It’s hard to believe it’s that time of year again.
Time to make your New Year’s Resolutions – if you’re the type to do that.
The reason it’s hard to believe it’s that time of year again is because this year has been so unusual. For most of us, our sense of time changed when the coronavirus pandemic hit. It seems as if we’ve been on hold for the past year. On hold, or in a state of suspended animation. Or in some type of stasis – but we’re alive and conscious while the days go by, as if we’re spectators to our own lives.
Whatever your experience has been over the past year, you probably agree – along with just about everyone else on earth – that 2021 was a year like no other.
Did you make resolutions last December?
If so, do you even remember what they were?
Maybe you did, and kept them until the pandemic started, when they fell by the wayside as you adapted to the new set of circumstances we all encountered. Let’s take a look at two polls: one about the most popular New Year’s Resolutions for 2020, and one about the most popular resolutions for 2021, then talk about whether any of those resolutions might help you on your recovery journey. Once we do that, we’ll offer our take on New Year’s Resolutions, and offer suggestions we’re sure will help you as you navigate recovery in 2021.
The Most Popular Resolutions
According to a survey of 1,500 U.S. adults conducted in December 2020 – which now seems like then years ago – here are the top five resolutions people made for 2021:
- Exercise and improve fitness (50%)
- Lose weight (48%)
- Save more money (44%)
- Improve diet (39%)
- Pursue a career ambition (21%)
While we’re at it, let’s look back the top five resolutions for 2020. This survey of around 2000 U.S. adults was conducted in late 2019:
- Save money for the future (62%)
- Have a more positive outlook on life (58%)
- Budget better (54%)
- Spend more time with family (53%)
- Learn a new skill (50%)
What we find interesting is that before the pandemic, people were most interested in their finances and family time. During this interminable pandemic denouement, however, they’re more interested in exercising and losing weight. Saving money is still up towards the top, but spending time dropped out of the top five, landing at number six on the list.
We won’t interpret that one.
Now let’s think about how these resolutions might help someone in recovery. Those about money can help anyone at any time – because we all have to pay the bills – so we’ll simultaneously include and exclude those, if that makes sense. If it doesn’t, here’s an explanation. What we mean is that managing finances and saving money for the future is always a good idea and redounds to your benefit whether you’re in recovery or not. So yes – it will help your recovery in an indirect way – so it’s in. But it’s not directly related to recovery, so it’s out.
Now, on to the rest.
It won’t take long to talk about them, since they’re good ones. Exercising, losing weight, improving your diet, and pursuing a career ambition are all resolutions that can help you on your recovery journey. All of them are good for mind, body, and spirit – and we approve.
A Holistic, Integrated Approach to the New Year
In fact, most of those resolutions are things people who enter treatment for an alcohol or substance use disorder spend time working on or thinking about while they’re in treatment. They’re important elements of a healthy life overall, which is a primary focus of effective, evidence-based recovery. Contemporary treatment programs prioritize healing the whole person, rather than spending all the treatment time on the disorder or the symptoms of the disorder.
That’s how we want you to look at your New Year’s Resolutions this year. In a holistic, integrated way, the same way you look at recovery. And that’s why we suggest one resolution for this year.
Can you guess what that is?
It’s deceptively simple:
This year, resolve to stick to your recovery plan.
We advise this because it implies all the resolutions we mention above, in varying degrees. It’s hard to imagine a recovery plan, formulated in 2021, that doesn’t include eating healthy, being more active, and reimagining your career.
We should mention another thing here: while time with biological family might not help everyone in recovery, it’s important to spend time with other people. You may call them your friends, your chosen family, your crew, or something else. If you’re in recovery, they may be your recovery peers, i.e. people you met in treatment or people who attend the same community support meetings, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA).
How to Keep This Resolution
Before we offer advice on how to stick to this deceptively simple resolution, we need to address one more thing. If spending more time with family this year is not on your (supplemental) list, we want you to remember it’s important not to isolate while you’re in recovery. Make time to see people, talk to people, and be around people – even if that means Zoom calls. Any contact is better than no contact, and that includes the virtual contact we all became used to during 2020 and early 2021.
Now, about keeping that resolution.
Stick to Your Recovery Plan in 2023: Five Quick Tips
- Be Realistic
Think of all the elements of your recovery plan, and make sure you set yourself up for success. If your recovery plan involves getting up every morning at 5am and working out, but you’ve never done that before, then adjust the plan to something more realistic, like afternoon walks three days a week. Which brings us to tip #2.
- Break it Down
If you plan on improving what you eat this year, then understand you need to go step-by-step. Start by eating more vegetables with dinner. Add fresh fruits at lunch. Add whole grains rather than processed grains with all meals. For instance, eat brown rice or wheat bread instead of white rice or Wonderbread. Make the change gradually, and within six months, your diet will look totally different – and you’ll be amazed at how much progress you made.
- Set Milestones
Your plan might include something like learning a new skill, losing weight, or attending more AA meetings. Setting milestones is related to breaking things down into manageable chunks. For instance, if part of your recovery plan is to learn a musical instrument, give yourself a month to learn a new song. That’s doable. When you meet your milestone, you’ll get the satisfaction of setting and achieving a goal. That goal forms the foundation for the next goal. Keep your mind on the next achievable goal, and you’re less likely to be overwhelmed by your big-picture goal.
- Involve Other People
Some people thrive when they’re accountable to other people. If sticking to your recovery plan is your resolution, as we suggest, then we also suggest sharing this resolution with a recovery peer or your AA/NA sponsor. These accountability partners can help keep you on track by celebrating your accomplishments, on the one hand, or reminding you to buckle down, on the other hand.
- Be Resilient
Relapse happens. Slips occur. You may stray, and, for various reasons, get off track or lose sight of the goal: sticking to your recovery plan. If that happens to you, then we advise being honest with yourself without beating yourself up about it. Think compassionate honesty. Be kind to yourself, but be real with yourself, too. What matters is not that you relapsed or slipped – what matters is how you respond.
These tips – if you follow them – will help you stick to your recovery plan during 2022. One thing we want you to notice is the emphasis on understanding yourself and being compassionate and empathetic toward yourself. You’re the one in recovery. Your self-talk matters. We want you to be practical in setting and achieving your goals, and we also want you to be kind to yourself. The world can be hard, sometimes. Therefore, when appropriate, we recommend you being the opposite: be supportive and kind.
Is Something Missing Here?
You may have noticed that we didn’t advise you to resolve to “not drink” or “quit drugs” or “stay sober” this year. While it’s true that we want all those things for you – and yes, we’d be dishonest if we said those are not the point of a recovery plan – we also know as well as you do that simply saying those words or making that promise to yourself does not always work. That’s a painful truth that most people in recovery face, because most people in recovery experience a slip or a relapse at some point in their recovery journey.
A good plan accounts for slips. A good plan includes the possibility of relapse.
Your plan is your roadmap to sustainable sobriety, long-term health, and overall wellbeing. Yes, sobriety is the goal. But a plan is how you get there. A plan increases your chances of achieving sustained sobriety, despite the curveballs life may throw at you. That’s why, for 2022, we encourage you to make one commitment to yourself. Make it in the form of a New Year’s Resolution. Do this, and we bet everything else will fall into place:
Stick to your recovery plan.