“New year, new me,” is a common adage flashed and scattered across social media for ushering in the new year, though oftentimes used ironically or as a joke. The hyperbolic saying alludes to the idea that somehow, because of the turn of the clock, one must magically gather perspective on how they have been throughout the year and get their act together, as if one were broken, as if there were things to fix. This kind of thinking riddles me with low-grade hopeful anxiety. I distinctly recall binge-reading journal entries on a New Year’s Eve trying to remember what it was I did that year and how I was feeling–an attempt to have it make sense and point towards where I thought I needed to charge ahead.
For those of us in recovery, our “soberversary” may hold greater weight than any subsequent navel birthday or new year ever could. This being said, the advent of the new year can be a nice nudge to reflect on the thoughts, behaviors, and actions that have been working and those that haven’t been as beneficial. One of the blessings of sobriety from alcohol and drugs is that you have the sober reference of being able to stop a behavior that no longer serves you. Therefore, you possess the courage to do it again and regain greater clarity on the way you are living. On the other side of fear of letting a harmful behavior or thought-pattern go is freedom, space, and the ability to be more present.
But First: A Sober New Year’s Eve
Prior to meditating on what lies ahead, make sure to have a solid, safe plan for New Year’s Eve with plenty of support. Willpower can only last so long when it comes to whacking away a craving, whether that looks like reaching for a seductive glass of champagne, a plump joint that is being passed around, or endless reaches for sweet or salty treats that leave you feeling tired. Head to extra recovery meetings (many run through the evening and into the new year), book those last-minute therapy sessions, and stay in consistent touch with your closest friends and fellows as New Year’s Eve approaches, and especially on the day of.
In the spirit of curiosity and exploration, my first few New Year’s Eves were spent in diverse communities of sober company. My first sober New Year’s Eve was in 2014 at the Alcoholics Anonymous SoHo Group’s annual NYE party. Having arrived with a few sober friends I grew to admire and trust, I had a great time warming up on the dance floor and pretty soon, dancing with my self-consciousness lessening as time went on. There, I found a plethora of Red Bull-chugging, cigarette-smoking, and generally lovely young people in recovery who knew how to get down. Sure, it was uncomfortable at times, but remembering that others probably felt the same way that night (and were probably good at disguising it as I was) helped me relax a little. If you need a sober buddy for the train ride en route or coming home, don’t be afraid to ask for one. Take an Uber if that feels safer to you.
Other sober New Year’s Eves have been spent at sober house parties and ashrams where we chanted and meditated into the new year. Be honest about what would constitute a night of fun for you. I recall feeling disappointed at a house party I went to because I wanted to dance and there was barely any dancing happening; I made a commitment that night to start honoring those desires and planning ahead of time to ensure those needs get met. A part of me will always believe that the gathering on the other side of town is somehow better, harkening back to my restless, irritable, and discontent sensibilities as I am wont to possess, but I am getting better at trusting that “missing out” is more a misguided feeling and less about anything I am doing wrong or not putting enough effort into. Also plan for what you’ll be doing on New Year’s Day. My tradition for the past several years has been volunteering at the Poetry Project’s Annual Poetry Marathon at St. Mark’s Church-In-The-Bowery in exchange for admission to a wonderful day of poetry from established, as well as up-and-coming writers for 12 straight hours. Check out listings on TimeOut New York for other events happening on New Year’s Day, or look for other ways to be of service at a local pantry or meeting.
In the first year of recovery, one is advised to stay away from major life changes, as the process of sobering up is plenty to handle. However, if you’re past your first year, consider this: are there big actions or risks you’ve been afraid to take in sobriety because of the perceived consequences? Why not explore these with a sponsor, therapist, or trusted mentor? Just as we’re taught in recovery to take it a day at a time, an hour at a time, or even a moment at time, trust that the future isn’t promised to us (as grim as that sounds), so why not pursue what you really want right now? What are the risks involved? What are the drawbacks of not getting started? Rather than settling for an unhappy circumstance, take the initiative to explore other possibilities.
Major Life Changes
With more time sober, I have been able to take greater risks that would have been once unimaginable. Some of these were major changes, like moving out of my traditionally conservative’s family’s house (much to their dismay) after a year sober, quitting jobs of my own volition (rather than being fired or asked to leave politely), completing a yoga teacher training, exploring new recovery groups, and relocating to a new country to live my life outside the realm of what is familiar and safe to me. I chose to leave the comfort and security of a full-time job (and even part-time office jobs) to explore recovery in a new country with new support, while maintaining old recovery friendships. In sobriety, I have a greater inclination to take emotional risks towards big changes because I know myself better: my likes, what makes me tick, the needs I have that aren’t getting fulfilled in my current environs, and the kind of support I will need along the way, as well as my resistance to all of this. I have a deep faith that things are happening for me, not to me, and that my perspective on all of it is what matters.
