Perfectionism and Step Six

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Perfectionism and Step Six

Postby Karl R » Tue Dec 08, 2009 9:26 am

A nice little editorial about one person's tale of two types of perfectionism, the quest for perfectionism, drinking for relief, and surrender in the program of AA. It reads just like my own story of part of what I was like, part of why I sought relief in the bottle, what happened, and where I find myself today; in the hands of a HP of infinite Power.

Copyright © The AA Grapevine, Inc. (November. 1955 vol. 12 no. 6 ). Reprinted with permission.

The Compleat Perfectionist
THE topic of perfectionism in the alcoholic came up last night during the coffee session. One of the fellows stated that he saw absolutely nothing wrong in an alcoholic trying to be perfect. He thought it was a very commendable trait. He went on to say something about our being made in His image--that He is perfect--and that we should strive to be likewise.

Perhaps there was some "parallel charging" in the discussion (he on one track and I on a parallel one charging toward each other, but when we came to the point, we both missed because parallels never meet.) After thinking it over, I believe Red may have been taking the term perfectionism as it applies in ethics--perfection of moral character, or possibly, as it applies in theology.

Not that I would berate ambition, self-improvement, or striving to do one's best at all times--these are all indicative of progress and have a solid seat in the new way of life of the AA-rehabilitated alcoholic. Neither would anything short of earnest endeavorin progress toward perfection in moral and spiritual values be considered wholesome for the recovered alcoholic. But, the type of perfectionism I have in mind expends energy, serves no good purpose, wastes time and brings little satisfaction in the end results. I'm sure you have all seen evidence of this type of false (as I shall call it) perfectionism.

Perhaps all alcoholics weren't as mixed-up as I, but the following examples were taken from my make-up. The opinions formed are my own and are based upon introspection and self-analysis--and I might add, I'm no authority on anything.

This false perfectionism manifests itself in many ways. It shows up in minor acts and behavior which border on the ritualistic--at times it is compulsive. Pre-AA, a new "automobile during the break-in period was enough to drive me to a drunk. A click here, a squeak there, a squeak somewhere else--was my new car falling apart? I had paid good money for this car and there's a scratch on the glove compartment--heaven forbid! I could interpret sounds in the motor which augured complete breakdown, even though trained mechanics couldn't tell which sounds I referred to. And here's the laugh--personally I didn't mind the squeaks, clicks and scratches, but I wondered what opinion someone might have of me driving a new car which presented itself in such a fashion.

In typing a page of material, I've torn page after page from the machine and retyped because of some small error. And at the same time I would be angry at myself for not being capable of letting the error remain, or at least settling for a pen change. I wanted no one to have insight into my shell--even a stranger, even through the medium of a typed page. Or could it be that I craved a childish form of approval, wanted compliments for work well done, wanted verbal rewards that catered to my egoistic nature? Regardless of motive it resulted in miserable perfectionism.

I believe I overcompensated from fear of failure. The failure itself didn't really matter because I never attempted anything from which I couldn't recover if I failed, but it was the fear of opinion again--fear of what others might think if I failed. I was certainly never guilty of aiming at mediocrities. I always aimed at perfection in my endeavors, and when I fell a little short, I experienced the feeling of failure even though I may have been 'way at the top. Ego caused me to hate the tag of a grade "B" in anything.

This perfectionism crept into personal dress--loops in shoelace bows had to be of equal size; necktie ends had to be even. No shirt, unfolded fresh from the laundry, was ever just right. And with a TV set, I spent more time twisting dials and twirling antennas, trying to get the picture perfect, than I ever did watching the program.

I always used to say that a good drunk brought release, eased tensions, and reduced the pressure created by my high-strung nature. Well. . .a drunk released me from perfectionism all right. On a drunk, I could go two weeks without shaving, not even wear a shirt, and one shoe was sufficient if I couldn't find the other. Mismated socks were commonplace. On a drunk, all my needs were met by two things--another drink, and a clove to chew on.

After giving this false perfectionism some sober consideration, I decided that it results from anxiety (a free-floating fear) rooted in a guilt complex. Perhaps it's a fear of the laws of retribution (if there are such things) but fear, at any rate. This perfectionism could well be a peace offering on the altar of fear. . .an offering to an unknown god as a token for that inner person who is the imaginary perpetrator of a feeling of guilt.

It may be an offering of, "Look, I've conformed; I've even tried to make everything else conform--fate, be kind." I believe false perfectionism is symbolic of fear--one of those defects of character which we become ready to have removed in Step Six, and humbly ask for its removal in Step Seven.

I have a scar on the back of my hand. I know what caused it--but the scar still remains. Likewise, I know that should I find the answer to why I'm an alcoholic, what caused my perfectionism and a thousand other character traits, I would still be an alcoholic. The important thing is not what caused my alcoholism, but what I can do to keep it arrested. The answer lies where it always has--in the hands of God through the program of Alcoholics Anonymous, practiced to the best of my ability.

E. J. H.
Nashville, Tennessee
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Karl R
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