Before I made my resolution not to do resolutions, each year I would studiously make a list: exercise at least three days a week, cut out sweets, be more patient, wear matching socks, accessorize better. And the biggie: drink less.
You will note that I didn't say 'quit drinking'. I couldn't quit drinking, not for anything. Instead I tried everything I could think of to drink like a normal person. One year I swore off hard liquor, thinking that must be the reason I couldn't seem to control how much I drank. The next year I swore I would only drink on the weekends. Or at a restaurant. Or when my husband had a glass of wine with dinner. One year I told myself I wouldn't have any more than three glasses of wine in one night - even on big drinking holidays like Christmas, St. Patrick's Day or New Year's Eve. I even stuck with this one for a while - if a medieval sized goblet that holds half a bottle of wine counts as a glass.
As things got worse, my resolutions got more dire. I decided I wouldn't hide it anymore - only alcoholics hide alcohol, right? So if I could stop hiding it, I couldn't possibly be an alcoholic. This resolution lasted about six weeks.
And why don't resolutions work? A nasty little thing called Denial. Our brains are powerful, and they are good at fooling us. Everyone knows what denial feels like -those quiet little rationalizations we make to ourselves to justify less-than-desirable behavior.
Let's say, for example, you resolve to cut out sugar. January 1st you wake up invigorated and determined. "Day One of No Sugar" you think to yourself proudly. You shuffle downstairs for your morning coffee, and stop yourself seconds before emptying those two little sugar packets into your cup. "I'll learn to like it black," you think smugly. You look up healthy recipes in your cookbooks, skip the cookie aisle at the supermarket, and stock up on cut vegetables and fruit. You are kicking sugar's butt.
A few days later you just can't face one more cup of black coffee, and dump in one sugar packet, thinking it won't hurt. Neither will one cookie here or there, or the odd dessert. I mean it's inhuman to live completely without sugar, right? And that is how it starts. When you deviate from your promise to yourself, you find a nice little rationalization to justify your actions, and then promptly forget about your slip. By April you are snarfing down the Easter candy, your resolution long forgotten. "There's always next year," you tell yourself.
For me, it went the same way with alcohol. Because I was trying so hard not to face my fear that I may be an alcoholic, I made promise after promise to myself in my attempt to avoid the hard truth. I would be "good" for a while, and then wake up on July 5th hungover and embarrassed, and wondering how the heck I ended up getting drunk again? When I was trying to be so careful? The answer is simple: denial. It is July 4th AND my birthday, I had told myself the night before. I'll go back to being good tomorrow. I can handle myself for one night.
One of the most meaningful things I have learned in recovery is all the promises and resolutions in the world won't help if I'm not being honest with myself. I would focus my resolutions on the simpler stuff, like cutting out sweets, instead of facing my own hard truths.
So instead of resolutions, I take a hard look at myself and ask some honest questions. What is it about myself I don't want to face? What am I trying not to know about myself?
I don't do this to beat myself up; Lord knows I don't need more reasons to poke at my flaws. I do this to care for myself, to stay in touch with my heart. I spent many years drinking away my own sense of self-worth, putting myself last on the list. I was comfortable there, on the bottom rung. My disease tells me that is where I belong, and my disease is wrong. So I speak to myself honestly, but gently. I try to tell myself the truth; I deserve that much. When I am caring for myself, I can care for others. When I am honest with myself, I can be honest with others. I can give of myself without giving myself away.
Instead of making resolutions only to break them down the road and take my self-worth down another notch, I try to love myself enough, every day, to make the next right choice.
So I won't wish you a Happy New Year. How about a happy tomorrow?