Here’s the thing about New Year’s Resolutions: they are crap.
At the end of every year, the masses make promises to themselves that they know they will not keep. They get gym memberships and vow to stop drunk-dialing their exes. They promise to be kinder, more patient, and make better choices. They vow to save money, make more time with their spouses, and to practice forgiveness. If there is, somewhere, some sort of beast that gains energy from the shame of unfulfilled New Year’s resolutions – this is it’s favorite time of year.
There may, perhaps, be such a beast in all of us. A beast that thrives on failure and self-loathing. Why else would we make such a ridiculous wager with ourselves? Why do we make these promises, knowing full-well that they won’t be kept? Maybe it’s the same reason that we all choose one day out of the year – the third Thursday in November – to feel especially grateful. Or maybe it’s the same reason that we attend church when God’s really paying attention… like Easter and Christmas Day.
This year, I found myself inexplicably drawn to the idea of making empty promises to myself. In the past I always knew it was bullshit, but I played along anyway. I have a list a mile long of broken promises and unfulfilled dreams, but I made the promises anyway. Because – why not?
I’ll tell you why not. I hate the way it feels to break a promise to myself. I hate knowing exactly why I do it. So, this year, I decided to make a list of New Year’s non-resolutions. I don’t resolve to do any of these things. They are things that I want for myself, but not things I will promise to fulfill. I have enough personal issues without adding more disappointment and self-loathing to the mix. So, instead, I started dreaming. I dreamed about who I wanted to be and what I thought I might be able to do. What I would most certainly do, if I only had the proper motivation and drive to do so. Things that I thought were completely possible but also completely unlikely.
This may sound like a cop-out. An excuse to not do any of the things on my list. A reason to blow it off and not have to feel bad about it. Well, that may be true. But, when I look in the mirror every day, I will know that at least I was smart enough to avoid making a promise I couldn’t keep. And, by telling you all of this, I know that I am being as honest as I can be. What can be more honest than admitting I make promises to myself that I know I can’t keep?
First on the list is to learn how to ski. This one makes me laugh. Dave and I did this exercise together, and his first on the list was to teach me how to ski. I do want to learn, but only if I will be good at it almost immediately and have a good time. Also, only if I can figure out a way to not be so cold that I can tell I am cold. Also, only if I don’t get frustrated with myself or angry. I know this sounds ridiculous, but I just hate being bad at something and looking silly. I can’t tell you how intimidating it is to have a boyfriend that has been skiing since I was born. Since he was four. I’m nearly 25 and I much prefer my comfort zone. However, I want to learn to ski because it’s so scary. Because it will be hard. Because I will feel proud. I want to step outside my comfort zone and just rip the band aid off. Yet, this morning, school was canceled due to a snow storm. Dave elected to go skiing and I did not accompany him. It might require him drugging me and dragging me there. Maybe once I come to, on the mountain on a pair of skis, I will be willing to try. This has to be one of the worst parts of my personality. An almost paralyzing fear of the unknown and a desire to stay in my comfort zone.
Next on the list is to smoke fewer cigarettes. Not my idea of a good time. I am a smoker. There may have been a time when I was a nonsmoker, but once I started smoking I became a smoker. I will always be a smoker, even if I stop smoking. I have an addictive personality and a relationship with nicotine. It’s the longest relationship I’ve had and it’s never let me down. No matter what fluctuations may occur, I can count on the way it feels to draw smoke in my lungs. It’s thicker, like drinking a glass of juice as opposed to water. It feels great to have a cigarette in my mouth and in my hands. It gives me a sense of control. And yet, it is a terrible habit. And, since my future involves (hopefully) having a baby, I have to stop this. So, I keep it vague. Smoke fewer cigarettes. Since I moved in with Dave, I smoke a lot less because I don’t smoke inside our apartment. It’s not worth it to go outside the building every time I crave nicotine. Yesterday I smoked only seven cigarettes. I make a tally on a piece of paper hanging on the refrigerator every time I smoke. There’s a column for “projected” cigarettes I will smoke the next day, and a column for tally’s. Today I wrote fewer than 20. 20 is a full pack. That will be my goal for a while until I get used to it. Then maybe I will write fewer than 15 or fewer than 10. But not on a timeline and not a specific number.
