There are stereotypes that people with addiction are irresponsible, and that people with perfectionistic tendencies are reliable to a fault. But these two can be the same person.
Perfection doesn’t exist, making the pursuit of it distressing. It’s not unusual to get burnt out when things inevitably don’t go as planned. Some perfectionists and people with substance use disorders alike can engage in all-or-nothing thinking. If it can’t be done to sometimes impossible standards, they may decide it’s not worth doing and “check out.”
Both addiction and perfectionism can lead to rumination or fixation. The person who works towards getting something just right may be the same person who compulsively seeks out substances.
This trait can carry over into recovery, especially in the early stages. A couple months into sobriety, I downloaded an app called Habitica whose slogan is “gamify your life.” You enter your goals—they could be creative, professional, fitness, or anything you’d like—and progress through the game as you achieve them.
I was overly ambitious with my goals, assuming that since I was now sober, I could accomplish everything immediately. It was an impossible number of tasks at which to excel, so I often went through the motions just to be able to accomplish them at all. I kept at it for almost a year, but ultimately I stopped getting anything meaningful from it.
Some of my work in long-term recovery has been learning to set realistic and achievable goals. I still have a tendency to want to do a lot, but I’ve narrowed it down. All-or-nothing thinking might tell you that now that you’re not hindered by substances, you can accomplish everything all at once. This is bound to cause stress.
It’s okay for anyone to want to do their best. In fact, this is a great motivator in recovery. But it’s important to remember that a person’s best and perfect are not the same thing. As people learn about themselves through recovery, it often follows that they learn to set realistic expectations. Once those expectations have been set, it is perfectly reasonable to strive towards them.
It’s all about balance. We can channel perfectionistic qualities into pursuits that mean something to us, while also recognizing we’re human and have limits.
Recovery has also taught me that mistakes are not terrible and to be avoided, but part of the process. Everyone will inevitably make them, and recovery often means doing many things sober for the first time. We get more and more practice. But practice doesn’t make perfect—it makes progress.
If you are struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder, there is help available. At TruHealing Centers across the country, we will help you determine the root causes of your addiction and build healthy coping skills. Our staff—many of whom are in recovery themselves—will work with you to create achievable and fulfilling goals. To find out more, call an admissions specialist at 410-593-0005.