Setting Intentions in Recovery for the New Year, by Mack Garland, LCSW

“Motivation” Road Sign with dramatic clouds and sky.

Almost all of us at least think of starting the new year off with goals for the coming year. Perhaps none more than people in recovery or people struggling with addiction. We have the opportunity to start the year with a clean slate. Did you know the most popular new year relocation is to lose weight and/or get into shape? Research indicates most people can only stay with a resolution for an average of less than one month. While this is not of critical importance for most people, folks addressing problems with addiction, only sticking to a program for a few weeks is devastating. The feelings of guilt, shame and hopelessness with relapse are damaging to our wellbeing. So how do we increase our chances of starting the new year with a commitment to recovery, one we can mold into our lives for the coming year?

First, start with a realistic assessment of the problem. Is substance abuse interfering in your life, are you on the verge of being fired, losing you family or facing legal issues related to substance use, or do you “drink and/or use a little too much at parties” and want to cut back? Is a preoccupation with sexual behavior causing damage in your life, or do you just want to learn how to better cope with stress without using sex as a way to escape? Most people in recover find they are somewhere on the continuum of addictive behavior, one end being almost total destruction of life to just a minor annoyance one wants to address.

Once you have a realistic assessment of your problem start slow, with reasonable, and obtainable goals. If you are drinking every day, perhaps a realistic goal initially is to only drink on the weekends as a way to reduce the harm caused by daily drinking. We call this Harm Reduction. For many people making drastic changes to addictive behavior, such as “I’ll never drink again” is not pragmatic and feels overwhelming. When we fail we feel hopeless and that can lead to an increase in the additive behavior. Another example could be, if you are sexually acting out watching pornography for several hours daily, perhaps you can limit the number of hours you watch, going from say 6 hours daily to 3 hours. We decrease the harm in our life by decreasing the harmful behavior before we are able to practice complete abstinence, if that is our longterm goal.

With the new year we have a chance to start fresh. Better to take small, achievable steps and build our recovery than to “bite off more than we can chew”, become frustrated and totally give up. Remember to celebrate the small successes and keep in mind recover is a process, a journey, a daily commitment to a better life for you and your loved ones.

Elana Clark-Faler
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