“A large part of our unhappiness has to do with this grandiosity and this pretending to be more than we are. We have laid expectations on ourselves that no one could have fulfilled and then felt unhappy when we couldn’t fulfill them.” J. Keith Miller, A Hunger For Healing
As a perfectionist I can definitely identify with this statement! For many years I unconsciously set myself up for failure by expecting more from myself than I could ever deliver: The perfect son; the perfect friend; the perfect employee; the perfect boyfriend or husband. Of course I was far from perfect in all of these roles, and the harder I tried being perfect in any one role the worse I ended up performing in all my roles.
Until recently, I was behaving this with my recovery program. I sometimes caught myself trying not to get triggered…which was absolutely ridiculous, because: 1) I am a man, 2) I am not castrated, and 3) I am a recovering pornography addict. Of course I will get triggered! Trying to not get triggered is like trying to not get thirsty in the middle of the desert: It is going to happen. Instead of setting myself up for failure (and thus justify a relapse to console myself), I must stop trying to be more or less than what I am: I am a good, smart, kind, loving, and generous person. I am also cruel, jealous, angry, bitter, resentful, lustful, greedy and impatient. I get triggered by triggering people and images. Rather than trying not being triggered, I need to respond appropriately after I’ve been triggered.
My program was at an all-time low a few months ago because of my efforts to be ‘perfect’. I was not only trying to not get triggered, I was also trying to work every step perfectly. If I didn’t bounce my eyes quick enough, I got frustrated. If my eyes bounced back to a trigger, I got angry at myself. If I took a long look at a triggering woman I felt guilt, shame, and disappointment. I reached the point of absolute fatigue. I was depressed. I was on the verge of relapse because no matter how hard I tried I could not seem to work the perfect program; I was completely unhappy.
Then I had a revelation: I don’t need to work a perfect program, and trying to work a perfect program was making me miserable. Though it sounds strange to say this, I started working my program not-quite-so-hard and I immediately felt better. I didn’t get disappointed when my eyes lingered on a trigger; I just told myself to bounce away. When my eyes bounced back to a trigger, I didn’t get frustrated. Instead, I acknowledged this as normal behavior for a recovering addict, and patiently told myself to bounce my eyes away again. My program has been going much more smoothly since then.