Nearly four-hundred years ago, St. Francis de Sales wrote the following pearl of wisdom for those in recovery today: "Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections". As the fog of trauma, addiction, and emotional challenges begins to lift, one thing becomes clear: our imperfections! Even when we muster the courage to consider these imperfections, it can be disheartening to realize that some of our imperfections are terribly persistent, requiring repeated doses of courage and "an ocean of patience"(another quote by St. Francis de Sales).
On the pathway of recovery, it can be hard to see our own progress – especially when we keep running into the same old character defects. It's like courageously cutting a path through a dense thicket while hiking, only to reencounter the same thicket hours later, with the path already overgrown. In those discouraging moments, it can feel like the recovery path has circled back on itself, leaving us stuck on a ring, destined to repeatedly stumble on our imperfections. Our previously-mustered courage can get pushed aside by anger, frustration, resentment, doubt, and shame. As for that ocean of patience; forget about it - sometimes we are lucky to find a puddle of patience!
Over the years I have come to understand that this process of reencountering our imperfections is perhaps better illustrated by an image of a spring, rather than a flat ring. While the recovery process does involve circling back to our personal thickets of imperfection, these repeated rings of experience are linked together like a spring, where each revolution actually takes us to an elevated place. This upward progression can be gradual at times and difficult to perceive within ourselves, especially when we are in the middle of the thicket! Ironically, our progress may be more apparent to others around us and can be the very foundation of a living amends to those we love.
Recovery from trauma and addiction requires courage to face our imperfections and patience as we face them again and again. We may never completely rise above our imperfections, but each time we reencounter them on the spring of recovery, we find ourselves in a slightly elevated place. This gradual shift in perspective allows us to get a better view of our imperfections, altering how we see ourselves and others. In time, we may even begin to see the process of reencountering our imperfections as a natural part of the recovery path and as an opportunity for growth and healing.