There will be a lot of people in your life who will throw your substance abuse problem in your face when you make even the slightest mistake. And here’s what you have to realize: Humans make mistakes. Being in recovery does not mean you have to be perfect. You got that? Repeat that back to me: “I don’t have to be perfect.”
Progress, Not Perfection
In early recovery, a lot of us feel like we’re under constant surveillance – and a lot of us are. We find ourselves, even as grown adults, being expected to “check-in” with family and friends. Some family, partners, and friends want to monitor our meeting schedules or even require us to take drug tests. This can lead to a feeling that, with the slightest slip or hint of imperfect behavior, we’ll lose all the relationships we’ve fought so hard to gain back.
I know that, as an unrehabilitated perfectionist, I felt so much pressure to be perfect in early recovery. I would text my parents that I had just been to a meeting. If I failed on even the smallest obligation, I would throw myself to the floor in a fit of groveling.
There are people who will take advantage of the recovery grovel. Some people will use the guilt we carry to try to get us to do things that are more to their advantage than ours. Or they’ll punish us emotionally for some pretty minor sins.
Forgive Yourself and Take Control
I find this behavior is particularly prevalent in 12-Step groups because of their emphasis on confession and amends. Not that amends are bad – if you take that path, I hope it works for you. But just because you had a substance use problem doesn’t mean you’re always and forever doomed to be in the wrong.
Ask yourself this question: “If I had never had a substance abuse problem, how would I feel in this situation? For example, you’re feeling ill and think you’re coming down with a cold, so you cancel on a plan to go for dinner with a friend. She says, “This is just like in your using days! You always always cancel on me!”
Well, no, it’s not. You’re coming down with a cold. A “normal” person would be allowed to cancel due to an illness. Treating you differently because you had a substance abuse problem isn’t fair. Your friend may need to examine her own healing process about your relationship. You, on the other hand, need to take vitamin C and go to bed.
People may also try to get you to do unreasonable things for them. For example, while most sponsors are great, ethical people, some see sponsees as errand runners and people to help them move. Ask yourself, “Is this a request that someone who hadn’t had a substance use problem would feel was reasonable?”
In the end, you don’t owe the world a lifetime of repentance. You made mistakes, but so did everyone who never even picked up a drug or a drink. Refuse to grovel. Recovery is about finding your true, authentic identity. And that identity is not as a doormat.
Additional Reading: 9 Tips for Boosting Your Newly-Sober Self-Esteem
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