Progress, Not Perfection–Learning to be Patient with the Process of Recovery

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By Toshia Humphries, M.Ed., M.A.

When recovering from any traumatic injury, individuals and family members are often encouraged to be patient with the healing process. Doctors realize the time it takes the body to recover from injury. Additionally, assistance and added recovery time may be required in regaining balance and coordination, rehabilitating motor skills and the body’s abilities in an effort to return to normal functioning. As such, the degree of injury and trauma determines the duration of time needed to recover.

Moreover, though a patient’s prognosis may be an expected full recovery, the individual is never quite the same. The trauma of the incident, the specific organs, muscles or bones affected, a near-death experience, resulting emotions involved in a realization of immortality or even a shift in perspective with regard to physical health and priorities can change a person forever. Due to this, though the physical body may heal superficially relatively quickly, the mental, psychological and spiritual aspects of the self as well as any resulting physical changes can often require a lifetime of recovery.

With regard to traumatic injuries, throughout the acute and long-term recovery processes, there is support from medical professionals—doctors, nurses, physical therapists and so on—constantly encouraging healing and ideally offering compassion while reminding the individual to practice patience and focus on the progress rather than the setbacks. The idea is to keep in mind what the body has been through, take time to be grateful for mere survival and to accept the new normal for however long the body requires it. Again, medical professionals are typically aware and often advise patients there is no set time in which the body heals from any injury, surgery or illness; only estimations based on averages.

All of the aforementioned is also true with regard to the process of recovery from addiction. The disease itself is a traumatic injury to the body, mind and soul. As such, recovering individuals and their families must all be informed and supported through the healing process. Patience is required from everyone involved. But, in an effort to prevent relapse, it is absolutely necessary for the recovering individual to practice it, constantly.

Equally as vital to successful recovery is the understanding that recovery from addiction is a lifetime process. The physical damage incurred may remedy itself rather quickly. Conversely, it may be irreversible and require strict lifestyle changes—more extensive than mere sobriety—to prolong life. Regardless of the resulting physical health of any addict, the recovery process does require a shift in perspective; one from quantity to quality of life. The latter is the reason support groups, sponsors, counselors, addiction specialists and other helping professionals are in place to address the unseen injuries resulting from and inflicted prior to the disease in a continuum of care spanning the individual’s life.

There is a need to practice patience with the physical, emotional, spiritual and psychological recovery from any disease and addiction is no exception. Too often, recovering addicts get caught up in trying to do everything right. This typically sets individuals up for feelings of failure and can easily lead to relapse. Therefore, It is very important for recovering addicts to celebrate survival and their healing and recovery achievements, regardless of how big or small, just as they typically honor their days of sobriety. Just as with recovery from any traumatic injury, surgery or disease, successful recovery from addiction is about making progress, not striving for perfection.

Acceptance vs. Enabling: The Difference Between a Caring Habit and a Destructive Pattern

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By Toshia Humphries, M. Ed., M.A.

Family members and friends of individuals struggling with active addiction often face their own inner battle. It is difficult for parents, partners and peers to witness the self-inflicted pain and suffering. Moreover, the compassionate heart of a parent often seeks to provide unconditional love, support and acceptance, regardless. Spouses feel bound by the vows which state “for better or for worse, in sickness and in health.”

Additionally troubling is the reality friends face of wanting to support, encourage and accept the person they love to avoid adding pain to their destructive process. The idea that being that sort of ride or die friend constitutes true friendship is a dangerous one in most situations. In the case of active addiction, it is deadly.

Dr. William Glasser—father of Choice Theory and Reality Therapy—designated acceptance as one of the seven caring habits. Alongside trusting, supporting, encouraging, listening, negotiating differences and respecting, accepting is a behavior which nurtures and serves to grow relationships. The seven opposite of these are defined by Glasser as deadly habits and essentially destroy or kill relationships of any category.

Because the above is true, friends, family and significant others feel they are wrong in refusing to accept the negative behaviors, consequences and resulting chaos created by the individual in active addiction. In fact, they toil over the idea of emotional detachment—the process of letting go—because the terminology and experience seems cruel or lacking in empathy for their loved one.

However, there is a difference between acceptance—a caring habit—and enabling. Enabling is a destructive pattern of behavior which resembles acceptance and other caring habits. But, contrary to its appearance, enabling is not love. It is in fact anti-love because it ultimately serves to keep the individual in active addiction.

Enabling is the process of;

  • supporting, encouraging and accepting destructive, self-sabotaging behavior,
  • repeatedly listening to chronic bouts of victimization typically resulting from self-orchestrated, self-inflicted or self-perpetuated personal drama,
  • trusting the behavior will change regardless of the obvious pattern,
  • attempting to negotiate differences by merely taking a passive stance in the face of addiction’s anger and ego,
  • respecting the privacy—or secrecy—and destructive path of the individual rather than intervening.

Though the root of enabling is clearly prefaced with the seven caring habits, including but not limited to accepting, it does not grow or nurture the relationship or the individual. In fact, enabling kills both.

The only healthy way to practice acceptance with an individual in active addiction and avoid enabling is to simply realize there is a problem which is bigger than the individual. It is one only professional help can address. Rather than accepting the individual’s destructive behavior and resulting chaos, refuse to allow either in your life by suggesting professional help and emotionally detaching until that help is received.

The latter is not a cruel action, nor is it selfish. It is a practice in self-care—setting personal boundaries which protect against dysfunction. Moreover, it is an act of love toward the individual in active addiction because it holds them accountable, attempts to raise them to a higher standard of functioning and ultimately seeks to spur them into healing and recovery.

 

It’s About Progress, Not Perfection

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By Toshia C. Humphries, M.Ed., M.A.

Perfection is something for which many people strive. Yet, perfectionism is—ironically—a factor in active addiction and, for those of us in recovery, can easily lead to relapse. Why? Because the driving urge to achieve perfection is the equivalent of trying to please everyone, everywhere, at the same time. It proves disappointing to everyone—namely, ourselves—and ultimately leads to dysfunction.

Perfectionism manifests in many forms and varying degrees, but can invade our minds and distort our self-perceptions to damaging and detrimental extremes. Any perverse demand of perfection placed upon us by others—including but not limited to our parents—potentially leads to addiction and other forms of mental illness. To impose perfectionism on ourselves has equally devastating consequences, as well.

Unfortunately, many of us arrive in recovery thinking we have to do recovery, perfectly. But perfect recovery doesn’t exist. In fact, even successful recovery is not about perfection. It’s about progress—daily progress. That’s why we hear handfuls of wisdom which reiterate that point; “One day at a time,” “Keep it simple,” “Keep coming back. It works, if you work it,” and so on. These phrases were devised by recovering addicts and alcoholics who likely struggled with perfectionism and—more significantly—the guilt and shame that followed anything less than perfect.

Guilt and shame result in pain which, without healthy coping skills, cycle us into negative behaviors and consequences. They are our worst enemies in recovery, and they are the spawn of perfectionism. And, in order to achieve success in recovery, we must break our own cycle of pain by denouncing the desire to be perfect and, instead, simply aspire to make progress.

Whether the steps are baby steps or giant leaps, recovery requires only that we focus on our forward movement, rather than the steps we will—no doubt—take backward. We are addicts. Yes. But, we are in recovery, which means we are healing, and it is a process; not an overnight procedure. Besides, we cannot forget, underneath our disease, we are also human.