of progress – it’s a part of it.
So while I work on figuring this stuff out, I’ll try to embrace the space between 50% and 100% with as much patience and self-compassion as I can. (Wish me luck, guys.)
If you’re a perfectionist with less than perfect mental health, I would love to hear your ideas! How have you learned to get out of your own way during recovery?