Sid Vicious, Sex Pistols
I am never one for New Year’s Resolutions because I find that I tend to be, by nature or Bipolarity, irresolute. In past years, I neatly and with serious intent, wrote out my list in my specially set-aside “Spiritual Growth” journals, and within days (if not hours) acted contrary to the lists’ aims. I chewed my nails and cuticles, dumped my clothes in piles on the floor, engaged in mean-spirited gossip, yelled at my kids and husband when cranky and tired, said “no” when I meant “yes” and vice versa, forgot to practice yoga at dawn (refused to wake at dawn), forgot to floss with any regularity, forgot to brush the dogs’ teeth, meant to be kinder and gentler with myself and instead criticized and harangued myself more, and before sobriety and relative sanity, wound up with more hangovers and blackouts and scars on my arms and closer-to-death pounds lost and weeks spent in the psych ward. This is where lists of Resolute Should’s and Should Not’s, Do’s and Do Not’s leave me.
Really, though, I should be celebrating my biggest accomplishment of the past year and one half-- keeping my ass (which now has hard won pounds of womanly flesh on it, thank you very much) out of the psychiatric hospital and at the round table of AA. My main Resolution every New Day? Please God/Spirit/Higher Power/Whoever is Listening/Kerry at Your Best Self: Please stay here and sane and stable and home because you are doing just fine and doing just what is necessary and look at how far you have come. Your husband is away again at a conference because he believes and trusts in you. And your children are sitting at your feet, by the fire (a real one, not a fire of your making requiring an emergency room, but one you made in the fireplace), and you made dinner and the kids are drawing and chattering—silly stuff, take-for-granted things that not long ago you couldn’t take for granted.
Sometimes, though, I get overwhelmed by New Year regrets—i.e., All of the things I did not do in the previous twelve months that I should have done and hence whip myself over now in guilt and shame. Such as? Finish my novel, (after all, I’m on Disability so I should have all the time in the world.) Such as? Work on Self-compassion. I’m on Disability for Bipolar Disorder yet I still believe I’m Wonder Woman and should be able to cure this with mere mind-over-matter reasoning—and finish the novel and climb out of the hole most of my thirties had left me in and expect that I should write with the warp speed of mind on mania that I had been doing throughout most of my unmedicated twenties (my slower pace is acceptable—I just published a new story this last month). Such as? Become the perfect wife/mother/daughter/daughter-in-law/sister/sister-in-law/friend to make up for all those years of being the hideous nightmare. Of course, perfection is impossible and carries its own brittle, frenzied hideousness. But every now and then my gut twists with a longing to redo what I screwed up. Such as? When Sophia mentions her 5th birthday party she had at her grandmother’s one summer, and asks if I remember then says, “Oh yeah, you weren’t there. You were in the hospital.” Such as? All of the drunks, all of the furious manic tirades, all of the frenzied scenes of self-harm, all of the suicide attempts that I don’t remember because I was too far gone or because ECT has wiped out those memories.
And it’s the regrets I feel when I’m reminded every now and then by people who lived through those years with me, exactly what they lived through. Recovery requires allowing others to be honest about what it felt like for them to live through those crazy years. Recovery programs call it “making amends.” You offer an honest apology for specific ways in which your specific craziness hurt other people—and other people have a chance to let you know how your craziness hurt them. Of course, in some ways, with drinking, and now “not drinking,” it’s a bit easier because at least, in the moment, there’s a temporary reliability that my drinking will hopefully not hurt anyone again. But with my Bipolar Disorder? I can’t stop the mood swings. I can do my best to minimize impact and to plan for emergency de-escalation. But this doesn’t go away. And this is where some of the greatest year-end regrets come in: how much time I’ve wasted in depression or mania; how much time I’ve spent as guinea pig to one drug or another; how much time I’ve spent allowing myself to be beaten down by this fight.
Because here’s the secret resolution: I want to be the woman who wears the pretty white pajamas and wakes up in bed in the morning with a smile on her face, stretching her arms overhead, her brain bathed in its own glorious, internal sunshine. I want to be the woman who is confident that joy is mine for the day, that nothing, absolutely nothing that comes from internal black, chaotic brainwaves will destabilize this. Confident. Reliable. Lasting more than an hour.
But as I’ve been writing this, I’ve been listing to the background noise of “My Way.” I wish I could say it was Frank Sinatra’s classier voice. Alas, it’s the much crasser Sid Vicious of the “Sex Pistols.” Clearly, his example is not the one I want to follow—dead in a New York City hotel of a heroin overdose. But his (albeit) pretty wretched singing does seem to speak to why I shouldn’t be wallowing in my regrets at this point: “Regrets, I’ve had a few/ But then again, too few to mention/ I did what I had to do/ I saw it through without exemption/ I planned each chartered course/ Each careful step along the highway/ And more, much more than this/ I did it my way.” Not that I’m saying I had to travel to the bottom of the well and put my family through hell, or that I should just say, “Screw regrets!” But I’ve made formal amends and continue to make living amends, and am doing my best (most days) to live a gathered, thoughtful, sane life, one that requires foresight—vision with wisdom. No need for irresolute wish lists!