Celebrating progress, not perfection.

It’s been a few months since M’s last slip. Things have been gloriously ordinary around here. People ask “What’s new?” and I’m practically giddy when I tell them, “Nothing! Not much going on here. Just the everyday routine, every day.”

But what I really, really want to tell them are the small wins. Like, “M’s been coming to bed earlier.” Or , “We’re really making progress in our couples therapy sessions.” Also, “We have breakfasts together on the weekends now,” and “He’s quitting smoking!” Or even just, “He made it another day fighting the demons. He won today.”

While it might seem very strange for some people, when you’re living with someone in recovery, these small wins can mean everything. Especially when three years ago, our home was filled with resentment, uncertainty, feelings and hurt and worries unspoken and unheard. In Al-Anon, there is the slogan Progress, not perfection. It taught me perspective – really acknowledging how far we have come from sitting alone in those dark holes to climbing our way out, one step at a time, and finding our way back to each other and ourselves. We continue climbing every day.

It’s hard in this age of social media, where everyone is sharing the “perfect” things – celebrations of birthdays, marriages, a first house, a new job. A pregnancy announcement. A check-in from vacation. And attached to each post, a thread of congratulatory comments, hearts and likes and high fives, virtual hugs and pats on the back to let the poster know – Yes! This is worthy of being celebrated! We see you and how great you are living the life that everyone says you’re supposed to live.

And they are worthy of being celebrated! But what about the things that happen in between the big, happy moments? What about real life? The small, ordinary wins that look like nothing but took everything to achieve? How do we celebrate those?

It’s hard. I don’t like saying “I’m proud of you.” For some reason, it makes me feel separate, as though I’m saying it from above, looking down on him as he climbs. When what I really want to do is climb into the hole with him and cheer him on, and shine a light pointing up, so that he can see a little clearer and climb a little higher.

I don’t want to post on Facebook about what time my husband went to bed last night or our latest couples therapy breakthrough. Because it’s not even about the likes and the comments and the pats on the back. It’s about opening our eyes and noticing. Shining that light every day by saying, “Hey, I see you. I’m so happy you came to bed with me last night. It means a lot and I can feel us getting stronger, better. It feels right.”

Yesterday was the first day in 18 years that he did not have a single cigarette. When he told me, I hugged him. Told him it was amazing. And that we should celebrate. Tonight, we’re going out to eat at our favorite restaurant, out little family of three. We’ll get ice cream for dessert.

Let’s lift each other up. Let’s share our stories, our struggles, our big wins and small wins. Let’s celebrate.

It’s the smallest steps, the ones we take when we’re alone and unsure and afraid, the ones we take even though we can’t be certain we’ll make it to our destination because we’re learning, slowly, that maybe there is no destination. It’s just a constant climb, and not always up. Sometimes sideways, a couple of steps down, a pause to wait for the fog to lift before making the next step. These are the ones that are often the hardest to take, and the ones that are most important to celebrate.

And if we fall, the universe is there to catch us.