Updated: Jan 1, 2021
As the New Year draws near and the end of a chaotic and challenging year closes a well-known and precarious tradition lies in wait. For as long as I have been alive, this tradition has been active, and I have been forced to come up with a way to participate. I use the word force because somehow this broken tradition gained enough traction along the way to coerce many people, including me, into feeling obligated to participate whether we want to or not. The New Year's resolution tradition is looming and people are already starting to think about what one thing they are going to change in the coming year to make themselves better. While my opinion of the tradition may sound skeptical, I still love the idea and so do many of us, hence why it has lasted so long.
My skepticism comes from the unfortunate reality most of us will never actually carry our resolutions through fruition. I say this from years of experience and observation. Take exercise for example. Gyms make enough money from New Year resolutions to carry them through the year. Why? The most common resolution made is to lose weight and get in shape. All year long we listen to society tell us how we should look and feel and this is the one time of the year we feel we can actually make it happen. After exercise and weight loss comes other addictions such as smoking, eating, and of course, drinking. Why does it so rarely work? Every single year we go about it the wrong way. We make a proclamation to stop (something) and we do absolutely no preparation before the big day arrives. Then, January 1st rolls around and we act as though we are caught off guard. We either say fuck it, or we grin and bear it as long as we can. Never has this approach been touted as a way to make positive change.
For the month of December, I have decided to write about what I think we can do to help ourselves carry out our resolutions successfully. I will focus on drinking, but most of what I will write about rings true with most addictions. Let's start by defining addiction.
"A compulsive, chronic, physiological or psychological need for a habit-forming substance,
behavior, or activity having harmful physical, psychological, or social effects and typically
causing well-defined symptoms (such as anxiety, irritability, tremors, or nausea) upon
withdrawal or abstinence." - Merriam Webster Dictionary
Read that definition over a couple of times. Something very unfortunate begins to take shape when you really let the definition sink in. Addiction is not easily defined, and it is subjective. You cannot always point to something, someone, or some behavior and say, "That's addiction." Addiction is up to the person directly involved. Sure, at some point we may be able to identify someone suffering from addiction, but not always. Sometimes, a person can live with addiction for years or even decades without anyone really being the wiser. I did it. I did it with nicotine for most of my adult life. I also did it with alcohol. I didn't hide it as much as I hid the amount I consumed. I am willing to bet very few people really knew about my problem with alcohol. Then again, maybe I just told myself that to avoid placing the blame of addiction on myself. Nevertheless, the point is, we all have addictions and many of us have addictions we haven't even identified yet. Once we identify an addiction, the real challenges and choices begin to present themselves.
How do we adequately begin to prepare for quitting something we have leaned on for many years? How do we let go of the security blanket? How do we walk our own path? How do we make the right choice when we have only chosen the wrong ones for so long? Well, almost every program, book, or recovered person will tell you it all begins with admittance. We have to admit something is wrong. We have to admit we are not happy with some aspect of our life. We have to admit we have lost control of our ability to live well or be happy. We have to admit the one thing preventing us from living our best life is alcohol (or any specific addiction). From this point on, programs, books, and recovered people will vary in what they say is the proper path toward successful sobriety. Why? Because there is no proper or correct path. Every path is individual, personal, and fluid. We have to find our own paths, and our paths may be longer and far from a point A to point B line. They may in fact be, cyclical.
Once we understand and acknowledge we have a problem, we can begin the actual preparations. Before I began my journey, I began shoveling as much knowledge as I could down my throat. In hindsight, I found this to be the single most important act I did to help me emerge victorious on my journey. Learning about our problem not only gives us armor to protect ourselves from the problem, but it also gives us ammo to combat the problem. Almost every single resolution I attempted to achieve, I did so without the proper knowledge necessary to do so successfully. I just showed up on day one and said, "Let's do this!" If I am honest, on day one I already sounded less confident than that, and I am fairly certain all of you know what I am talking about. Day one's are scary. They are scary because generally, we are unprepared.
In the coming month, I will go into more detail about the knowledge I found to be helpful in the beginning days of my sobriety. I will talk about literature, movies, societal peer pressures, and even individual connections and conversations I engaged with along the way. The knowledge you find helpful may be different from what I found helpful, but it will at least give you a starting point and hopefully a direction to find what truly helps you succeed in sobriety. The best advice I can give regarding this area of preparation is to remain as open as possible. Be open to ideas you never thought conceivable for you. Be open to new experiences. Be open to different ways of thinking. Be open to feeling outside your comfort zone. Be open. You never know what one thing may be lurking out there waiting for you to acknowledge it as yours. Most people I have talked to can narrow down their reasons for success to one or two things. Be open and ready to accept yours.
This is an area of preparedness I was never very good at. Somehow, it naturally took shape in my life as I began and continued my successful sober journey. It started on day one when I made a goal to write a blog every day about my experience. From there, I couldn't stop setting intentions and goals for my days, weeks, months, and even years. Another way to look at intention and goals is to think in terms of replacement behaviors. Some people argue against replacement behaviors, but I think they can be life-changing. We just have to be intentional about the replacement behaviors we choose. We obviously do not want to create another addiction. What we want is to create an alternative to our normal daily routines. By setting positive intentions and goals, we involuntarily commit to changing behaviors. The trick, obviously, is to set intentions and goals we not only like but ones that are also achievable. Some people and programs refer to this as SMART goals. I'll get into that later.
Whatever we choose, it is important to start thinking about what it is we are going to do with our time and our anxious minds to combat the inevitable discomfort unfortunately associated with the beginning days of sobriety. It will present itself, but the level of discomfort we feel is really up to us. If we are properly prepared, and I can speak from experience, the discomfort can be quite mild and even non-existent. This is a good time to start thinking lofty. We don't want to limit ourselves to things we used to think possible. Those days are gone. The amount of time and energy we are going to gain will allow us to do things we always told ourselves were impossible. Things like going back to school, learning an instrument, writing a book, making a movie, traveling, or any other dreams we have held suppressed in our hearts for far too long. Write it down and get ready to achieve it.
Arguably, the most important thing we can do to prepare for successful sobriety is to plan for the inevitable discomfort associated with quitting an addiction. Even the most prepared of us are going to run into circumstances where discomfort will grab hold and attempt to try and convince us we are weak. Interestingly enough, these moments may not have anything to do with withdrawals or cravings. They didn't for me. For me, the discomfort came from not understanding bad days happen to everyone and it's okay. The discomfort came from a lack of tools in my emotional toolbox to deal with feeling sad, mad, scared, or anxious. I just didn't know how to deal with those emotions. It was a new skill I had to learn because the only tool I had to deal with my feelings was alcohol. I always drowned them.
Developing a plan to deal with discomfort allows us to approach bad days, feelings, and situations with more confidence and success. Each time we successfully negotiate a bad feeling or a bad day, we gain confidence. We learn it's possible. We begin to believe we are stronger than we ever thought. This acquired strength is the reason I disagree with the idea of powerlessness. We are incredibly powerful beings. We only have to give ourselves permission to access it.
We are less than a month away from January 1st. If you are considering quitting drinking for the new year, I hope you will follow my blog over the next month. I will do my best to offer as many tools as I can from my experience and the experience of others to help you succeed in your resolution. Be warned, however, I am going to ask you to participate and engage with some things in which you may not want to engage. Be open, give it a try, and help me see if together, we can find the thing that helps you find easy sobriety.
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