Inadequacy. A feeling we “aren’t supposed” to have as competent, put-together adults. An emotion I’m certainly barred from as an advice-wheeling expert-in-the-room, right?
Growing up, we’re told to approach all things with confidence. We’re expected to push through doubt, advised to hide our insecurities. And while confidence is an important skill to master, it’s complex. Healthily working through doubt proves our capability… capabilities which often live beneath fear. But for some, the fear (or belief) of inadequacy is debilitating.
The Good Enough Mother
A few years ago, I read a Winnicott text discussing “The Good Enough Mother.” I had difficulty digesting it at the time, and I don’t believe that was a coincidence. Essentially, Winnicott posits the hypothetical and metaphorical “Mother” mustn’t concern herself with being the perfect parent to her children. Rather, she should look for evidence that her parenting is good enough.
At first glance, this read as negligent. But Winnicott’s argument is this: The Good Enough Mother provides her child enough love, security, and care. But when The Good Enough Mother fails the child in small ways (not making a second meal if the first is rejected, not hearing the first time they call, etc.), she helps the child learn to tolerate distress little by little. The Good Enough Mother’s imperfection prepares the child to function in a world that is often unpredictable and frustrating. If The Good Enough Mother tended to every discomfort, the child would be unprepared to navigate a very uncomfortable world.
Winnicott has stuck with me over the years. It’s through our missteps, our lack, that we develop resilience. I’ve found when I “do what I’m able” (as my own Mother would say), I’m in a better position to succeed. When I quit striving for perfection, my performance improves. Allowing space for mistakes and experimentation also allows space for growth. But when I concede to self-imposed expectations and outside pressure… constantly examine and relive my faults… list the reasons why I’m unfit… I prevent myself from accomplishing (or even starting) what I’ve set out to do.
Further, The Good Enough version of myself succeeds more often than the version who doesn’t try at all.
When she succeeds 8 times out of 10, she has succeeded 8 times. Because she isn’t fixated on her mistakes, she’s constantly moving forward. She’s developing into the woman she strives to be. And in this way, she’s better suited to handle the next mistake. My Good Enough Self is open to new opportunities and eager to learn. She isn’t burdened, controlled, or immobilized by her weaknesses. Her intentions are clear. Sometimes, she misses the mark. Many other times, she gets it right. Progress may be clunky, it may be messy, it may not always look the way she planned. But a messy win is a win just the same, and certainly better than running from the challenge. We are all flawed, so getting it right 80% of the time is a pretty admirable average. But, alas, we can get stuck. And allow the 20% to dictate our attempts in the future.
So, how does this relate to our recovery?
The Good Enough Person in Recovery
In my previous post, I discussed how fear of the unknown can prevent us from taking necessary first steps. Similarly, after taking the (very brave) step to complete an outpatient or residential program, we may become overwhelmed by the demands of upkeep. We may watch peers appear to “excel” in their recovery, because their recovery looks the way we pictured ours to be. Or, we may hear stories about folks with decades of iron-clad sobriety. We may feel guilty about our cravings, shameful about our lingering addictive behaviors, fearful of how we will be perceived if we lapse.
Suddenly, the effort seems hollow.
Again, The Good Enough Person in Recovery is in a healthier position than one who doesn’t recover at all. When The Good Enough Person in Recovery succeeds 8 times out of 10, they have succeeded 8 times. If they fall, they are’t so burdened by a blunder that they keep it secret. When they crave, they attend a meeting. And when they lose motivation, they’re self aware.
The Good Enough Person in Recovery is open to opportunities to strengthen their recovery, and isn’t controlled or immobilized by mistakes. The intentions are clear- to abstain from drugs and alcohol. Inevitably, they feel weakness. Inevitably, they also experience moments when they feel strong. It may be clunky, it may be messy, it may not always look the way they planned. But a messy recovery is recovery all the same, and certainly better than the alternative.
The Good Enough Self
Now, a case can certainly be made for the role of fear in recovery. A healthy respect for the disease is, well, healthy. And by no means am I advocating we excuse our bad behavior. I am advocating grace when we stumble, analyzing our beliefs, and the value of responsibility.
The following tips may help you get started:
- Create short and long term goals. If you don’t know what you’re working towards, you won’t recognize it when you find it. (Is it cliche? Maybe. But someone said this to me during a hard time and it completely blew my mind…)
- Savor accomplishments. When things go right, take a moment to recognize your success. Notice how you feel. Try to identify what worked.
- Take it slow. Do what you’re able, even if it’s small. Some days, just abstaining is enough.
- Break the habit of comparison. When you catch yourself comparing your journey to others, remember what makes yours unique. The culmination of our hardships shape who we are today. No one is perfect, and appearances can be deceiving. The grass is always greener, and whatnot.
Practice gratitude. Always, always, always, In good times and in bad.