The seeking of constant self-improvement is a favored American pastime. We love to do things that make us look and feel better – a fact that is almost always mirrored in the latest health-related trends. Last year, we had juice fasts, hot yoga, and spin classes. It has been predicted that 2017 will see a drastic increase in fitness retreats, plant-based proteins, and medicinal beverages (think kombucha on steroids). Many of us utilize the implied ‘fresh start’ of the new year to begin shifting away from the old trends and moving swiftly towards the latest and greatest.
We promise ourselves, while staring glumly at our supple midsections, that we will finally stop eating cookie dough by the sleeve and start eating kale by the fistful. We vow to get up off the couch and finally check out the local Crossfit gym, or arena, or whatever they call it. We write out a list of idealistic resolutions, all geared towards increased health and productivity. For the last 2 weeks of 2016, we shove massive amounts of garbage down our throat holes, anticipating an entire year of painfully committed veganism. The clock strikes midnight. We wake up early on January 1st and make ourselves a steaming bowl of broiled spinach before heading to the gym for Zumba. By golly, we are on the right track – we are going to do it. This is going to be our year.
And then, two weeks of inspired motivation come to a close, and we find ourselves curled up on the living room sofa watching Chopped and inhaling raw Tollhouse.
Our Resolutions Stay Firm for About 2 Weeks
Making a resolution to stay sober often goes the same way. Our intentions are good, and the new year seems a perfect opportunity to change our ways once and for all. Unfortunately, there are several major problems that tend to arise when it comes to sober resolutions. First of all, there is the inevitable rush to binge before the past year finally comes to a close. Dr. Paul Hokemeyer, a NYC-based therapist specializing in addictive disorders, suggests that one of the greatest dangers in making sobriety a New Year’s resolution is the drive for one last blacked-out debauch on what many consider to be the biggest party night of the entire year. Just as many use their impending dedication to a healthy lifestyle as an excuse to veg out and eat potato chips and bacon for a week straight, many will utilize their imminent sobriety as an excuse to get good and tanked – putting their lives and the lives of others at risk in the process.
Resolutions and Alcoholism Do Not Mix
The truth of the matter is – if an individual truly suffers from a drinking problem, resolving to quit will simply not be enough. Bill W. mentions the concept of resolve several times in his personal account, Bill’s Story (on page 5 of the book Alcoholics Anonymous).
“I woke up. This had to be stopped. I saw I could not take so much as one drink. I was through forever. Before then, I had written lots of sweet promises, but my wife happily observed that this time I meant business. And so I did.
Shortly afterward I came home drunk. There had been no fight. Where had been my high resolve? I simply didn’t know. It hadn’t even come to mind. Someone had pushed a drink my way, and I had taken it. Was I crazy? I began to wonder, for such an appalling lack of perspective seemed near being just that.
Renewing my resolve, I tried again. Some time passed, and confidence began to be replaced by cocksureness. I could laugh at the gin mills. Now I had what it takes! One day I walked into a café to telephone. In no time I was beating on the bar asking myself how it had happened.”
We can resolve to get and stay sober over and over and over, truly believing in the pits of our souls that we will. That this time we mean business; that we have finally harnessed enough self-will to put down the drink once and for all. And then our friends invite us over for cocktails, and we think we will be fine so long as we leave before 11 pm. And then 2 am rolls around, and we are praying to the porcelain God yet again. “Please help me, make it stop.” “How did I let this happen?” Or we will go three entire months without touching a drop of alcohol, wondering why we feel even more miserable than we did when we were drinking. Eventually, the pain will become too great to bear, and we will pull into the parking lot of a local liquor store without thinking twice about it.
Why Do We Drink?
In many cases, we begin drinking heavily because we have some significant underlying issues that have not been adequately addressed. Childhood trauma or low self-esteem or co-occurring psychological disorders. Alcohol masks these uncomfortable emotions and deep-seated issues, and they come bubbling to the surface as soon as we begin to dry out. If you have been successful in putting down the drink for any extended period of time (even a week or two), consider the way you felt during the dry spell. Were you obsessing over alcohol, bargaining with yourself and desperately trying to justify a slip back into your old ways? Did you replace one addictive behavior for another, distracting yourself from your emotional and mental discomfort with food, sex, or working overtime?
A normal drinker, a non-alcoholic, will be indifferent regarding his decision to stop drinking. He will count down the new year with a smile and go about his life, feeling healthier and happier. The problem drinker will perhaps decide to cut back rather than quit altogether, and may be able to do so successfully. The alcoholic will resolve to put down alcohol, and find himself unable to do so for any period of time without obsessing, falling into a state of self-pity and misery, and eventually picking up again, finding himself right back where he started in a matter of days. If you are an alcoholic, really and truly, and you resolve to quit drinking come New Years Day, you will fail. You will. Unless you take the necessary steps to heal your body and your mind on a thorough and comprehensive level. Because there is much more to the story than a propensity to imbibe.
Seek the Help You Need
While the idea of creating a detailed list New Years resolutions is nice and communal and positive, it is also extremely arbitrary. There is no better day to quit drinking than today. If you feel you absolutely need to squeeze in that last night of partying, maybe you simply are not ready to commit entirely. Be honest with yourself about your drinking habits, and seek the help you need if you need it. After years and years of quickly abandoned resolutions, you may feel ashamed to publicly announce that you are attempting to quit yet again. However, the worst thing you can do is keep your decision to seek help a secret. Let people know that this time you actually mean business, and you are taking steps you have never before taken in order to stay on the wagon long-term. Get involved in a 12-step program of recovery. Look into inpatient addiction treatment if need be, and supplemental therapeutic care. Resolutions are wonderful – they give us motivation to practice better self-care, and take an honest look at the areas in which we require a little personal improvement. But they mean nothing if we fail to back them with the action necessary to make them last.