For many people, starting the new year off with a hefty list of New Year’s resolutions just makes sense, but for someone in recovery from a substance use disorder, things like weight loss or saving more money can seem pretty trivial. About 40% of the population participates in forming resolutions these days, but a mere 8% manage to keep them through the year. The primary reason for this is that our resolutions are usually too unrealistic to keep.
New Year’s Resolutions in Early Recovery
New Year’s resolutions are especially problematic for people new in (or needing) addiction recovery, as an addiction by its very nature defies strategies of commitment, willpower or self-determination. Complicating matters further, when in the grip of addiction, it’s incredibly difficult to modify secondary behaviors like smoking, poor eating habits, and failing to exercise don’t avail themselves to improvement while the primary challenge is just coping.
A lot of addicts will periodically try to fix their lives, hoping that a few patches will magically transform everything, or at least make things bearable, without meeting the problem of addiction head-on. Resolutions other people take on, like paying attention to diet and exercise, quitting smoking, or saving money, become—for addicts—desperate attempts to set their lives straight. In recovery circles, this is referred to as “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.”
The fact is, most addicts will not be able to change their behavior without help. A resolution to stop shooting heroin, smoking meth or swallowing pain meds will only last until the discomfort begins. Then the motivation behind the resolution simply fades in the presence of an obsession to use.
According to the American Psychological Association, overly ambitious New Year’s Resolutions can result in increased stress as people start to slide back throughout the year. The recommendation is to make realistic goals with a clear idea on how to attain and maintain them. For example, saying “I’m going to stop using drugs this year” is not only overly ambitious; it’s clearly a postponement of something that should happen right away.
How to Make New Year’s Resolutions That You Will Actually Keep
There is always the option not to make resolutions. One of our favorite sober bloggers, Tawny Lara of Sobrietea Party, had a radical thought.
She also maintains the notion that if you hate running, for example, don’t make it a goal to run a marathon this year. Be a realist and keep it real. For those of you who are set on making a New Year’s resolution, here are a few realistic ones for you to consider for the year ahead.
Aim to Try New Things
Boredom is addiction recovery’s enemy number one. When you are bored and uninspired you are more likely to turn to the drugs and/or alcohol that make you feel happy and fulfilled, even if only temporarily. Trying new things, like taking a cooking class or joining a hiking club, will help you find joy in something you really love doing. Not to mention it will allow you to meet a ton of new people and maybe even make some new friends. If you are worried about being social, bring along a fellow person in recovery with you to help ease the social anxiety.
Try to Improve Your Health
We know, we know. We aren’t a big fan of the whole “new year, new me” movement either. You should always strive to be the best version of yourself. However, your physical health suffers so much when you drink or use. Therefore, it’s important to consider it when you are in recovery. Sobriety is about so much more than just not using, it’s about building a whole new life.
Tell People About Your Recovery Goals
When making resolutions to be more active or to lose weight, you often hear of having what is called an “accountability buddy.” The whole point of an accountability buddy is that they keep you accountable when your resolve begins to slip and they are also someone who you can talk to about how you feel as you make this epic change. Another thing you can do is just tell your family and friends about your plans. Being accountable to someone makes it harder to slip up and return to old patterns.
Start a Gratitude Journal
If there is one thing that we as humans all have in common, it is our desire for happiness. We all have a different idea of what that means but positive psychology research is consistently associated with happiness. Focusing on all the things you don’t have will only contribute to the demise of your happiness. Try practicing a regular expression of gratitude, like writing in a journal. Doing so will help you stay grateful for the people and things which are already a part of your life.
To be in that 8% of resolution champions, take time to think about the resolutions you set. Don’t come up with them on the fly, at a party, or off the cuff. Respect the New Year’s resolutions you create for yourself. Make them realistic, don’t isolate, ask for support, and work hard.