Resolutions in Addiction Recovery: An Interview with Tawny LaraJanuary 15, 2018 TDH Voice Podcast
Right now all over the country people have started the New Year with resolutions to be more mindful, to lose ten pounds, to do dry January, to be more, do more and most of all, to be a better version of themselves. About 40% of Americans participate in forming New Year’s resolutions these days, but a mere 8% percent manage to keep them throughout the year; the reason for this is that the resolutions that are formed are usually a little too unrealistic to keep.
Today’s guest has never been a part of the 8% percent who stick to their resolutions. In fact, she has very strong feelings about resolutions and this year has pledged not to make them at all. She lives in one of the coolest cities in the world, New York, where she moved there from Texas in 2015 to embark upon her new sober life. She writes about yoga, music, sex, and politics. Joining us all the way from Texas today is sobriety recovery blogger Tawny Lara of Sobriety Party.
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Debra (D): So let’s get right down to it. You said on your blog about your decision not to make any resolutions this year, could you tell us a little bit more about how you came to that decision?
Tawny (T): I decided not to start any resolutions this year because I’ve gotten to know myself and my behavior, and my personal history has taught me that resolutions are not long-term. It’s a waste of time, that’s just my personal relationship with it. If I do decide to set a resolution it should be something more realistic.
D: Is making resolutions in early recovery dangerous?
T: I think for me with having an addictive personality is that it wasn’t strictly just for drugs and alcohol it was for—it still is for other things, such as the self-help world and goal setting.
I found that I had a very unhealthy relationship with the self-help world and goal setting because, you know I would read self-help book after self-help book and attend seminars and I would get fired up, and you know would try to change all of these things about myself; and it was coming from this dark place of where I actually hated myself, it wasn’t empowering.
I’m sure there are people out there that can read a self-help book in moderation and be empowered by it. That wasn’t the case for me, I read these books and I was just like “oh ok this, this, and this is what’s wrong with me, I need to change this about myself” and then I would be happy. And it was a very unhealthy relationship, and very similar with goal setting I would set horribly unrealistic goals that I had no control over, and then I would beat myself up whenever they didn’t come true. It was another form of self-destruction for me.
D: So you get caught up in the whole like self-help and just like you said you can’t be realistic about everything because you have to do everything at once; it can become immediately overwhelming.
T: Especially for someone with an addictive personality, or someone who’s in recovery. I found that my recovery needs to remain my number one priority more than pursuing a goal or something I’ve got to do. Sometimes, there are some days where the biggest goal is just not to drink, and that’s more than enough.
D: What are some ways how people might set more realistic, maybe not even resolutions but just goals for themselves?
T: I think that for me setting realistic goals is finding out why I want to accomplish that goal in the first place, and finding out why I want to accomplish it the down to the ground level; and sometimes I would find that it’s actually for a selfish reason, and then I realize that it’s not something that is actually should be a priority for me. For example, I’m studying Spanish. My goal is to be bilingual, and the old me has set a date for it, like “I would be bilingual by X day.” That doesn’t work. What I can do, what I do have control over is knowing why I want to learn Spanish, which is because I want to get in touch with my Mexican heritage, and I want to write and talk about my recovery in Spanish. So those are two really grounded reasons for me to accomplish this goal, and well I can’t say I would be fluent in X days, I can’t say you know I’m committed to studying 20 minutes a day; I take Spanish classes in New York City, so I make sure that I’m in action and I do things that support this goal, but I also don’t beat myself up if I don’t learn it—-quote “fast enough”
D: That’s very interesting that you want to be able to write about your recovery in Spanish. That’s a wonderful idea. I see that there’s this common theme here about mindfulness. As you stated before knowing yourself. Anything to note about the idea of mindfulness?
T: Mindfulness is such a trendy blog word. I think it can kind of lose its meaning or maybe it just has a bunch of different meanings to different people. For me, mindfulness is being intentional. It’s being aware of what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Mindfulness doesn’t need to be applied to everything. There are times when life sucks, and I want to check out, and I want to be completely mindless and watch TV for 2 hours. And that’s okay. Then there are times when it’s like “Okay, I’ve been watching TV for 2 hours, that’s enough. Now, what else can I do to deal with what I’m trying to hide from?” I think it’s awareness and intention.
D: I like that, and I think you are right about this kind of trendy buzz, it’s easy to get sort of hung up on buzz words, but I think being aware is really kind of the heart of the matter.
