With a plethora of recent violent political unrest in the United States, many have joked that the spirit of 2020–a year of everything unexpected and wildly unprecedented–is very much alive in 2021. While you may be powerless over external circumstances, you are very much in control of how you choose to go about navigating your internal circumstances and recovery. Whether you love resolutions or stray far from the word and those who insist on announcing theirs to everyone, it’s not a bad idea to check in on where you were last year (emotionally, mentally, spiritually, physically, recovery-wise) and how you would like to proceed in 2021.
Challenges in 2021
In your drinking and drugging days, how many times would you resolve to not use, use less, or only use in certain socially acceptable situations? For me, those instances were innumerable and the disillusionment that followed was painful and disheartening. Every broken resolve was a prime opportunity for self-flagellation. In sobriety you don’t have to resolve anything with dramatic declarations, let alone on your own. There is an easier, softer way of navigating reflection on the past year while mindfully looking ahead in a clear, confident manner. 2020 can, indeed, be eclipsed by the rich possibilities of 2021 and sobriety is a baseline in helping you get there. It’s safe to say that we have all been scarred on a local, national, and global level in 2020. It would make sense to look onto the new year with thick apprehension and fear about what’s to come. It may seem like uncertainty is the only certainty we have alongside feelings of overwhelm, confusion, and lack of direction. All of these are ok and should be normalized.
Yet a more useful approach for tending to the new year is trying for openness, curiosity, and a spirit of exploration no matter what storm of feelings may rise in you. Whether in recovery or not, we all have our versions of escape hatches or coping mechanisms–it’s part of the human condition to need a break from the intensity and pain of unpleasant feelings. When you catch yourself falling into self-harming behaviors or self-deprecating thoughts, give yourself the grace of self-compassion, even if for a moment. Know that you are not alone in needing that ephemeral exhale, however lonely it may feel at times. Practice with reframing “guilty pleasures” as “shameless pleasures.” Try to let go of the false binary of dividing friends and acquaintances into categories of “those recovering” and those who are “normies.” This kind of thinking can further create divisions in your mind and keep you from learning from those who are on their own respective path of growing and healing.
Staying on Track
My biggest practical tool for taking on the new year is investing in a planner and writing my schedule out instead of relying on my phone’s calendar. I treated myself to a nice planner as I figured it’s one of the few things I’ll be using every day in addition to my toothbrush, pillow, and French press, and phone. FInd a layout for a calendar that works for you–whether you prefer breaking your days down by the hour or by larger chunks of time. In addition to noting recovery meetings, plans, phone calls and deadlines, every week I make a list of short-term and long-term to-do lists. It can help to break lists down by categories, such as recovery, self-care, life administration tasks, creative pursuits, work, and relationships.
It’s not too late to make a year-in-review list for 2020 and check in on habits or tendencies that you took on. What do you want more of? Less of? What do you want to keep doing in stride and grow? Some habits I want to continue cultivating include: cooking (alone and with friends), exercise (running, yoga, and walks on days with challenging weather or low energy), and maintaining a consistent bedtime schedule while allowing flexibility. What I’d like more of is sharing creative work with friends in the absence of being able to perform them at events and working to continue cultivating safety–whether physical safety due to COVID-19 or emotional safety in the realm of recovery relationships (whether with myself or others).
One way to ground yourself into 2021 is to check in with where you are in your overall recovery. Do you have a trusty list of contacts and other kinds of scaffolding in place to support your healing and growth? One accomplishment I’m proud of from 2020 is starting a new recovery meeting on Zoom with another fellow. We decided on a time at which friends from New York City, the United Kingdom, and Berlin, Germany can join. It’s been a real joy watching the meeting grow and allowing others to step into service positions, such as treasurer, co-chair, timekeeper, and screen sharer.
This can be a year of bringing your attention back to the (lack of) boundaries you have around yourself and towards others, which ultimately are necessary for upholding intimacy as well as a strong, lasting recovery. Notice if throughout the day you are engaging in tiny moments of self-abandonment, whether that looks like hanging out longer than you might have wanted to with someone or constantly finding yourself being the caretaker and giver in friendships and other relationships (if this sounds like you, try allowing the other person to show up and provide). Or do you have avoidant tendencies and only connect with others when they make the first move? Why might that be the case? Go ahead and be radically vulnerable – this means taking a risk at the possibility of getting hurt. If you find yourself in moments of devastation, spinning out, catastrophizing, a shame attack, or a number of other unpleasant sensations, alone or in the presence of others, give yourself permission to pause and reach out to your network of support.
Meditation and Presence
Two relatively new tools that have helped me slow down and ground in 2021 have been the podcast “Radio Headspace” and the Netflix show “Headspace: Guide to Meditation.” All I have is this moment–the past and future only exist in my head to the extent that I let them. My first intention for 2021 is to keep bringing my attention back into the body by checking in with my breath and any physical tenseness. When I hold tension in my body, whether consciously or unconsciously, I am cut off from feeling my feelings and thereby start to intellectualize rather than experience a feeling. It’s a practice my therapist, a body-oriented practitioner, tries to nudge me towards. When asked to come into my body, I feel myself want to run away or write the practice off as something I can just do on my own (why waste time on it in therapy?) However, there is something to be said for learning to feel embodied in the presence of another, whether that is a therapist, friend, or someone I’m dating. A useful area to explore is your relationship to your nervous system as well. Are you more often functioning out of the parasympathetic system, which is responsible for “rest and digest,” or the sympathetic system, which is activated by stress?
The onus is on you to try to make the best of what 2020 has handed you and transform it into spiritual fertilizer for your recovery in the new year. This can still be a year of greater elevation because of the hardships of the past year, just as one’s drinking and drugging history can enrich their recovery and that of others.