A New Year's Resolution—Stop Resolving!

By Lucinda Lumiere 01/01/17

Weirdly, the more I tried to “control” my “bad behavior,” the worse it got, the more shame arose in its place, driving me to repeat the behavior again just to block out the shame.

Resolving to Let Go
When I loosen my grip, strange things happen.

It’s that time of year again, the time to make a list of New Year’s resolutions.

Or is it?

How many times have we made hopeful resolutions as the calendar turned.

“I will lose ten pounds. I will get a new job. I will pack my lunch in a brown bag for the rest of my life and never buy Starbuck’s. I will only bring my thermos, and never buy a takeout cup. I will think good thoughts about those who cut me off in rush hour. I will delete my emails as soon as I read them….”

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

No one knows this better than someone in recovery from alcoholism or addiction. When I was active in my addiction, I woke up every day to excellent resolutions. And even better intentions.

“I won’t use today” became, “Maybe I can wait until lunch," became, “I wonder if my dealer can deliver before I get out of bed?” became, “Maybe my dealer will get into bed with me and never leave, and he can get his dealer to deliver!”


“I won’t drink today” became, “I can wait until after work," became “What’s one at lunch?” became puking in the stall before downing some coffee and heading back to the grind while avoiding prying eyes over the cubicle partition. Or teetering on a tabletop in my bra in front of my cute manager at the office party while doing the sprinkler dance.

Weirdly, the more I tried to “control” my “bad behavior,” the worse it got, the more shame arose in its place, driving me to repeat the behavior again just to block out the shame. You hear this all the time in any recovering person’s story. It’s funny and touching and confounding. We end up ultimately grateful for the powerlessness, because it’s the engine that drives us to our knees, and, by extension, recovery.

The funny thing is, a lot of us forget this after we get clean and sober, or abstinent, or whatever.

We get a reprieve from active addiction and start to believe we can function like “normal” people. (Is there even such a thing? The jury is out. ) We get our health and our jobs and relationships back. Finances stabilize. And then we think we have everything under control.

And guess what?

We make resolutions we can’t keep.

After some time sober, I started crafting elaborate affirmation lists on New Year’s Day. I read Louise Hay, drafted five and ten year plans. I visualized abundance and creative success beyond my wildest dreams. I was very specific, down to the number of children I would have, the houses I would own, and the movie scripts I would sell.

I vowed to lose ten pounds every New Year for about a decade. Although my goals were often attainable and sometimes worthy, they didn’t always materialize. I was especially frustrated by my weight loss goals, which always seemed to elude me.

One diet involved only very expensive dehydrated berries and peas. I lasted three days.

Another was a fast involving copious amounts of cabbage soup for special treats. That one died in the water, literally.

And then there was the Romaine lettuce and green apple diet. This one was pretty effective, but though I dropped weight, it didn’t eradicate my self-loathing. Even after I dropped the weight I thought I needed to drop to like myself, it still wasn’t enough. After all that effort, that hunger, that intense exertion, I still felt the same. I stared in the mirror sadly, trying to figure out why I still looked so… disappointing. And why I wasn’t happy. How many pounds would it take? I could deny, starve, and defer all I wanted, but it still wouldn’t fix me.

The same thing happened when I decided the right relationship was what I needed. I fell in love with an adorable and brilliant guy who was witty and charming, thoughtful and kind, a guy who looked great in a suit and wrote me love notes and agreed to move to LA with me when I told him I had to for my career. And guess what? I bailed. Because even with the guy of my dreams, I still wasn’t enough for me.

Career was even more problematic. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t attain the career goals I set for myself as an actor. This was actually better in some strange way, as it gave me tons of ammunition with which to beat myself up. I could never get as much work as I wanted. Through sheer determination, I booked some great acting jobs, and was deliriously happy whenever I was lucky enough to be on stage or set. But inevitably, the next day came, the day when there was no job, and I had to hit the pavement and start the whole thing over again. I was always wondering if I would be chosen again, if I would be good enough this time. This perpetuated an endless cycle of approval seeking. It drove me close to relapse and to the doors of a few therapists, but was great for that part of me that hated myself.

And then, aging started happening!

This one is pretty much a foregone conclusion, if you are lucky. And yet, it is still so very… surprising. Woe betides anyone foolish enough to try to beat the house. It’s an uphill battle, fighting Father Time. You can get all the Botox you want, too. Won’t make a damn bit of difference.

Slowly, through attrition, I started to get it.

I learned that I was equating my happiness with external goals. I thought if I achieved these holy grails, I would be happy. I was still acting like an addict, looking outside of myself for validation. Looking for a fix. No matter how high or worthy my goals, the fixes from attaining them always wore off.

And that’s when I realized: “Control” doesn’t work. Not if you’re someone who struggles with addiction. (And, also, I suspect, if you’re just a “normal” person). I need to love myself unconditionally for who I am, regardless of what’s in my bank or who’s in my bed, or what number shows up on the scale.

This is probably true for everyone on the planet. But as a recovering person, if don’t get it, I may die. The nature of my disease is one of profound self-loathing, and like wildfire, it will consume anything in its path. I have a disease that will kill me any way it can. The only solution is the spiritual one. All roads, it turns out, lead straight to Rome. And Rome, I have found, lies within.

The good news is, that’s an easy fix.

All I have to do is be still and make conscious contact. Do my best to align my will with Source. And remember I don’t run the show.

When I loosen my grip, strange things happen. Gifts arrive from out of the blue when I widen my scope. I may not get my way, but I get what I need. And sometimes I get surprises that are genuinely beyond my wildest dreams.

And the disappointments? They are often the harbingers of the greatest joy. Or at least, major growth opportunities.

I have learned to love myself despite my fat, wrinkles, and bad audition days. Because I have to. And because, as I practice compassion with myself for being human, I actually start to feel pretty amazing. And those goals? If I want something badly enough, for the right reasons, it will hopefully come to me eventually. But if it doesn’t, I will be okay.

I resolve to stop resolving.

I have stopped dieting.

I have stopped looking for another human to endow me with self-esteem and security.

I am practicing letting go of equating success with happiness (this one is stubborn).

I am practicing radical acceptance, and gradual progress.

Is it lonely? Sometimes. Is it fulfilling? Yes.

Is it the easier, softer way? Absolutely.

Recovery is not a self-improvement program. It is a self-acceptance process. I can always stop and look within when I am troubled and find the solution. It’s a helluva lot cheaper than Botox.

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