T: It is yeah, I mean you can apply mindfulness to any behavior; to eating, to social media, to sodas. It’s being aware and intentional of how you’re consuming things can only help you.
D: Agreed definitely. Something that I find particularly interesting that you spoke about on your blog is the concept of sobriety tourists. So what is a sobriety tourist?
T: A sobriety tourist is someone who wants to tour the lifestyle of sobriety, someone who you know does dry January, someone who would give up alcohol for 6 months or 3 months, or whatever they choose to do. I think it’s great, I think more people should try abstinence every once in a while, but I think there’s a right way to do it and I think there’s, some offensive ways of doing it. Sobriety is a lifestyle for me, it’s not just saying I’m touring, it’s a lifestyle and while some people can try it on for a month or two I can’t do that. And I’ve experienced some people who would tell me “oh I did dry January or some whole thirty, and I went out a couple of times and I understand what you’re going through”, and it’s just like “do you?”, you know “it’s cool that you’re doing this” I really think more people should try abstinence with substances; but it goes back to being mindful about it, like just “why are you doing this?”, and if you just want to see how long you can go without drinking great! but that doesn’t mean you can relate to the recovery.
D: I see that you know some people like you say they’re kind of like “Oh see how long you can go without drinking, it’s almost three days.” It’s really apples and oranges to try and compare somebody who’s testing the waters, with somebody who is living the life of recovery.
T: Yea. In the articles that I wrote about it I go into that, I say you know if you the reason you want to try this is to relate to the recovery community try on recovery, not sobriety; like go to meetings, or find support groups, or put yourself on comfortable situations where you might want to drink and then you can really understand somewhat of what we are going through.
People reach out to me and are like “Hey I’m doing a whole 30, I need tips on how to not drink?” and—I ignore those messages because I think it’s so offensive, like “No, this is my lifestyle. I’m not going to give you tips on how to not drink for a month. Anybody can do that.”
D: People like to jump on the bandwagon, so to speak when it comes to these ideas. Starting off the year with a half-hearted New Year’s resolution, they don’t really understand what it is that they’re doing or the fact that their behavior can certainly be offensive. They can’t truly put themselves in the shoes of a person in recovery.
T: Yea exactly. And that’s the message I hope people get if they do try these things on. If you’re considering trying dry January or giving up alcohol for a certain period of time, really sit with that discomfort and feel it. That is a very small percent, a very small depth of what recovery is like.
D: As you’re no longer setting resolutions, what would you say have been your worst resolution ideas?
T: For this question I mean, I think what comes to mind is always something related to weight, or getting more toned, or working out more, or changing my diet. Anything in that realm, I didn’t go about them in the best way. I would try a crash diet, or I would work out every day for a month and then stop, and those were not healthy, they were not sustainable. That’s part of my addictive personality. I’m sure there are people out there that can set resolutions to change their eating habit and to change their fitness routine and they can do it in moderation. But someone with an addictive personality [may] struggle with moderation so I think now if I want to change -if I want to implement any sort of new relationship with food or fitness – I try to have a more grounded realistic approach to it; like you know I would try this once a week or instead of “I’m not going to eat sugar for a month” it’s like “I would be mindful of where my sugar is coming from this month”, or something like that.
D: That’s definitely a great idea. I’ve always thought about sort of the difference in sort of the way we frame our goals for ourselves, and I was just curious as to what your thoughts are on the phrase like “lifestyle change,” as opposed to a resolution?
T: That’s a great point. The lifestyle of change is a totally different mindset. It’s not a 30-day layoff challenge, it’s [more like] “my goal is to learn Spanish.” That is I have to implement Spanish speaking into my lifestyle, I change my tone in Spanish; I have friends that speak Spanish, and we text each other in Spanish, I take a Spanish class once a week for two hours a week I’m speaking Spanish for those full 2 hours. So it’s implementing those things into my lifestyle so there is sustainability and longevity in it. With that approach, I’m able to retain the information that I’m learning because I’m implementing the information that I’m learning.
D: Alright. That makes a lot of sense. I found also personally when I was looking sort of ahead to this new year that for the goals that I set for myself because I hate to sort of, I’m not a fan of resolutions, because I try to sort of say that I want to do things more subtly or casually; kind of like you know too much too fast as we have been speaking about – it’s overwhelming. It almost always leads to a backslide. But yet I think that the infusion and introduction of new ways of thinking, new messages, and new ideas about how you want to live your life is really the way to go.
