Expectations always lead to disappointments. Disappointments lead to resentment. There is no worse person to set up for failure than the self. Sadly, this is a cycle suffered by millions each year as one calendar year ends and the other begins. When December 31 holds the promise of turning into January 1 people believe that magic happens in that waking hour. A new year means new beginnings. Gym memberships increase, self-help books see a spike in sales, and hobbies take off as people start to fulfill their new year’s resolutions with a gusto. Then, by about February, the resolutions are long forgotten.
It is a mistake to believe that a new moon, new month, new year, is the only time to start anew. Thankfully, in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction, we learn that we can always start over without having to start over. Meaning, one does not have to relapse and “fail” in order to start fresh in whatever their endeavors may be. Every single moment spent awake, alive, breathing, and functioning, is an opportunity to start over. New beginnings are a state of mind, not a calendar date.
Putting an excess amount of pressure on one day to start an entirely new lifestyle is a setup for disaster. The spiritual path of recovery teaches us to take things one day at a time, if not one hour or one minute. We learn to be gentle on ourselves, to treat ourselves with respect, and listen to our needs. Going beyond the scope of this can lead to unnecessary self-criticism, guilt, shame, and resentment which can quickly turn toxic. Toxic negative feelings, especially in early recovery, can spiral out of control. Through treatment one is learning how to manage their stresses, expectations, and feelings. Getting attached to the idea or expectation is where the trouble truly lies.
Attachment is, in Buddhist understanding, the root of suffering. By clinging on so tightly to things, rather than embracing the flow of life, we cause ourselves to suffer and experience pain. Expectations are attachment to ideals which may or may not be real or realistic. Addiction and alcoholism are, among many things, toxic attachments– to substances, to behaviors, and to feelings. Experiencing a painful attachment can be triggering, and inspire the brain to seek comfort in old ways.
For New Year’s resolutions, start small and create realistic steps to achieve the better goal.
Refuge Recovery is a buddhist-based treatment center designed for men and women seeking a spiritual path in recovery. For more information on our programs, call 323-207-0276.