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What Does Progress Not Perfection Mean in AA

We Strive for Progress Not Perfection
Introduction to the Idea

"How It Works" is in Chapter Five of the Big Book and describes how recovering alcoholics are to strive for spiritual progress not perfection. Let's discuss what the paragraph about spiritual progress means.

"Many of us exclaimed, "What an order! I can't go through with it." Do not be discouraged. No one among us has been able to maintain anything like perfect adherence to these principles. We are not saints. The point is, that we were willing to grow along spiritual lines. The principles we have set down are guides to progress. We claim spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection."

Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, Page 60

The paragraph above comes close to the end of "How It Works." All twelve steps are read before it says that we shall strive for progress not perfection. This is intentional. Unless we work the twelve steps and discover the principles behind them all, we won't truly understand what spirituality means to us.

The Difference Between Spirituality and Religion
There is a difference

Spirituality is not the same thing as religion. Religion is tied to a defined version of God and a set of laws or rituals that are practiced as part of one's religious belief. Spirituality is very different and refers to the fact that each of us is a spiritual being. We each are individuals with personalities and what I like to call souls. It doesn't matter where you believe your spirit came from or how you celebrate it. You merely need to understand that within each human being, including you, a spiritual being resides. That spiritual being can choose to believe only in the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous rather than a God.

We Claim Spiritual Progress Rather than Spiritual Perfection
Acknowledge the spiritual progress you've already made

Once we have worked all the steps, our sponsors will have helped us define our relationship to God. It may be that we are atheist and choose not to believe in God, and instead rely on the group to be our higher power. It may be that we are connected to a specific religion and want to use the version of God from that. So long as you've defined a higher power, you are on your way to claiming spiritual progress.

It is so important to let your newfound success sink into your spirit. I felt worthless upon entering treatment. I could not think of a single positive quality about myself. At the end of two weeks clean, I was physically ill, but my spirit had shifted ever so slightly. I had managed something I had never achieved before - two weeks without drugs. Take those small moments, whatever they are for you and always remember that those are spiritual lottery tickets. Logic says that if you can progress once, you can do it twice. However small the increment in your confidence, please acknowledge it. What you see as minimal is not. Spiritual progress in any form is progress.

If you have stayed clean and sober and worked all Twelve Steps with a sponsor, you have already experienced great spiritual progress. You have grown. You have adopted a new way of life. You have put work into it. Here is why understanding that matters most. Once you see that you are capable of a spiritual leap forward, THERE ARE NO LIMITS TO HOW MUCH MORE YOU CAN GROW.

We Are Not Saints
Nobody's perfect

Ask any alcoholic or addict about their self-esteem, and you'll quickly learn that we are tremendously hard on ourselves. We hate ourselves. We KILL ourselves. We fall into a pattern of addictive behavior and completely forget that we are worthy of health, happiness, and freedom.

This belief that we are nothing is dangerous. Thankfully, the Big Book smashes it for us. The Big Book reminds us that we are NOT saints. None of us follows the program perfectly and none of us go through life without making mistakes – even if we try desperately to do so.

It's ok to have imperfections; there is even a solution for those in Steps 6 and 7 - where we admit our shortcomings and ask God to relieve us of them. (Note: Step 6 and 7 are action steps. The action is asking God or your higher power to stop you from lying and then having the willingness to tell the truth when you'd prefer not to.)

Understanding that there are no perfect people can help us to accept ourselves and drive us to be the best version of ourselves that we can be. Once we accept that perfectionism is a lie, it is easier to "grow along spiritual lines" and still feel worthy when we make a mistake.

We Strive for Spiritual Progress Not Perfection
Defining the Word Strive

I have been to meetings where a fellow addict or alcoholic will share about doing something out of principal. I've heard people say they have lied, and I've heard people say they've stolen. Sometimes, the person will then laugh and say, "it's spiritual progress, not perfection, right?" Um, No. Spiritual progress not perfection is not an excuse to act out and blame it on the fact that we are imperfect.

The word strive means to make great efforts to obtain or reach something. We must always be striving for something. Those of us who strive, thrive. Those of us who rest on our laurels and blame our lousy behavior on imperfection completely miss the point that the Big Book makes – we should always be striving toward greater spiritual growth. We strive when it hurts, we strive when it doesn't. However, we must keep striving. Otherwise, we stay stuck.

Perfection isn't achievable, but, all of us can be WONDERFULLY imperfect. Further, when we step out of principle on purpose or by accident, "How it Works," reminds us that Step 10 can put us back on track. We have the immediate option to make amends and take responsibility for our hurtful deeds or actions.

When we make amends as we stay sober, we show our commitment to living a principled life and to growing along spiritual lines. We can honor our spirits by doing our best to make a wrong right.

A Final Thought
Growth is Limitless

Initially we grow toward sobriety and spirituality. As we stay sober, we can strive for even more than that. We can strive for financial freedom by paying one bill. I may seem like $20 out of $20,000 won't help accomplish your goal, but it will. You can strive to get an apartment. You can reach for your dream job. If you are growing along spiritual lines and living in principle, you can grow in any and every direction. Now you know you have a spirit. Please understand that is boundless. It is limited only by your imagination.


What Does Progress Not Perfection Mean in AA?

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