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New Year’s Resolutions: Purposefully Doing the Work of Changing

Published in Addiction Services, For the Health of It Author: Scott Abrams,MD

I don't even remember exactly what my New Year's Resolution was. I think it involved eating less sugar. I do know that whatever it was, I've not kept it. I'm not sure I even lasted a week. Honestly, I think the only New Year's resolution that would be guaranteed is if I planned to pack on a few pounds this year. At least I could keep that one.

Looking back at past failed resolutions, I know the problem. Every year, I've simply decided in my mind to change a behavior. I'm going to stop eating donuts. I haven't done anything differently though. I haven't tried to avoid donuts. I haven't engaged in any accountability. I haven't altered my life in any way. I've just assumed that making up my mind to not do a thing was the same as changing. Then, when the opportunity to eat donuts kept presenting itself, I've eventually failed.

A lot of us have been there. We see New Year's Day as a chance for a new start. We're sick and tired of some self-destructive behavior and we make up our minds that this year is going to be different. Only we don't actually change anything. We just assumed that deciding not to do something will make life different. If we change nothing though, nothing changes. Then, we find the new year is just like the old one and we eventually slip back into the old behavior.

Our problem is that we've engaged in that behavior so many times that it's become compulsory – a habit or an addiction. Addictions and habits don't just go away with just deciding that they're gone though. Behavior is hard to alter, requiring radical life changes to succeed.

In my own drug addiction, I promised myself a thousand times that every time was the last time. I swear I'll quit. I'm done! Then, a few days or weeks later, I'd be right back in my pills, hopelessly addicted. I knew what I needed to do to find recovery – be honest, go to treatment, attend meetings, change my life – but I didn't want to do any of those things. So, I just kept repeating the same do-nothing attempt over and over. I promise I'll change…

Now, living in recovery, I can see that there was no way to get here except to do those difficult things. No amount of positive thinking was going to make me sober. I had to purposefully do the work of changing. The work isn't done yet of course. I've had to accept that I still have the capacity to relapse and so, I continue to work at my recovery. I still attend mutual support meetings. I still do my daily readings. I still invest time in my faith every day.

If we want to transform our lives, change isn't something we simply white knuckle for a few days – like a January diet. It's not something we do only in our minds either. For most of us, radical change will mean purposefully planning and doing radical new things – probably for the rest of our lives. Some of us may need to go to treatment. Some of us may need to change who we spend time with. We may need to return to a faith we've abandoned. Most of us will need to meet with others who struggle as we do. Whatever it is, we must do it today. Then tomorrow, we must do it again.

If you're struggling with an addiction and don't know what to do or where to turn, take the first step today. Contact our Addiction Medicine team. We're here to help you take the first step.

We all struggle with something, but we don't have to remain addicted, and we don't have to do this alone. There is always help.