Why New Year’s Resolutions Are Complete Bullshit


“Turn the page of the calendar, watch the ball drop, pop the cork of the champagne, and everything changes.”

It took me less than twelve hours to hate-fuck myself into oblivion this year. It took only twelve hours to break my first resolution this time around—twelve short, insignificant hours to mortar and pestle a year’s worth of expectation into a line of disenchantment so thick and potent that Keith Richards would shake his head dismissively  before declining. “No thanks,” he’d say, walking toward the door and throwing his coat over his shoulder, “I gave China white its name at an orgy in Beijing, but I’m no fool.” And then he’d be gone. But me? I railed that shit like a bullet train late for its stop. Another year, another effort at reinvention gone up in flames.

“A purgative baptism in a single tick of the clock.”

There was really something to this iteration too. It was no small product of vanity (go to the gym!). It was no simple try at moral improvement (call your mother!). No fair and reasonable working of the rough edges of an overly acerbic personality (don’t be such a dick!). Instead of making a specious attempt at self-improvement that could unravel predictably without cost or condition, I decided to mark the New Year by setting off on a substantial and meaningful journey: I was going to quit Oxycodone.  But I am writing this, and I am as high as an Everest summiting expedition.

“But I am writing this, and I am as high as an Everest summiting expedition.”

This isn’t the saccharine tale of rock-bottom redemption; I have neither the resolute determination required to combust so thoroughly, nor the fortitude and strength of spirit to haul myself out of an existential trough and in front of a computer to write about it. As with everything I do, my habit is middling. None of my friends or family knows that I have a dependency. I actually get by quite well. I have a job, I am a successful academic, and I don’t complain. But I’m also not the person I knew six months ago.  Six months ago I was prescribed Oxycodone for a back injury received in a sporting accident. Six months ago I would have stood out among a crowd at a DEA conference for the vitriol of my anti-drug spite. Six months ago I would have scoffed if you told me that six months later I would be an addict.

The sentiment of renewal in the air around the New Year, then, found itself a welcome tenant in me because it is a pungent and potent narcotic. Perfectly synthesized and expertly focused, the clarity and promise of the narrative of the New Year attaches itself to the neurons like the reverie of the most concussive opiate. Turn the page of the calendar, watch the ball drop, pop the cork of the champagne, and everything changes. A purgative baptism in a single tick of the clock. The first of January looms—not like rent day looms, or like a memorial service looms, but like a favorite uncle looms before a child at Christmas, arms open for a hug, smelling of gingerbread, and pine, and coffee.

But I punched that uncle square in the balls, and so will you. I delivered a haymaker to his testicles for the same reason that all of your fat friends will stay fat, and for the same reason that loving mothers won’t receive enough calls from the children they raised, and for the same reason that the ubiquitous civility and generosity of the first week of January will dissipate like snow in June. It evanesces because January 1st is only date, because although the mythology of the New Year is so gigantic and unflagging, only a digit in the corner of your desktop changes. Your hours at work won’t get better, the subway will still be too crowded, and your neighbor’s dog will still bite at your ankles. The only thing more indomitable than the world’s penchant for self-deception is its dependency on redundancy.

And yet, things will change. They won’t change today, or even tomorrow, but maybe on February 20th, or in the spring, or on the third Friday in July. New Years is so bad for us because it demands revolution from an unwilling and unready vessel. It takes what are good and admirable tasks and then abnegates the very possibility of their success. It fills up the tank with salt and says, “Now race, race for daylight!” Change will come, but not with the false exigency of the New Year. When it comes, it will come with an authentic urgency, pushing a partner instead of pulling a petulant child. It will be borne of necessity and desire, instead of tradition and communal tribute to a story we all tell, but tell for the wrong reasons. Me? I’ll put these pills away for good, when I’m healed, when I can. It will happen. And it will happen for you. But in the mean time, you and your resolutions can go to hell.

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