Before I got sober, I never met a New Year’s resolution I didn’t consider. If a magazine screamed “This New Year, Go From Fat to Fit in 30 Days,” I bought it. If a talk show claimed to teach me how to get organized, save money or find true love, I watched it. The only exception to this rule, and the promise I never saw on a magazine rack or late-night ad was “Stop Drinking, Drugging, and Destroying Your Life!” That was the change I really needed.
Sometimes my resolutions would come close to addressing the actual problem. I resolved not to drink at lunch, get wasted at family holiday celebrations or call my coke dealer more than once a week. They were all attempts at getting under control something that was far beyond it. For 10 years before I got sober I knew I was an alcoholic, but the last thing I wanted to do was stop drinking, even though it made me miserable and was slowly killing me. I wanted to negotiate with my addiction, to say, “You be nice to be me and I’ll be nice to you. We don’t have to break up. We just need to spend some of our time apart.” But addiction wasn’t having it. It was all or nothing. I could resolve that on January 1st I would stop opening a second bottle of wine by myself on weeknights, but I could never come close. In fact, I was normally so hungover on New Year’s Day that I would start drinking early and have the second bottle already open by 7 pm, less than 24 hours into the new year.
The month I finally got sober was April. It wasn’t thanks to a New Year’s resolution; it was thanks to the fact that I thought I might die and decided I didn’t want that to happen after all. I asked for help and I got it. It was the hardest and best thing I’ve ever done. Recovery has given me a new, wonderful life and made me a better human being.
So why do I still think that when the calendar page turns to January, I need to start becoming a different “improved” person? Why am I wondering if this should be the year that I resolve to get back to the gym four days a week or eat only organic vegetables? Or both?
It seems that no matter how hard I try to practice “progress, not perfection,” my brain still wants to go for perfection. Couldn’t I sign up for a half-marathon and run it if I really tried? Couldn’t I stop throwing frozen dinners in the microwave every night and learn how to cook?
But I have to wonder whether I want to do these things because deep in my heart I believe they will make me happy or whether I just think they’re things a perfect person would do. If I’m honest, I think the best part about running a half marathon would be telling other people about it and having them be impressed with me. I certainly have no interest in the discipline and training that would be required. If it rained on the day of the race, I know I’d want to bail out entirely.
And the truth is that after a long day in the office, I don’t want to start cooking some heart-healthy, locally sourced dinner. I want to put on my pajamas and catch up on The Daily Show. If I feel like being fancy, I’ll take the frozen dinner out of its tray and put it on an actual plate. That makes me perfectly happy. So why the resolution to cook? Because I think other people will be impressed or like me more or something along those lines if I tell them that I cook.
I realize that this means I have some work to do on myself. But it doesn’t involve running or cooking. If I want to make a resolution, it should be to accept myself for who I am—a sober woman who takes care of herself and does the best she can (most of the time). Early in sobriety, my sponsor told me that what other people think of me is none of my business. The idea that after having finally put down the bottle and the drugs, I would put pressure on myself to try to impress others in irrelevant ways is ridiculous, though very human, I suppose. I don’t need to get others’ approval to like myself anymore. I just need to do the next right thing.
This doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t exercise more regularly or eat healthier food. It just means that I should do those things because they’ll make me feel better, and I want to take good care of myself. It’s the change-everything-on-January-1st model that is the problem. My resolutions in sobriety don’t have to be all or nothing, the way they were during my active addiction. Any changes I make can be gradual.
For me, it’s probably also not a great idea to attempt any new routines starting on January 1st. Chances are that I’ll need to cut myself a little slack after going through the holiday season, which I always find challenging. It will also be the dark dead of winter, my least favorite time of year.
No matter what it is or when I start, I should take any changes I make the way I take my sobriety—one day at a time. I have never said that I will never drink again. Rather, I wake up each morning and say, “I’m not going to drink, just for today.” I can treat my exercise and food habits the same way.
I should also remember all of the years that I woke up on January 1st feeling disgusting, sick and miserable. (I use the term “woke up” lightly; I probably had done so much coke on New Year’s Eve that I never went to sleep.) It’s a perfect time to look back, but not stare, at what life was like before, and find gratitude that I don’t have to live like that anymore.
For the most part, I’m proud of what I did and how I behaved in the past year. It doesn’t mean I deserve a prize, but it does mean that I don’t have to run a miserable half marathon the morning after carb-loading on a vegan lasagna that I made from scratch in order to feel good about myself. And I can be grateful, more than anything, for another New Year’s Day sober.