For me, New Year’s Day does not fall on January 1. The day that I decided to stop drinking alcoholically, life began anew for me. And that is the day I think of as my own personal New Year’s Day. Focusing all of our will, hope, and determination on a date circled on the calendar seldom works out.
Living life one day at a time without turning to an addictive substance is an acquired recovery skill. Most of the people I know who are successful at it didn’t just make a resolution and do it! Long before the know-how and gumption to actually regain control of their lives took firm hold, they began thinking about how to do it.
Firefighters know better than anybody that planning for a life-altering event is futile. The circumstances of life can change in an instant, but it’s in the aftermath, the cleanup, that you discover the less dramatic, hard work of things left unaddressed. The instant you realize that it’s time for the addiction to go is only the beginning.
Living in Limbo
It may help to realize that much time can pass between awareness of the problem – when we know it’s quitting time – and the first day of sobriety – when we actually quit. I think of that time as Limbo or Purgatory. It’s a horrible place. We wallow in misery, not 100% certain that we can live without our addictions, and only about 95% sure that our addictions are killing us. Holding on to the 5% chance that somehow, some way we will be able to continue our merry little path toward total destruction (and not actually get there).
I lived in Limbo for far too long, waiting for magic – the spiritual awakening, the bolt of lightning or just the perfect moment to put down the things that were killing me. Life went on around me, but my own life had stalled. People grew up while I remained stagnant. They became emotionally strong, confidant (without liquid courage), and well adjusted; all of the things that I ached for. While waiting to become a better person, one who would be comfortable in his own skin, I used alcohol as a means to postpone the difficult task of growing up and taking control of my own life.
Something as life changing as changing your life simply cannot be marked on a calendar, circled in red ink and approached throughout the year as a magic moment. All year, the true value of New Year’s Day for the alcoholic is that it is somewhere in the future – “cultural procrastination” is the term applied to this phenomenon by psychology professor Timothy Pychyl of Carleton University in Canada. During my participation in Alcoholics Anonymous, enjoying the comfort and inspiration of hundreds of like-minded individuals at 12-Step meetings, I have celebrated anniversaries with hundreds of people, celebrating the day their sobriety began. Rare is the person who celebrates New Years Day, and that is no coincidence.
If you have decided that it’s time for your addictions to go, a good strategy is to let another human being know about your decision. Another active alcoholic is probably not a good choice of confidant. Active alcoholics are great procrastinators. Recovering alcoholics tend to like nothing better than meeting a problem head-on. Finding a recovering alcoholic is easy, there are AA meetings in every corner of the world; places where the only requirement to be there is the desire to stop drinking. Nobody there will club you over the head and stitch your mouth shut so you can’t drink. Nobody will judge. Everybody will welcome you, without fuss, without expectations and without pressure.
If you are not ready to find and attend an AA meeting, find a friend who listens, a family member, your spouse, or a co-worker you trust. It is truly remarkable the reception you will get from the person you choose to let in on your little secret. Chances are, it was no secret at all. What I found remarkable when I finally exposed what I thought was my own secret was the complete and utter lack of surprise from my confidant!
When we are drinking, we know plenty of people who want us to continue on our journey of self-destruction. It’s those people who must be avoided. But we also have people in our lives who are pulling for us. These are the ones who matter. They know that the person you have the potential to be is waiting to come alive, and they look forward to enjoying the journey with you.
The emotional horrors of the holidays will drive many people to January 1 ready to say they will stop drinking. But on January 2nd, they may find that the power needed to tackle the problem has yet to manifest. So the bad news is, New Year’s Day is just another day. Even if you make a commitment on New Year’s Day, recovery won’t take possession of you, once and for all. It’s something you recommit to each day, one day at a time.
If, on January 2, you find you are unable to muster the courage to start your life anew, rather than judging yourself just look toward January 3. As you look forward, keep the seed of sobriety planted in your mind.
Finding ways to not feel like a complete and utter failure when willpower fails us gives us the glue that allows us to keep on keeping on. Crushing guilt brings so many of us to our knees – but it doesn’t help us stay sober.
Keep committing your days to sobriety, and one day you will find sobriety has become a way of life. With the darkness that addiction brings behind you, “the future” is less about putting on a dramatic new life. But you grow more sure with each day that the future is going to happen while you enjoy every moment spent living.