At the start of every year, I resolve to be a better person than I was the year before. I commit to using New Year’s Day as a type of reset button for my life, and I set out to be healthier and happier. I decide to make good choices and to keep from repeating the bad ones I seemed to make too often the year prior. As determined as I am to make it through the year without failing, life happens.
Life is hard because it never goes the way we plan. Having been in a residential recovery program, I know life there is pretty easy comparatively. Withdrawals are painful and having to dig up trauma is not my idea of fun, but at least it is predictable. Unlike life, it is a controlled environment. But when you get out, you’re back in the real world. Before you know it, the stress builds thanks to responsibilities that must be handled. It’s hard, and some days, it seems nearly impossible. In the past, I’ve slipped up, fallen, and done things I had vowed to never again do. That’s when I feel like the worst person in the world, when I’m even further from the resolutions I’ve made for myself. Failure engulfs me. I wonder if I will ever be the person that I so long to be. How could I become the person I want to be if I feel so far away from her?
Year after year, that is how I felt. And at those times, my resolutions for myself were monumental. Though my goals were worthy, they towered over me and reminded me how small, weak, and hopeless I really was.
A couple of years ago, I changed my resolutions to be more manageable. I wanted to make my resolutions small enough that I wouldn’t feel so dwarfed by them. So I set more realistic expectations for myself. For example, instead of just telling myself “I will be a better person,” I set smaller, more specific goals. One included finding one new recipe a week that was free of sugar and gluten. I chose this goal because I had found that sugar and gluten significantly impacted my mental health; by being diligent in eating the right foods, I was also aiding in my recovery.
Instead of telling myself, “Don’t have another mental breakdown – ever,” I set a new goal. I decided to find three things that I could quickly do to alleviate stress in a healthy way. Doing whatever I could to prevent these breakdowns, no matter how small, was critical to my health and well-being.
As silly as it sounds, one of those stress relievers was to keep my house picked up. I often found that the visual chaos around me exacerbated the internal chaos in my head. By spending 30 minutes a day to pick up, I had more mental room.
While it might sound counter-productive, another of my resolutions was allowing myself to fail. Climbing that mountain toward recovery is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. When I failed early in my recovery process, it devastated me. But I’ve learned to allow myself to just be for a moment, to grieve the failing. After that, I would get back up again. It wasn’t easy. In fact, it was draining in every possible way. But I knew I could never give up on myself. Another thing that helped immensely was the resolution to surround myself with healthier people. That alone has helped me so much in terms of having the support and encouragement needed to renew my strength to get back up and try again.
I still want to be a healthier, stronger, better person, but I now know that my recovery is not a one-time event. It is a journey. And as long as I refuse to quit that journey, then I am on track to meeting my resolutions. There are days that are easier than others, but that’s OK. By making realistic and specific resolutions for myself, I’ve found that obtaining the recovery I seek is now possible. I am no longer my own worst enemy by setting expectations for myself that I can’t accomplish. I only added to my feelings of being a failure when I set myself up to fail by the resolutions I made. Now I know better. And while my resolutions each year have pretty much stayed the same, each year I get further and further from the person I started out as and closer to the one I am working on becoming.