For most everyone, New Year’s provides a time to reflect on the past year and consider our plans and goals for the next year. We often make concrete New Year’s resolutions to affect large changes in our lives. For those with addiction issues, either in recovery or not, New Year’s is often a time to focus on becoming healthier in a number of areas.
For those who are actively drinking or using, whether socially, heavily, or indeed addictively and abusively, some resolutions center on limiting or stopping usage. The trend of a “sober January” is popular these days. Many non-problem drinkers decide to take a break from alcohol in January, and experience benefits such as clearer thinking, improved mood, better sleep, and weight loss. However, as many of us in recovery know, heavy drinkers, problem drinkers, and genuine alcoholics sometimes use the idea of “being able to stop when I want to and take a break” as proof that they do not actually have a problem with alcohol or substances such as marijuana, cocaine, opiates, or amphetamines.Additionally, in some ways, even the understanding (conscious or subconscious) that one should take a break or needs to take a break can be a sign that a problem is developing.
Unfortunately, for addicts, being able to “take a break” is not enough and doing so often becomes a psychological rationalization for continuing to drink abusively. Kingsley Amis, one of Britain’s famous alcoholic writers, whose later life (socially and health-related) was destroyed by alcohol, started his book Everyday Drinking with a prideful and somewhat smug account of how he had just come off a month-long break from alcohol. As Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) teaches us, the non-alcoholic drinker–even if they are a heavy drinker–is capable of stopping and staying stopped forever with little trouble. The true alcoholic, however, will eventually drink again if he does not receive outside help and support and make sweeping changes to his lifestyle. Spiritual growth is also imperative in AA. The alcoholic will drink again because he has a physical, mental, and spiritual disease which always draws him back to alcohol in order to ameliorate the developing restlessness, irritability, and discontentment that he experiences in
For alcoholics in recovery, it can be dismaying to see budding addicts laud their ability to quit for a month or two only to go back to using heavily. It is also a good reminder of the seriousness and overwhelming power of our disease and how we must do much to combat it every day. For many, a program of recovery works well. Others may find benefit in making more sweeping changes and getting even more support such as at a sober living house or transitional house.
New Year’s is also a wonderful time for us in recovery to consider our sober journey over the past year and where we want to go in the New Year. How did our sobriety look over the year? Did we attend meetings, reach out to other addicts, work with others, do service work, meditate,exercise, eat well, and other things? Were there periods where we slacked off and “rested on our laurels”? How did we handle serious conflicts, changes, or setbacks? How did our social and romantic life look, and was it congruent with how we want to be and live? Did we relapse, and how did we deal with that? How did it affect our lives?
For many addicts the journey to recovery is not at all linear, not at all a steady climb to the right and up on the graph of wellness. Many will have relapses and many will go for long periods feeling fairly emotionally bad. It is good to reflect on this, do be compassionate with ourselves,and to strive for “spiritual progress rather than perfection” and accept that we are only human. Ideally, we consider our progress every day and work to correct errors and move forward positively. But the long-term reflection we often do at New Year’s is a great opportunity to take a more high-level view.
What do we want our long-term sobriety to look like? We must accept that we will never drink or use it safely again and that it will destroy our lives and even kill us if we do. We want to be happy, joyous, and free–we want a strong social life and a focus on sobriety, we want to help others and be productive and happy in our careers or studies. Maybe we want to add a little more spice and variety to our lives by trying a new hobby or traveling. Perhaps we want to focus on cross-addictions like shopping or nicotine. Maybe exercise more or develop a meaningful, loving romantic connection. You can see that recovering addicts aren’t so different from others in their wants and needs, and that our New Year’s resolutions probably look similar to other people. We of course want a full year of sobriety (hopefully meaning another full year of sobriety), but we must remember to take things “one day at a time” and not get caught up in counting days or collecting chips at the expense of our daily serenity. All of us just want a good life full of fun and love! And it is extraordinarily achievable in sobriety and quite miraculous how the blessings of life accumulate for us as we do the work needed to grow and stay sober.
So let’s use New Year’s much as everyone does, as a time for planning the personal growth and progress we want to make throughout the coming year. Let’s get more enjoyment and
peace out of life and better ourselves along the way. Above all, let’s stay sober and serene!
Harmony Haus is a men’s sober living home in Austin, TX. It offers a wide arrange of support for those in recovery, in addition to luxurious accommodations and an atmosphere of serious recovery. Give us a call anytime.