Most people would consider abstinance or sobriety an extreme lifestyle choice as opposed to chosing to drink, but to drink moderately. Drinking moderately has not worked for me. It has taken me the better part of a decade, with lots of stops and starts, to kick the booze to the curb but I have finally done it by understanding that I must put progress above perfection. Balance for me has come with the choice to put sobriety first and just take life as it comes, one day at a time.
I was a straight-A student. I got a C once, in high school Chemistry, and I actually hyperventilated. I did everything exactly the way I was supposed to, exactly the way everyone told me to, and praise was the fuel that kept me going. I finished my undergrad years Summa Cum Laude with a double major, went to a prestigious grad school, got a good job, worked hard, and, after a few years, I got promoted. Everything was right on schedule. Then I realized that I hated my job. Not only that, I wasn’t all that good at it. My drinking, which had always been problematic in a four-to six-beers-a-night at home, “life of the party” sort of way, took a really dark turn. No matter how hard I tried, I just could not make things work. I went from being “perfect” and constantly praised to desperately flailing around and being repeatedly asked why things weren’t running the way they should. I absolutely Could. Not. Cope. Not surprisingly, the more I drank, the worse things got – not just at work, but in all areas of my life.
I kept thinking, “If I can just stop drinking, I will_____” followed by a whole laundry list of things I “needed to improve.” Every time I tried to go Alcohol Free, that attempt was coupled with a huge swath of massive changes I tried to implement at the exact same time. I set the alarm for 5am so I could get up and exercise, shower, and make breakfast before getting my son and I ready and out the door. I threw out all the processed food and swore I would cook from scratch every day. I beat my head against the brick wall that was a job I was not suited for, continually striving to “get it right this time.” I made massive to-do lists and got started on them the second I got home from work, pushing myself to exhaustion every single night, all in pursuit of perfection. I’ll bet you can guess what happened next. Yeah…I started turning the alarm off because my body was so sore and tired from too much exercise. The fresh food rotted in the fridge while I ordered take-out. I stressed more and more about the job that was not getting any better. I still made the to-do list, but I spent my evenings eyeballing it from across the room while I ruminated about everything that wasn’t getting done, all the while drinking myself into oblivion.
I am finding that focusing on being sober first and foremost gives me the space I need to focus on other things as well. It gives me breathing room, which is something I never felt like I had before.
I’ve often said that my current state of being Alcohol Free feels different from my previous attempts. One of the main reasons for that is because I’ve let go of the idea of being perfect. “Progress not perfection,” is one of AA’s many little gems. Like “one day at a time,” it requires a change in mindset. Instead of trying to change everything that I didn’t like about my life all at once, I spent a full month just focusing on being sober, one day at a time. That’s it. Not drinking was my A-Number-One priority, and everything else was pushed to the back burner. After 30 days, I started making some other small changes and incorporating new things into my life. When I started to feel like those had settled, I changed a little more, and so on and so forth. The pace has felt very slow at times and that can be frustrating for me, but what matters is that it’s working. Little by little, I’m starting to see that life I envisioned unfold. I am not perfect, but I am making progress, and the progress keeps me moving forward.
If we’re perfect, then how do we evolve, how do we grow? Ditching perfectionism opens up a whole new world of possibilities and opportunities.
Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.
More Reading – The Golden Mean, Explained
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