New year resolutions have become a tradition, fulfilling an aspect of the mythological wonder of the holiday season. Most people make resolutions that involve the “commitment” to improve their lives. They hope to work harder so that they can find a better job, they will eat a more healthy diet so that they can lose weight, they will stop smoking etc. A commitment to a resolution at New Year’s can be a positive step towards self-improvement but there are certain realities that must be kept in mind when making the resolutions. First and foremost is the need to keep the resolution realistic. Grandiose goals that are unlikely to be achieved can lead to disappointment that may exacerbate the conceived negative traits that the individual is attempting to improve. Insisting that the goal MUST be achieved sets up a possible fall that can lead to depression and a sense of “failure”. While there is a need to be assertive and committed to the resolution goal, what that goal actually is, can determine the sense of satisfaction that is the ultimate purpose in the first place. Proclaiming that the loss of fifty pounds in six months is the target is different than saying that “I will lose weight in six months”. In the first instance, the loss of forty pounds during those six months will run the risk of being perceived as a failure. In the second instance, losing thirty pounds in six months will be a success and will bring satisfaction (and a healthier body AND mind).
There is a strong psychological component involved in the making of resolutions and the actual “acts” involved are less relevant than the state of mind that evolves from the attempt. The most important achievement is the sense of empowerment involved in the realization that one can, in fact, make changes in life that are beneficial and progressive. Once that sense of empowerment is realized, it can be built upon and further progress can be made. Progress, not perfection is the caveat of a successful endeavour. If the progress is not acknowledged because the “final” goal has not been achieved, then that progress could be negated through disappointment, leading to a state that regresses to the original point of departure, nullifying the work and effort that the individual actually engaged in. This would be a shameful disregard for the actual achievement that was sustained by the progress that was made. And, again, it is the building upon that progress that will allow for a continued pursuit of the goal and the benefits that will continue during that pursuit.
This is of vital importance for those suffering from drug addiction. If a resolution to get clean and sober is made (whether at New Year’s or any other time), it is essential that any progress made towards achieving that end is embraced, even if there are setbacks. The road to recovery cannot be achieved through wishful thinking or “mythological” resolutions. Making a kind of “oath” on New Year’s does not involve any magical component that will render the goal easier to achieve. The commitment to a drug-free existence involves the same amount of work 365 days a year. The commitment is the beginning. What is most important after that commitment is the effort and progress that can only be realized through hard work. The problem with the resolution myth is that an “aura” seems to surround it that suggests that it will be easier to achieve if it is made at certain time under certain conditions. That is why so many people make their resolutions on New Year’s. There is a communal, mythological (dare I say almost sacred) sensibility this particular time is the moment to make the commitment. How much that may have to do with the equally mythological sensibility surrounding the excessive indulgences of the holiday season is, I think, fairly obvious. After a month of overeating and over drinking, is it any wonder that people want to “swear” to make healthier resolutions? The point is that this is part of the whole celebratory “exception” that surrounds the month of December. Addiction to drugs does not limit their excessiveness to one month of the year. It is an affliction that resonates throughout the year and any resolution or commitment to change that way of life is a positive and hopeful sign, regardless of what time of the year it is. The key is to recognize the hard work involved in recovery – work that can be facilitated through rehab centers and 12 step programmes that understand that the “resolution” infatuation at New Year’s is more of a gimmick than a true path to recovery. By all means engage in resolutions – but on your own terms and with the recognition that, as a drug addict, there is a greater seriousness to the endeavour than there is for the overweight, social drinking office worker who overindulged on Christmas and New Year’s Eve and doesn’t feel well on waking up on January first. The resolution he or she will make is not the same as someone with a drug addiction.