Recovery: Striving for Progress, Not Perfection
As I received my 20-year sobriety chip from my A.A. Meeting home, the COVID-19 pandemic brought emotional, physical, and professional challenges unprecedented in my life. The volatility and instability of our new reality amplified my struggles of navigating loneliness, fear of aging, physical challenges, and work uncertainty. Despite these difficulties, staying clean and sober becomes even more important in steering with a healthy sense of myself and my power. My life coach said that my superpower is “perspective.” That is, because I can look at my situations with a broad nuance, I am able to navigate life’s ups and downs with greater clarity and purpose than ever before. I’m more positive. My recovery journey gave me this sense of seeing things in a way that makes life worth living even when it is hard.
I am far from perfect, having gone through three marriages and three divorces. My last marriage ended during the COVID-19 lockdown, leaving a feeling of sadness and loneliness. I have found the dating world is filled with traumatized people seeking connection, and balancing the need to rescue with taking care of my own needs is not easy. I have to learn about personal boundaries and engage in ongoing healthy relationship behaviors to maintain that balance. One thing I have realized in dating is that I am not alone in the struggle to find relationship stability. Dating at my age (56) is eye-opening to the fact that many of us are struggling to find and maintain a healthy bond. I continue to try because of the sheer compelling and deep-seated need to love and be loved despite knowing that there are no guarantees.
To manage the overwhelming problems that life throws at me, I find guidance in a daily app from Hazelden, reminding me not to be a codependent “crazy”. The quote “Panic is our great enemy. We don’t need to become desperate,” from Melody Beattie’s book “Letting Go,” reminds me to stop struggling and tread water until my equilibrium returns. There are many other daily meditations. This one just resonates as it feels like it is speaking directly to me with what I need right when I need it. Sometimes just hearing a few lines of encouragement can change my mindset and make my day. This is just one of many tools I use to keep grounded in a healthy way.
In my work life, I sold my practices to a small DSO to “simplify” my life, which is a common decision for doctors nearing retirement. However, the relationship did not work out, and my departure resonated as a failure at first. As I am in recovery, I must constantly check my motives and ensure that they are clear of selfishness. I seek guidance from prayer, meditation, and human interaction to balance getting what I want and need with helping others. I want to make people well without making myself sick. It’s another balancing act that is critical for sustained recovery in my life. Dentistry has been good to me and I am grateful for it and the challenges it brings. No matter where I am, I will continue to strive to improve and provide my patients with the best care possible. My work situation may change but my sense of who I am as a professional doesn’t.
My physical health has also been a hindrance, with arthritis and career-related neck and back injury. I have tried different approaches, including medicine, yoga, personal training, and naturopathic remedies. Despite the inconvenience and annoyance, I pursue various life goals, such as a CEO position in a DSO, studying at UNC’s School of Public Health, and working on music albums and a book. These activities serve as a palliative distraction, keeping me pushing and trying despite the pain. More important, these things are what make me want to get up and start moving. I call it “Moving Stuff Through Space”. When I’m moving stuff through space, I’m still in the game.
Amidst life’s messiness, I cherish the beautiful moments – seeing my grandkids play baseball and t-ball, being greeted with unconditional love by my dog Tessa, as she does backflips when I come in the door regardless of how long I’ve been gone, writing and recording songs to make a permanent legacy of my time here, going by myself to see my son in the national tour of Book of Mormon recently. He has wanted to dance since he saw the movie Billy Elliott. He was only two years old when we watched the film. It was surreal and heart-warming to see his dream come true. (He got me really great seats!) Finally, just sitting on the couch half asleep on Thanksgiving while all five of my kids and grandchildren are laughing and interacting is a gift only my recovery could have given me.
I recognize that I cannot expect perfection or any guarantees. Instead, I make decisions based on what I know and want and strive towards those goals. For me, living, loving, thinking, hoping, dreaming, and creating are what define life. I remind myself that progress, not perfection, is what I should strive for. I use my perspective and recovery tools to stay grounded in the experience of life rather than the outcomes. I may encounter setbacks and challenges, but I keep pushing forward. These are gifts of my recovery and sobriety.
Mark Lassiter, DDS
Here’s Mark’s music on Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/artist/31UkZ132gFq3CZJWtdIozu?si=Ws-ZUzngTt2aHYQMXajIUw&dd=1
Mark D. Lassiter, Sr., D.D.S.