If you’re new to recovery, then this may be the first time in years you’ve approached a New Year as a sober person actively participating in an intentional recovery plan. That might be a tough and daunting prospect. In fact, the whole holiday season – beginning with Thanksgiving and ending on January 1st – might be intimidating. In some cases, it may be overwhelming.
We can think of three reasons.
As The New Year Approaches: Three Challenges
1. Celebrations with Intoxicants
In our culture, the holidays are about spending time with family, eating too much good food, and – unfortunately for people in recovery – partaking in holiday cheer in the form of alcoholic beverages. It’s no secret that during the holidays, alcohol is everywhere. It’s a feature of office parties, neighborhood get-togethers, and family traditions – and can increase risk of relapse.
2. Family Matters.
For most of us – in recovery or not – the most powerful memories and emotions we have are related to our families. And we formed many of those potent family memories during our annual family rituals, such as the secular and religious occasions we observe during the holiday season. For people in recovery, family dynamics are often complicated – and can increase risk of relapse.
3. Personal Expectations.
As we look forward to the new year, many of us – including those of us in recovery – have a habit of looking toward the new year as the year everything will change. There are two side to that point of view, though. On the one hand, it’s a positive and productive attitude. If you are new to recovery, then next year, almost everything will, indeed, change. That’s part of what recovery is. You make changes that support a sober lifestyle. On the other hand, if you expect every change to be positive and make life easier, that’s not realistic: there are ups and downs in every year, for everyone. So yes: prepare for a year of change. Also, remember to keep your expectations practical and within reason.
To read our thoughts on the holidays, family, and how to survive the holiday season with your recovery intact, please read the article “The Holidays and Recovery: How to Stay Maintain Sobriety” published in the blog section of our website.
That article gives you helpful tips about how you can make it through the holiday season in a safe and reasonable manner – and stay on your program and keep your sobriety intact. This article will discuss how you can look forward to the New Year with a practical perspective that will keep you grounded, keep you focused – and like our first article – and help you keep your program and sobriety intact now and throughout 2022.
The New Year: Be Optimistic, Be Realistic
The number one thing to remember as you approach the new year, especially if you’re toward the beginning of your recovery journey and looking at your first sober/non-using New Year, is this:
Be kind to yourself.
If you’re in recovery, that’s reason enough to be kind to yourself. It’s a huge step, and as you know, it’s not easy to take the step or to stay on your program. If you’re nervous about the holidays, nervous about the new year, fear you won’t make it, or fear you may make mistakes, we encourage you to let those nerves and fears have their moment – but let them go as soon as you can. Almost everyone in recovery has those same thoughts, and every year, millions of people both new to and experienced in recovery make it through to the other side.
Those people would all agree that being kind to yourself is essential. Recognizing your own value, developing the ability to love yourself, and not beating yourself up when you make mistakes all fall under the be kind to yourself umbrella.
With regards to New Year’s resolutions, here’s a related piece of advice we have. It’s one we think most people in recovery would agree with:
Don’t overdo it.
And by it we mean them.
We encourage you not to get out of hand with your resolutions. We understand you may be enthusiastic about recovery and excited about the progress you plan to make in 2022: that hope and optimism is essential, and will absolutely contribute to your overall success in recovery.
However, overconfidence can breed overreaching, which, in turn, can set you up for disappointment. That’s something we want you to avoid. We want you to approach the New Year with goals and an attitude that will support and sustain you, rather than undermine you.
Here’s how you can do that.
Setting The Tone for 2023
If you’re in recovery or currently in treatment, something you probably hear early in your journey is the idea that you don’t think your way to recovery, you act your way to recovery. That’s why resolutions for the new year can be both a blessing and a trap. In recovery, you need goals. You need daily goals that lead to long-term goals that all work together to help you move from a life dominated by an alcohol or substance use disorder to a life determined by decisions you make and actions you take. Ideally, you base those actions clear-minded, rational decision-making. You make choices that set you up for success, minimize your chances of relapse, and serve the ultimate goal of sticking to your program, day by day.
The goals that lead to those choices are the blessing.
The trap is when you make too many goals, make goals that are out of reach, or make goals that don’t match your personality or character.
That’s what we mean when we say don’t overdo it.
Here’s our best advice on how not to overdo it when you’re preparing for the New Year. This is a guide to thinking about making goals for 2023. We’ll write another blog on how to make specific, recovery-facilitating goals. For now, though, we want to help you get in a mindset that’s productive, but not overwhelming.
Big Picture: How to Make Realistic New Year’s Resolutions
1. Keep Them Simple
Here, it’s best to follow the K.I.S.S. Rule: Keep It Simple, Silly. Recovery might be complicated, but the daily actions you need to take to support a life in recovery are not rocket science, and they shouldn’t feel like it. It also shouldn’t feel like a minor miracle when everything on your daily schedule goes as planned. That’s the point with our entire angle on keeping resolutions simple. Resolutions are goals that require actions to achieve them. Keep the goals focused. That will feed back and keep their related actions focused, as well. When you apply the K.I.S.S. Rule, you increase your chances of creating resolutions that serve and support your sobriety – and your overall wellbeing.
2. Keep Them Achievable
Let’s say you have a simple goal: make a million dollars in 2023. However, if a typical year for you places you somewhere in the middle of income earners in the U.S., then making a million dollars next year is probably not an achievable goal. We’re not saying you can’t do it. We’re saying if you’ve never come close, then adjust your goal. Here’s an idea: rather than creating a goal like make a million dollars, create a goal like start saving money for retirement. Then break that goal down into something tangible and practical, given your past earnings, your current job, and the amount of money you expect to make next year. Set an amount to save each month, or each paycheck, based on the real circumstances at play in your life: that’s how to make a goal like that achievable.
3 .Keep Them Adaptable
We’ve all heard a version of this adage at some point:
Humans plan, the universe laughs.
That’s a holistic way of saying Stuff Happens. Which is one of the few truths we know to be universal. We make our plans. Sometimes they work perfectly. Other times, unpredictable events arise and prevent us from carrying out our plans exactly as expected.
That’s okay. That’s life.
And that’s why it’s important to keep your goals – i.e. your resolutions for the New Year – adaptable and fluid. If your goal is to go to the gym three times a week – which sounds reasonable to us – and you get sick, or have a very busy week at work, then you need to adapt that goal. Maybe on a busy work day you have time for a twenty minute walk, rather than an hour at the gym. Or if your goal is saving money, as in the example above, and something comes up – like an unexpected medical expense or car repair – then adapt your savings goal to accommodate for the fact that Stuff Happens.
Make 2023 A Year for Recovery
The advice in this article skews more toward people new in recovery, but these reminders are also valuable for people years into the process. It’s always good to remind yourself of the basics. If you’re in recovery, what matters is that you stay on your program and keep doing the things that support your long-term sobriety. If you’re years into the process, then we encourage you to avoid goals that take you away from your daily, positive recovery habits. And if you’re new to recovery, we encourage you to make simple, achievable, adaptable goals that translate to the daily work of recovery.
That’s how you can make resolutions that sustain you rather than frustrate you, and help you achieve your recovery goals rather than impeded them.
The personal good will you build up within yourself when you meet your basic daily goals compounds with each day that passes. It’s an interesting phenomenon, recovery-wise: the more good days you have, the more good days you are likely to have in the future. You create a virtuous cycle of positive reinforcement. Then, when you do have a challenging day, or more than one, you can handle it. The daily habits you work to build sustain you on those days, and carry you through hardship until tomorrow – when you have another chance to work your program, and take those simple actions you know lead to long-term, sustainable recovery.