Recovery Connections

John Schwary is CEO of Transitional Living Communities, a 850-bed recovery program he founded in Mesa, Arizona January 9, 1992 when he had a year sober. He's in his 27th year of recovery.

In these posts, he views life mostly through the lenses of recovery. While the blog is factual, he sometimes disguises events and people to protect anonymity.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

When I came into sobriety I brought with me the sense of perfectionism that had plagued me all my life. Nothing was good enough. I had unrealistic expectations of myself. This perfectionism hindered me in several ways. There were some things I was afraid to try because I thought I might fail. For example, when I first got sober some 20 years ago my level of education was a GED I obtained while incarcerated in my teens. Because of my perfectionism I didn't want to take a chance on further education because I feared failing. I didn't get my Bachelor's degree until I was over 65 years old. Was I a 4.0 student? No. I graduated with a 3.4 grade average and that was good enough for me. But if I hadn't decided, during my early years of sobriety, that I would never be perfect I wouldn't have even tried to get my Bachelor's degree.

I often tell those I mentor that in recovery we only have do one thing perfectly. And of course the thing we have to do perfectly is the first half of the first step. Once I recognized that I was powerless over alcohol and other chemicals my whole life changed.

I was able to keep a job. I was able to pay rent and utilities. I didn't have to keep looking over my shoulder and wonder if I was going to be arrested for an old warrant. I was no longer on probation or parole. Simply because I did the first part of that first step perfectly life changed dramatically. The rest of the steps are a work in progress, as is my life.

A few months ago I experienced an example of my perfectionist attitude at work. I was sitting in the waiting room waiting to take a state counseling examination. In the waiting room with me were candidates from various fields of recovery. A woman sitting beside me worked at a methadone clinic. She was discussing a client and mentioned how well he was doing in his recovery.

I immediately, in a polite manner, began to remonstrate with her about her use of the term recovery. In my perfect world when someone is in recovery they use no chemicals. However, at her clinic, they consider someone in recovery when all they are using is methadone. She began to explain to me a concept called "harm reduction." She said that some of her clients had been on methadone for more than 20 years. During that time they had not used illegal drugs or alcohol and had not committed any criminal offenses. She explained that for some clients that was about as good as their lives could be. As long as they had their methadone they could function as productive members of the community.

While I still apply my definition of recovery in my own life I realized that recovery means different things to people in other disciplines.

Today I realize if I maintain the view that I don't have to do everything perfectly I will be willing to take more risks. I will be able to try new business ideas. I will attempt to learn things that I haven't tried to learn before. For example, I recently took an ICRC examination and passed with 75%. It was nowhere near perfect but, guess what? I passed..