Free to Be Me

“To err is human.” Apparently I developed a very low tolerance for both early in life. I realize now that I came to the conclusion as a young child that being perfect was the only way to ensure love and acceptance. Unfortunately that unconscious core belief has been the source of great personal suffering and self-destructive behavior well into sobriety. It seems that the journey to accepting that I am human and fallible has been much longer and tougher for me than the journey to accepting my alcoholism. Luckily the journey has been just as rewarding.

When I got sober and was introduced to the many “isms” that are part of the disease of alcoholism, I had no problem acknowledging that perfectionism practically ruled my life. As with many of my character defects, perfectionism helped me succeed in law school and my law practice but at a high personal cost. I lived in constant fear that everyone would find out that the real me wasn’t perfect. The only safe way to navigate life was to never make a mistake, which is a tough way to live because when inevitably I did make a mistake, the fear and self-loathing would practically paralyze me until I could figure out how to fix it or cover it up – hopefully before anyone else noticed!

The practice of law is a tough place for a chronic perfectionist. The highly technical nature of the work and professional expectations leave little room for error. I was certain for many years that the colleagues I respected most knew everything and never made mistakes. Even after I discovered over time that those same respected colleagues did indeed occasionally make mistakes and didn’t know the answers to everything, I could not seem to grant myself that same leeway. Only through sticking with recovery and faith in the process was I eventually able to accept that I am indeed human, I will make mistakes and the miracle today is that I can ask for help to correct those mistakes. Embracing my humanity hasn’t caused people to reject me, but rather, just the opposite happens. It makes me more genuine, authentic and accessible to others.

I really love my work now but not because it impresses somebody else or secures my standing in the community. Every day is a challenge rather than a terrifying gauntlet to be run. I still strive to maintain high standards in my work but recovery has taught me that when I make a mistake, I can ask for help and take responsibility. The greatest gift of recovery is that I no longer believe that I am a mistake.

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