It is often claimed that life in recovery is all about progress and not perfection. Those individuals who have unrealistic expectations or demand too much from themselves are likely to end up disappointed. They may even use their apparent failures as an excuse to return to their addictive behaviors. Sobriety is all about small victories over time and the all or nothing approach is doomed to failure.
The all or nothing approach can be defined as not allowing for compromise or qualification. It often refers to a situation where people will only acknowledge a good outcome if things work out exactly as they intended. A good example of this would be an individual who is attempting to give up their alcohol addiction. They may be expecting for their life to get perfect as soon as they stop drinking. When this does not happen they see it as a failure and decide to return to alcohol abuse. This person will have failed to see the improvements that did occur by quitting drinking because they wanted everything to be perfect right away. In order words they wanted all or nothing so they ended up with nothing.
Those individuals who fall into addictive behaviors often share certain characteristics that are referred to as the addictive personality. These traits also make it more likely that the individual will have an all or nothing approach to life. When people give up an addiction they can still continue to suffer as a result of these negative character flaws. This is why an important goal in recovery is to chip away at the addictive personality which includes such traits as:
* The need for instant gratification. This is closely related to the all or nothing approach.
* Low self esteem. This means that the individual can easily become disheartened if things do not work out as expected.
* These are people who tend to act impulsively. They make rash decisions which they may later regret – this can also feed into the all or nothing approach because the individual can behave so unreasonably when they don’t fully get their way.
* It is common for such individuals to have unreasonably high expectations of other people.
* It can mean that the individual has expectations for themselves that are far too high. They will always feel like a failure because they are unable to reach their own impossible standards.
* They tend to have a high tolerance for deviant behavior. They may have no compulsions about breaking the rules if they think it will bring them closer to their goals.
* They often have antisocial tendencies.
* Such individuals will often be prone to attention seeking behavior.
* Those with the addictive personality tend to feel alienated from other people.
* They tend to be highly secure in their relationships.
* They usually feel like they are dealing with a great deal of stress in their life.
* They often suffer from anxiety or depression.
* These are people who value nonconformity and this means that they believe that the normal rules do not apply to them. This may account why they don’t feel like they should have to wait for things or get less than perfect results.
The all or nothing approach to life is dangerous for a number of reasons including:
* It is rare for things in life to go exactly as planned. If people are dependent on an exact result they will usually end up disappointed.
* What people want is not always the same as what they need. Getting what they need is going to be more important than getting what they want.
* Those who insist on sticking with the all or nothing approach to life are likely to move from one disappointment to the next. This is not a satisfactory way to live life.
* If people want to reach the peaks of success they will need to devote a great deal of time and effort. Those who expect instant perfection will give up in frustration before they get anywhere.
* These individuals fail to appreciate all the good things they can have because of their unwillingness to compromise. This means that instead of ending up with positive improvements in their life they settle for nothing instead.
* Those people who use this approach to life are in opposition to reality. The aim of recovery is for the individual to get beyond their delusions and for them to learn to deal with life on life’s terms.
* Their inability to compromise will often mean that they are in conflict with other people. One of the great joys of life is human companionship, but those who are in a constant battle to get their own way are unlikely to benefit from this.
* This type of individual is likely to become obsessed with their goals so that they miss out on the good things in life. It is better to have a process orientation in life rather than a goal orientation – this is because people spend most of their time working towards goals rather than achieving them.
* Even if the individual manages to achieve most of their ambitions they can still feel unsatisfied with life. This is because the all or nothing approach causes people to be always seeking for something better – they are never satisfied with what they have.
* If the individual feels like they are failing in recovery, or that they are not getting their just rewards, they may use this as justification to relapse back to addiction.
* Some people will be looking for an excuse to relapse, and their insistence on perfection is just an attempt to sabotage their own recovery.
In order to escape the all or nothing approach to life it is important that people learn to:
* Have realistic expectations in life. It is possible to achieve amazing things, but such results usually require a great deal of work and time.
* People need to be flexible and willing to compromise in life. Having something that is slightly less than perfect is far better than having nothing at all.
* It is important to keep in mind that life hardly every work out exactly as we planned. This is not such a bad thing because the world would soon become a boring place if everything went as planned.
* Keep in mind that life in recovery is all about progress and not perfection. Small improvements over time can make a difference to a person’s life.
* In order to get the most out of life in recovery the individual needs to develop emotional sobriety. This means learning to accept life on life’s terms.
* It is important for people to remember that life mostly takes place in-between achieving their goals. This means that if they are too focused on their goals they will miss out on much of their life.
* Learning to meditate can help people to develop an appreciation for what they have right now. Every moment can be perfect if the individual looks at it the right way.
* Trying to satisfy every desire is not a satisfactory way to live because happiness will always remain elusive. The trick is for people to be happy with what they currently have.