In gratitude, harmony, and support,
Why You Don’t Need a New Year’s Resolution When You’re in Recovery
Maybe living your program is enough
A step aerobics class teacher at my gym used to call January 20 “Reality Day”, because most of the folks who made New Year’s resolutions about going to the gym every single day and finally getting in shape…had drifted away by January 20. Less than three weeks into the new year, the gym was back to the regulars. Sound familiar?
We have two traditions in our society:
• One is of setting life-changing New Year’s resolutions for ourselves, typically focused on dropping the weight, drinking less, living on a budget, finding Mr. or Ms. Right, and so on.
• And we have a second tradition, closely tied to the first. It’s called abandoning our over-reaching resolutions typically within a couple of days of setting them, feeling guilt and despair, and then giving up entirely.
I’m here to suggest that this year, instead of setting resolutions, which really is just a diabolical method for setting ourselves up to fail, maybe living your program is enough. And if you really do want to set a resolution of some kind, I’ve got some great news, people in Twelve Step recovery actually do New Year’s resolutions better than just about anybody. Why? Because we don’t set them, instead we work a program that allows, encourages and pretty much requires us to live our lives one day at a time.
Change Takes Time
Just like you don’t have to get to the gym every day to get fit, you don’t have to do anything perfectly, except, of course, Step One in whatever program you are in. And guess what? You start off each and every day with Step One.
Why do we focus on one day at a time? Because when we resolve to take a major step, we are often resorting to black and white, pass and fail thinking. This is standard operating procedure for addicts and alcoholics, and it seems as though everyone else in society joins us in this manner of thinking at this time of year. One of the biggest problems with this all or nothing thinking is that we set ourselves up to fail.
We don’t stay clean, sober, or abstinent a year at a time, or even a month at a time. Instead, it’s a day, or sometimes an hour, or even a single breath at a time. Seems like those are the time frames we can really handle.
Most people who come to Alcoholics Anonymous or other Twelve Step programs didn’t get clean and sober after their very first meeting. It took time for the denial to seep out and for the program to seep in.
In the program, we encourage newcomers to try each meeting six different times before they decide if it’s the right meeting for them. On top of that, you’ll hear many sponsors suggest to sponsees that they attend 90 meetings in 90 days, or to attend one meeting a week for a set period of time.
This isn’t by accident. Those of us who have achieved long-term recovery understand that change doesn’t happen overnight, but change can happen in one day. And the next one day. And the next. That’s right, change happens over time, by repeating a behavior, learning new skills and understanding how to apply them, day by day. Not by randomly selecting a date (January 1 for instance) and declaring it the day of change.
Recovery is About Progress Not Perfection
Twelve Step recovery is not about setting goals. It’s just about getting through the day without our drug or addictive activity of choice, and trying to be a better person at the same time, with the help of a Higher Power.
My late sponsor, Milton D., used to say that the doctor’s credo of “first do no harm” ought to apply to those with addictions as well. “If an alcoholic [or addict] gets through the day without hurting somebody,” he would say, “they had a pretty good day.”
I’m not saying aim low, but I am suggesting we aim for what’s possible. The operative phrase, or slogan, for many in Twelve Step fellowship is “just for today.” So instead of saying, “This whole year, I will (or I won’t) …” You might say, “Just for today, I’m going to eat in a healthy manner.” Or “I won’t spend money I don’t have.” Or maybe “I’ll do the best I can.”
Getting Through the Moment
In Twelve Step programs, we rely on these slogans that can help you get through a moment. We were “keeping calm and…” long before the word “meme” meant something other than a kid wanting to be picked first for teams. These seemingly simple mantras are in fact full of wisdom and can help even us old-timers get through any given day. Some of my favorites include:
• “Turn it over”: whatever you’re going through—and ask your Higher Power for help.
• “Think”: don’t just operate on automatic pilot.
• “First things first”: do what you need to do, and only then do what you want to do.
• “Live and let live”: quit trying to control everyone around you, and go enjoy your own life.
• “But for the grace of God”: just think of where your life would be if you hadn’t cleaned up.
• “Easy does it”: but do it!
Three more “mantras” or “rules” that help us simplify or categorize the “why” behind each of the Twelve Steps are “Trust God. Clean House. Help Others.” All Twelve Steps fit into one of those three rules, so it really can be that simple. I’m definitely not saying it’s easy, but it is simple.
So here’s my suggestion for New Year’s resolutions: don’t make any. Then on January 20, and July 20, and December 20, for that matter, you’ll be able to look yourself in the mirror and say the one thing that no one else in America can: “I didn’t break a single one of my New Year’s resolutions!”
“Because I choose to live one day at a time.”