I used to think that any task I thought I could not do well was not worth doing at all. I was taught that practice makes perfect. But no matter how much I practiced, I never got perfect. It seemed the only habits I had were bad habits—self-loathing, no goals, fear of the future, and feeling helpless and victimized. These were my standard modes of operation. I only focused on my mistakes and failed to learn from them.
Taking blame was so much easier than accepting praise. Growing up in my family of origin, praise and encouragement always came with the statement, “If only you’d done a bit more/better.” Thus, no matter what I did or how well I did it, it was never good enough. I was never good enough.
The truth is that I have had many successes in my life. I put myself through college. I am married to a wonderful lady, and we have three fine children together. I have had a successful work life and am now retired. We live in a fine home in a great neighborhood. We have a lovely garden and four pets that bring us joy.
But when my son started using alcohol and drugs, I again had the nagging feeling that I was a failure. Where did I go wrong? Was I not good enough, smart enough, or rich enough to have prevented this? I came to Al‑Anon to find out where I had screwed up, but what I learned was how well I had done despite my poor attitude and situation.
When I started working with my Sponsor, he told me that my efforts at working the Steps would be good enough at the time I did them. There are no “final exams” or pass/fail grades. Al‑Anon is a gentle program that I work at my own pace. After working Steps Four, Five, and Six, I learned to stop comparing myself with some idealized picture of what I thought I was supposed to be.
I can now look honestly at who I am and what I have achieved—the “real” me. I can now see my efforts at something new as just experiments I can learn from, not tests to pass or fail. I can’t learn less, only more. I see now that learning from my mistakes is not a bad way to learn. Yes, failures can be painful, but they are no longer the final arbiter of my validity as a human being.
My new family in Al‑Anon is a loving family that understands my triumphs and failures. You all see me for who I am. My efforts at recovery are not in vain. I like to think we are all works in progress, not final outcomes. Our stories are not over.
By John B., North Carolina
The Forum, September 2021
Feel free to reprint this article on your service arm website or newsletter, along with this credit line: Reprinted with permission of The Forum, Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc., Virginia Beach, VA.