New Year, Same Old Me

The Time My New Year’s Resolution to Quit Drinking Actually Worked

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new-year-same-old-me“New Year! New You!” was what an old commercial for Jenny Craig or Super Cuts or some suburban strip-mall chain promised, year after year, on local television in Los Angeles. It was a shady holiday ad hoping to capitalize on the poor people who hated the last year of their lives. While the idea of starting a new year totally transformed sounded terrific, it also sounded really hard. See, for over a decade, I carefully curated New Year’s (Eve, Day and the incoming year) around drinking. It worked from about 1997 until 2001, but got increasingly more brutal from 2002 and beyond. Nevertheless, much like Bullwinkle and the magic hat trick (this time for sure!) I kept on trying to drink every day and hope that my life would change on its own. Then, for some reason, my New Year’s resolution to stop drinking finally stuck in 2009.

For me and my crowd who worked in bars, nightclubs and restaurants, New Year’s Eve was always shoved in the amateur-hour category. The holiday was a kind of trashy bachelorette party and the whole planet was invited, and they’d all get hammered and then eventually vomit. If you had to work it, it was a nightmare that fueled a billion resentments. If you didn’t, you hid somewhere with a bottle far away from “those people” who didn’t know how to drink like professionals.

New Year’s Day, however, always served the same purpose: hangover nursing and daytime drinking. Like the rest of my life, I always wanted New Year’s to achieve an extreme level of fun and fabulousness of astronomical proportions. Thus, I’d find myself with a cigarette dangling from my lips and my head pounding while I prepared 100 brunch dishes while the Rose Parade droned on in the background on New Year’s Day. After some board games and a few movies, I’d be drunk again by 6 pm. The ironic thing was that for a holiday that celebrated the newness of life, I found myself doing the same damn things, year after year. I was no better than the tacky ladies from the Valley who slipped on their tight dresses and glittery heels to a hit a Hollywood nightclub on New Year’s Eve to get drunk. In fact, I was worse. Their “Special Occasion Wasted” was my “Any Given Tuesday Wasted.”

The tragic redundancy of my life was not lost on me, so I annually made promises and resolutions that Two Thousand and Whatever was going to be different. Sometimes, it would just be a few days of keeping this resolve. More often than not, it would be a passing thought followed by shots of tequila and I’d forget this silly resolution business. Other years—like in 2008—I’d give it an actual go.

At the age of 35, my depression, alcoholism, financial unmanageability and general insanity were off the rails. I remember thinking, “Okay, you’re 35. Maybe it’s time to wrap up the party and get sober.” Of course being the drama queen that I am, I naturally had to announce it to everyone I know. Short of a reporter-filled press junket in a hotel lobby, I told anybody who’d listen that I would stop drinking and isn’t that fantastic? The only problem with my big announcement was that I didn’t really have a plan on how I’d actually do it. In the midst of telling everyone how awesome I was, I’d kind of forgotten to actually figure how I was going to stay sober. After all, I had been drinking and using drugs for the better part of 20 years and nearly everybody around me still drank. You’d think I would have asked for help or attended a meeting or rehab or something. I mean my last name’s Mahoney—so god knows I’d seen family members try to get sober and how difficult it was for them. Nevertheless, I had an “I got this” kind of attitude and truly believed that I’d be able to figure out sobriety on my own without, you know, actually changing. Suffice to say, I white-knuckled it until May 2008. Then my life got difficult and I reached for a bottle of wine to help ease the pain. After all, there was always next year.

That innocent little bottle of wine, however, unfurled the worst six months of my life. By the end of December I found myself evicted from my apartment, my relationship in shambles, drinking daily and a cocaine habit totally out of control. This wasn’t a TV-commercial-life-makeover moment. This was rock bottom.

In 2009 I was ready to finally stop drinking and start the new year off right. But on New Year’s Day I needed mimosas and a lot of vodka before I did this whole life change thing. Nevertheless, on January 2nd, I did it: called my sober family members, asked for help and stopped drinking and using drugs. This time around I went to a billion meetings, I left the job and neighborhood that facilitated my hot messiness and I worked my butt off to stay sober.

Eight years later, New Year’s Eve and Day are decidedly uneventful. I no longer drink, but I’m still the same old exhausted smart-ass who kind of can’t stand festive party people. I can still make a killer brunch, but now I do it without the hangover and cigarette. I still make resolutions, except now I try to be more humble about them.

Experts on resolutions have all kinds of ideas about why they do and don’t work, of course. But I sort of like kicking off the New Year with positive changes. For example, for two years in a row I have resolved to read one book a week. I haven’t yet succeeded, but gosh darn it, maybe 2017 will be my year—I’m going to try again despite running out of steam every year around April. After all, I’ve seen first-hand that resolutions don’t always stick the first time. I’m never going to magically transform or be totally different. And that’s okay. The point is to keep trying, one day at a time.

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About Author

Sean Paul Mahoney is a writer, playwright, blogger, tweeter, critic, podcaster and smartass for hire. He lives in Portland, Oregon with two ridiculous cats and one amazing husband. His book of essays Now That You’ve Stopped Dying will be published by Zephyr Bookshelf in fall 2018.