I also wrote: write more frequently, write better quality, and have deliberate writing. You don’t know how many times I’ve wanted to sit down and just write. For some reason, I am scared. I have been writing about a lot of negative experiences lately. I’ve written pages and pages of memories from failed relationships. It’s very painful. I have nightmares and almost every morning I wake up groggy and miserable. I feel angry half the time and confused the other half. It is sometimes an effort just to stay upright. When I talked to my friend Eden on the phone about this, she asked me when it started. It started when I wrote the narrative about my ex. About the night he abused me. After that, I started writing about other nightmarish experiences with him. It’s making me crazy and emotional. I find I appreciate the effects of tequila more now than I ever knew possible, and I am struggling to find balance. So, I don’t want to write. Sure, I have no problem thinking about the foreword to my might-happen memoir, but I don’t want to write about anything real. Sometimes, late at night, I feel this immediate compulsion to write about anything. Something. I still feel this block like I don’t want to sit down and just do it.
Learn the writing rules. This one makes me roll my eyes. Everyone I respect says that you have to understand the rules of writing before breaking them, in order to break them for specific reasons. I call this crap. I say – let the editor find the mess, whether it be me or my teacher or someone I hire. I don’t want to have to take pause to think about syntax or grammar. Let spell check catch my spelling errors. Just let me write. But, I am taking a writing class this semester, so I better get used to the idea if I want to be a better writer.
Buy a car. This one actually isn’t so bad. All I have to do is scrape enough money together to buy a passable vehicle. I have about six months. I can totally do this. It’s on the list as my fluff non-resolution.
Be a good partner. This one is ambiguous, but a serious goal that I refuse to let go. If I fail everything else on this non-list, I will be okay, as long as I don’t fail this one. Definitely possible, considering Dave is so in love with me that he can’t stand it. It’s overwhelming, actually. But in a good way. Sometimes I worry that he must love me more, because he is so intense with his affection. I am monotone compared to his level of intensity. I worry that he does not feel adequately nurtured, respected, and cared for. He assures me this is not the case, and we check in with each other obnoxiously frequently. But, still, I feel I have a lot of work to do before I can be good enough for Dave. He has a lot of work to do, too. We both do. But, we are honest. We are kind. I think that is the most important aspect of any relationship: kindness. When I think about the emotional scars I have, most of them are from a lack of kindness from someone I trusted. Everyone goes through this – with a parent, a friend, a lover. Over and over the lack of kindness can really weigh on a person. Dave and I are kind to each other. We are gentle with one another. We check in way more than most people probably do. At least every day I say to him: Are you happy? Do you feel fulfilled? Do you have everything that you need? Is there anything that you want? And, for the first time in my romantic history, I have someone who is as selfless as I am. Sure, we can be selfish, but we are each quick to call the other out on it. And, we are always kind.
Finish Super Brain. This is a deal I made with, of course, Dave. Dave doesn’t want to read the seven principles of marriage book I mentioned a few months ago. He said it freaks him out because it has the M word. So, now I call it the seven principles of the M word book. It makes him laugh. It’s not that I want to get married. Actually, the whole idea kind of freaks me out. That doesn’t stop me from mentally writing my maybe future wedding vows to Dave. I am, after all, a hopeless romantic that gets in deep with people. But, he’s freaked out a little about the M word. So he made a deal with me. He’d go chapter for chapter – if I read Super Brain, he’ll read the book about the M word. It’s actually kind of cute, and was very clever, because I am just about as uncomfortable reading Super Brain as he is reading that other book. It calls into question deeply rooted behaviors and possible personality traits that are damaging. It’s a slap in the face. It’s a brilliant book and it has helped me, but it’s hard to get through. Sometimes it makes me feel embarrassed and sometimes I feel sad. When I try a new pattern of behavior and it works, I feel happy. But I also feel weird about being wrong for so long on how my mind and body are connected. I really don’t want to finish the stupid book. But, I am halfway through and made a non-resolution to finish it in the next year. I think I can pull it off. Plus, it’ll make Dave read the book about the M word, and I can’t wait for that.
Exercise Regularly. Yes, capitalize both words, because it requires special attention for being so hilariously bullshit. Best case scenario: I go to yoga once in a while, mostly just to use that as a reason to go tanning afterward. No self-respecting person walks into a gym only to use the tanning bed. That’s why I’m pasty and gross. I am not willing to exercise in order to tan. I actually love exercise. I am still paying for a gym membership that I no longer use. I make a non-resolution (just like everyone else) to actually exercise more. At the very least, go tanning once a week or something.