T: Absolutely that’s a great way to say it, it’s to be more settled about things—-you know my initial reaction is to go all out on to everything. If I try something new I do it 110% until I burn out, and I’ve learned that is not sustainable. Having a more settled casual approach to it definitely has more longevity
D: I think that you have hit on a very important point when you said that burn out is not sustainable, but it’s really, sort of like you want to push yourself to that edge but it’s like: “I couldn’t fulfill my new year’s resolution, I can’t get these goals, you kind of burned out and you throw it away, it’s not really something that you want to pick up again so readily because you have made it something that you kind of dislike.
T: Yes that’s real. For me, if I’m burned out of something I almost become resigned from it like “Okay I tried that – it didn’t work. What next?” That’s not a healthy way to go about life or especially implementing something new or accomplishing a goal. You can’t go about it that way.
D: I wholeheartedly agree, I think that whole “If at first, you don’t succeed” kind of mindset, there’s that caveat of how you begin to work towards your goals.
T: Yea exactly, it’s work, it’s a lot of work. It’s not always glamorous or pretty, but if you really want to do something then you would find a way to do it and you don’t need a calendar on a change in order for you to do it. If you really want to implement something into your lifestyle then you would find a way to make it work, you would make it a priority. That’s how that’s how you make it happen.
D: I definitely agree with that. You don’t have to wait for the calendar to turn over. So many people build it up to be this big, over urging event that is symbolic for the rest of the year and how your life is going to be, and it’s like “Hello it’s just a new calendar.” You pull off the page and you see the next day and when it comes down to it, it’s just another day. Every day is the time for self-improvement and self-awareness.
T: Absolutely. You can start something new on any day and you can continue what you are working on any day. I have so many projects going on and so many irons in the fire. The thought of adding something else to it just because the calendar has changed is way too overwhelming. I’m good, I got a lot going on I ‘m happy with what I have going on. If anything, honestly I need to pull back a little bit. Restructure my priorities and figure out [which of] my projects are important, what can be delayed, what could be outsourced, what needs to be done first, that’s what more where my heads at now.
D: Right and that really does just come down to do knowing yourself and having a good understanding of your priorities and what you want. I think that far too often people feel that sense of unseen but reinforced pressure, like “I have to make a goal and I have to do this.” You don’t have to do anything; you have to do what’s right for you.
T: Totally and what’s right for you may just be continuing to live your best life, and holding back on something. You know I have a lot of respect for people who set New Year’s resolution and those resolutions are to go back, or to do something less. I think that’s great.
D: Agreed and I think that’s a very good point that’s often kind of overlooked because they want to do more but doing less is just as important.
T: I remember seeing this meme one time that said: “You can do anything but you cannot do everything.” I like to have a lot of things going on and that’s a whole other addiction that I have but I’ve had to learn that I can’t do everything nor should I even attempt to do everything and a lot of it is self-awareness of knowing what I’m good at doing. What I actually need help with doing and being confident enough to admit that I need help with something and hiring someone to help me do it, or asking a friend to help me do it, or anything like that; that’s been huge for me. It’s admitting that there’s a lot on my plate and I can’t do it all by myself. That’s hard because I have a lot of pride and I want things to be done perfectly, but if I try to do everything myself, it’s not sustainable.
D: Alright I definitely have seen that attitude in like many people, myself included where it’s kind of like “if you push yourself too hard you get to that breaking point where you’re just: “No, I don’t need help.” It takes strength to ask for help and it takes a very wise sensibility to say: “Okay I can’t carry all these things on my back, let me have somebody help me out here.”
T: Totally. I used to be ashamed to ask for help. I used to think that asking for help meant that I was weak or not enough, or you know many other negative words that I would throw at myself; and recovery is helping me understand that asking for help actually requires a great amount of strength.
D: Absolutely. It’s very important to have that sense of self. Also, something that I’ve been told to know is your resources. To know not just to ask for help but from whom and where.
T: I won’t be where I am without my resources, without my friends and my family, and I’m so grateful to have solid support system that has helped me through my recovery and I know that there are people out there who don’t even have one person that they can turn to and that’s a whole lot like people that can still overcome when they are in that situation I have utmost respect for; it was you know I’m not going to say easy for me, but there was nobody in my life making it harder.