One Secret of Sobriety: Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously
Perfectionism is the bane of good health. It puts stress on body and mind, minimizes the importance of self-care, and has been known to drive people to suicide. It reduces overall effectiveness through anxious mental distractions and fear of challenge. It poisons relationships by generating tension and arguments. It’s also a contributor to behavioral illnesses such as eating disorders—and addiction disorders.
If you’re recovering from addiction, chances are your therapists have brought up the idea of giving yourself permission to “fail,” even of laughing at yourself. Besides reducing overall stress levels and any relapse triggers that go with them, this lessens the danger of seeing long-term abstinence as an “all or nothing” thing—in other words, if you do relapse, you’ll find it easier to bounce back and start over when you can accept this universal principle as applying to you: Nobody’s perfect, but nobody ever runs out of new chances in this life.
“GOD IS GOD AND I AM NOT”
In some cultures, it’s traditional for craftspeople to deliberately leave a small flaw in their work to remind themselves they are mere mortals and shouldn’t try to be like God. Although few of us would have the arrogance to claim we were superhuman, we effectively say as much when we imply we should be above all mistakes. Try asking yourself: If I don’t get this exactly right, will it change the course of history? Will it matter in a thousand years? For that matter, will anyone even remember it next week?
If you still have difficulty, try picturing the most apocalyptic scenario you can imagine and writing a mental story of how that might result from your getting your latest project “not quite right.” Chances are you’ll start laughing too hard to worry any further.
TAKE TWO BELLY LAUGHS AND CALL ME IN THE MORNING
Laughter really is great medicine. If you aren’t ready to laugh at your own mistakes yet, shift your general mood in the direction of humor by listening to a good comedian or watching a “bloopers” video. Ask your more cheerful acquaintances about the “dumbest things they ever did” and watch how they turn mistakes into hilarity. That should inspire you to share a few of your own stories with the knowledge others are laughing with you, not at you.
You can even try laughing for no reason at all. Whole “laughter clubs” exist to practice laughing for its own sake—and they find the benefits to overall daily mood to be immense.
AVOID SETTINGS WHERE YOU “GET NO RESPECT”
Hopefully, your family and loved ones are on board with your sobriety support network and willing to do whatever it takes to support you in recovery—including empathizing with your struggles and not pressuring you to “do better” when you already feel stressed. If you’re among the less fortunate, however, you may have a work supervisor, a “friend” or even a parent who never lets up on the criticism, who never finds anything you do good enough, and who may even be personally insulting to the point of verbal abuse. If you keep associating with such people, particularly during your first year after detox when you’re at your most vulnerable, you may find the temptation to “escape” through relapse becoming irresistible.
Here’s what you can do:
- Realize that negative, critical people behave that way because of their problems rather than yours: they don’t like themselves and they take it out on others, they don’t know how to be happy or successful, and they get bitterly jealous of anyone who does. Knowing this may not make them any easier to take, but it should help curb the tendency to believe every negative thing they say about you.
- If this is someone to whom you can make yourself indefinitely unavailable, do so.
- If it’s someone you work with, consider requesting a transfer to another department—or, if the work atmosphere is really toxic, don’t be afraid to find another job.
- If you’re dealing with a member of your own household, or a close blood relative, the situation gets trickier. You’ll probably need advice from a therapist to make the final decision on a “leave it or live with it” situation. In any case, be sure to build an active support system elsewhere.
AFFIRM YOURSELF DAILY
Whatever others think of you, learn to be your own best friend. Make a list of your good qualities, and put them to use at every opportunity. Remind yourself daily that you aren’t perfect, but you’re getting better and better. When you like yourself, you don’t have to set impossible standards for yourself—you can just enjoy your company for its own sake!