Keeping Things Fresh
One of my initial fears in early sobriety was that recovery would soon feel like the new normal and no longer seem like a shiny accomplishment, which I especially felt when I would raise my hand to announce my sobriety day count. I was on a “pink cloud” for a while, feeling high on sobriety. While it does feel like my normal almost six years in, I try to keep things fresh by exploring other sober or sober-adjacent communities. I try to bring the spirit of adventure into the tiniest of actions or decisions, like deciding to explore a new side street in a familiar neighborhood or getting off one stop early or late on the subway to embark on a less familiar walk. When I feel stuck in my surroundings, I take up opportunities to explore other areas. If I don’t end up enjoying the self-imposed adventure, I still commend myself on taking the action to try something new.
One item to evaluate for the new year is your relationship to your current communities (recovery, artistic, sports-wise, college friends) and see which are truly nourishing you. Feeling part of a community and feeling like I can actively contribute and draw from that community–is an important part of my recovery. More and more I am convinced that I cannot rely on my willpower and solo strength to get me through a difficult stretch or project. Malcolm X said, “When you take the ‘I’ out of illness and replace it with “we,” it becomes wellness.” The myth of the solo genius is one I am slowly learning to let go of as I trust that showing up for my friends and fellows in their process is just as important for me as showing up for myself. If I need a break from community events, I’m allowed to rest and take those breaks knowing I will emerge more refreshed and available to those around me.
How are you showing up in your friendships? What is your relationship to intimacy with others like? Your relationship to honesty? Secrecy/shame? I try to ask myself, How can I invite the spirit of community into this, whether it’s collaborating on a writing project, cooking together, or even working side by side at a cafe.
Also important to look at is what or who pushes your emotional buttons? To what extent can you tolerate it/them and to what extent are you veering into endurism? By respecting my internal boundaries, I strengthen my intuition. I can’t build trust with myself and my inner children when I’m using coping behaviors to numb out or escape, or when I’m saying “yes” when I mean “no,” or “no” when I mean “yes.”
Commit to Self-Love
One of my intentions for the new year is to show myself greater acts of kindness, reminding myself that I’m always doing the best that I can at that very moment. I want to strengthen my self-love muscle by counteracting negative, self-demeaning thoughts with more positive ones. While positive affirmations work wonders for some, or may work for you on some mornings, on other days they may simply feel cruel and untrue. Rather than saying, “I am fully recovered,” a gentler affirmation could be “I’m growing in my recovery every day.” Another goal of mine is to stop “should-ing” all over myself; instead reframing the “should” as something I could be doing and explore the resistance as to why I’m not doing it already with as little shame and blame as possible.
I am also slowly, but surely, working on letting go of the need to “fix” things about myself–my appearance, the way I sound in conversations, the way I go about my day–and instead, focus on sinking into what is, trusting something is happening the way it’s happening because it’s happening. I want to be mindful of my proclivity to overthink and worry about things that are out of my control (cue Serenity Prayer here). I end every night with a quick “proud of” list in which I list the smallest actions or non-actions that build up my self-esteem, especially on stormier days. As opposed to a gratitude list, a “proud of” list feels more internal-facing, rather than expressing gratitude for what’s around me. In the spirit of being more mindful of what my thought-life is spent on, I want to make lists when I find myself obsessing, which looks like journaling on some days and “turning it over” to a recovery fellow in a WhatsApp voice note on other days. The brain is incredibly plastic; don’t let anyone convince you otherwise! That you have let go of alcohol and drugs is already doing great wonders for the regeneration of those brain cells.
Whether you consider a major or minor change as 2020 quickly approaches, or none at all (respecting your own timeline rather than a socially prescribed one), know that change takes time. You may need a larger, abstract goal like spending more time with yourself or something more specific like committing to flossing every day. Whatever the intention, simply having the intention strikes the fire of what could be a larger momentum. The last “promise” in one of my recovery groups states, “We learn to expect the best and get it” (the whole room chimes in for “…and get it!”) Anything is possible in recovery with intention, courage, willingness, and community. I, for sure, can’t do this work alone, nor do I want to anymore.
— Marina R. for Avenues NYC