I’ve always thought it was a little creepy to show a new year as an infant in a sash, but that’s exactly how 2017 seems to me right now: blind, mewling, vulnerable, as yet unaffected by the world. I wish I could say the same thing for myself, but honestly 2016 kicked my ass. It was a doozy. An exhilarating year; a frightening one, too, full of unforeseen change. Every year of sobriety brings me a new perspective on who I am, what my purpose is, and what kind of planet I live on. In previous years, as we’ve edged toward the beginning of a new year, I’ve blithely totted up a list of places where I think I can seek new insights, improve myself and do more to help other people. Sometimes it’s a long list, and sometimes it’s just one item.
This year, I’m not making New Year’s resolutions.
I could blame 2016 for my attitude change, but that wouldn’t be fair. It’s not that I feel there’s no point—though I do know other people who feel that way. It’s that the big changes, the metamorphoses and the dramatic overhauls have no place in my life right now. A year ago, I went big. I resolved to lose weight, invest in my spiritual foundation, finish a novel. I checked these things off my list, sure, but I didn’t feel that I changed that much on the inside. Instead, it was the opposite: I had a sense of settling into my true self, becoming more comfortable with the person I am in my core. No matter how perfect my outside might be—as perfect as I could make it, anyway—my inside felt solid, immutable and true. I gained a new sense of my deep flaws, my quirks and my own character. I finally found the parts of myself that are not changeable.
Beginning a life change on January 1st is common practice, sure. I’m not knocking it. Other people’s resolutions mean that the gym will be packed, I’ll inhale less secondhand smoke and there will be more new faces in AA meetings. Everyone has changes to make, and I am realizing how much those personal changes really do affect the world around us. One year, I focused only on being kinder to myself. That small shift affected every single relationship I had, and took my life in a completely unexpected direction. Who knew? It was a change that was needed for me to grow; the start date, in retrospect, was arbitrary.
Living well should not be a revolutionary change. It’s in the small things—taking time to make myself lunch the night before, telling my friends and family that I love them, pausing to think of others before I rush to help myself. Over time, I’ve learned that my desire to do these things is innate. I’m happier, healthier and more connected to other people when I do them. I don’t have to pause and check my “to-do” list to see if I’m meeting my Good Deeds Quota. I have learned to trust that I will know how to be my best self, every day. I don’t need a resolution for that.
Caring about myself and other people isn’t annual. If I want to improve my life, I can do it right now. I don’t need permission.
In fact, the impulsive changes I’ve made throughout the year have been great. My resolutions pop up like mushrooms after rain. One June, I decided to eliminate the word “but” from my vocabulary. I quickly learned how to state my feelings without negativity. “I love you, but I don’t like the way you treat me,” became “I love you, so I don’t accept the way you treat me.” I started asking for what I wanted clearly, without conditions. That was different. Another time, I committed to writing without judging what I put on the page. My payoff was getting my second Pushcart Prize nomination for excellence in small press fiction. Before, I’d thought my writing was too weird to interest anyone; in fact, writing without anxiety let me be imaginative again and enjoy the stories I was working on.
Everyone knows that New Year’s resolutions don’t last. Every treadmill is taken for the first three weeks of January, but come February, people are dropping off and giving up. That’s how new habits work—it can’t be an overnight matter. Nor is it a passive sea change. It takes work, and it takes inspiration. When I let my inspiration instead of yet another “should” guide me, I am more likely to follow through with my goals. If I run for pleasure instead of running to lose weight or punish myself for eating too much, I am more likely to stick with it.
The Golden Rule may be old, but it still shines for me. I am doing to others—today, tomorrow, next year, and every year—as I would have them do to me. And I’m doing to me as I do to others. I don’t need to wait for January 1st. Any time is a perfectly good time to get started.