Lastly: compartmentalize previous traumas. In my head and heart my emotions are all mixed up. There are no separate file cases for different feelings. It’s all jumbled and it feels quite unhealthy. Super Brain would probably help. So would more therapy. Alcohol definitely isn’t helping, but writing more might. Also, a regular sleep schedule and better eating habits. All non-resolutions that aren’t important enough to make the list, but do happen to fall into this category. I could write for days just about this. I can’t be excited about my new relationship if I am constantly dealing with the fall-out from my previous ones. I can’t put these issues in a box because I think that’s how I married the wrong guy in the first place. I always worry that I am not good enough, not deserving of love, that I can’t be woman enough for my partner. I worry that I can’t make new friends, that current friends really don’t like me, and that I’m arrogant for no good reason. I worry about the silliest things and it’s all jumbled together. Everything from every box just leaks around.
The other night, I was thinking to myself, I just need to compartmentalize. Because, the thing is, I’m never going to be better if I don’t try to separate my feelings about one thing from my feelings about another. Dave is spectacular and there is just simply no room for my ex-husband or ex-boyfriends in our relationship. There is no space in my heart for bitterness or anger, because it is so overwhelmingly full of love for Dave. Also, sometimes he makes me mad, so I need to save a little space just to be angry with him.
I’ll never be my old self. Too many things have happened and I will never un-feel what I have felt, nor un-know what I know. But, I can control how I let it make me feel. It’s been a struggle to move in with my boyfriend, because I feel like my messy leaky baggage is everywhere and it’s in his face and he will definitely figure it out one day and that’ll be it. I’ve got to do something before I screw this up. I’ve got to get it together. I hate waking up in the morning groggy and disoriented because I have nightmares. It makes me wonder how anyone ever survives writing and reflecting on the pain they have experienced. What are they doing that I am not doing? Why do I always feel on the verge of freaking out?
This is a little dark, I know. It’s a NEW YEAR. I’m supposed to be cherishing that and feeling optimistic, right? Well, that’s just a load of crap. I brought everything I had with me from 2013 (and prior) into 2014. That’s the real problem with New Year’s resolutions. It’s not more exercise that we need, or to eat less, or to be more patient. It’s not that we need to make time for our spouses or play with our kids more. What we crave – and what we wish we had – was a lifestyle change. A drastic change in our scenery. A drastic change within ourselves.
We don’t want more exercise. We want to be the kinds of people who enjoy exercise and don’t require massive amounts of motivation to do so. We don’t want to have less food, but we do want to not need food as much as we do. We don’t need to drink less, nor do we want to, but we wish we didn’t have to drink to feel numb to it all. We don’t wish we were more patient, we wish we weren’t impatient in the first place. Or selfish. Or cruel. Or mean, or confused, or any of it. We wish we were different kinds of people, the kinds of people we respect already, and every December 31st we make a vow to make ourselves more like those we idolize.
But, we don’t look at it that way. Instead, it’s maybe just have one glass of wine. Maybe a yogurt instead of a donut this morning. Maybe it’s just going to the gym. Three times a week. We know we never will, but we make this promises to ourselves anyway.
As for me? This year, I make no such promises. I see, in the future, the woman I want to be. It scares the hell out of me that I have no idea how to get there. And, the things I do know, I am sometimes too afraid to try. That’s who I was on December 31st, and that’s who I was the morning of January 1st. There’s no magical dust that floats around the word during the turn of the new year to make us different people. We have to try and we have to understand why.
So, here is my challenge for you. This may be a bad idea, because maybe it’s reinforcing negatives, but what the hell. Let’s give it a shot.
Rather than making a list of promises you know you won’t keep, make the list of things you don’t want to be. You don’t want to exercise; you just don’t want to be fat. You don’t want to have one fewer drink; you want to not feel ashamed of being such a weak addict. You don’t want to smoke fewer cigarettes; you don’t want to have to hide when you run outside the office to get your fix. It’s not that you want to try to be more patient; you just want to stop yelling at your kids already because it makes you feel like a bad parent.
Start there. At the root. As for me? I don’t want to be a coward. I don’t want to have swirling thoughts in my head about everything all the time. I don’t want to feel weak. I don’t want to feel undeserving of love, respect, and kindness. I don’t want to be insecure. I definitely don’t want to obsess over my failed marriage because it makes me feel safe. I don’t want to search for any reason to be unhappy because I am just too afraid of letting go of pain. I just want to be a more confident and balanced individual.
I don’t need the gym three times a week for that. I just need a little courage and forgiveness.