A New Year’s Resolution or A New Year’s Inventory

[fa icon="calendar"] Dec 31, 2015 10:30:00 AM / by John MacDougall

photo-1422207134147-65fb81f59e38.jpegWe alcoholics tend to look down on New Year's Eve as “amateur night.” We often stay off the highways, believing them to be filled with dangerous, untrained, drinkers who have no tolerance for alcohol. We like to believe that when we drank and drove, we did it well. There is a little bit of truth in this, because we did develop a tolerance for alcohol, but mostly it is what the Big Book calls “gutter bravado.” Our tolerance just allowed us to drink more, and we were just as foolish as anyone else.

Because we looked down on New Year's eve, we usually didn’t make New Year's resolutions, either. That didn’t matter, because most New Year's resolutions are quickly forgotten, or quickly broken. They don’t amount to anything, because they aren’t backed up by anything. I suggest that, now we are sober, we make a New Year’s Inventory rather than New Year's Resolutions.

The Big Book uses the image of a commercial inventory. It says “One object is to disclose damaged or unsalable goods, to get rid of them promptly and without regret.” In steps four, five, and ten, we do just that. Any day is a good day to look at our lives and see what needs to be disposed of, promptly and without regret.

When I was sixteen years old, I worked in a supermarket. I remember, during inventory, standing on a ladder and counting cans of Campbell’s soup. I dropped most of them in a shopping basket as I counted. A few cans were old and dented, or old and leaking. I dropped them into a cardboard box,
because they were unsalable. After being counted, they would be disposed of promptly, and without regret.

“Right now” is always a good time to take an inventory, to see what in our lives is of great value, to be enhanced in the days to come, and what can cheerfully be left behind. New Year’s is just a convenient reminder. The Big Book language, “to get rid of them promptly and without regret,” spares us from excessive guilt. Some things just wear out or are no longer useful.

Before Christmas, my wife Priscilla who is 77 years old, noticed that she was getting light headed a couple of times a day. She checked in with her doctor who asked her to wear a 24/7 heart monitor for a month to detect suspicious patterns. Within a half a day, it detected that her heart was stopping and it struggled to restart. The next morning, she was called into Regions Hospital in Saint Paul for an exam and told she needed a heart pacemaker. It was put in at 8 a.m. the next morning, and she was home again by 3 in the afternoon. Neither of us were upset. I just thought, “The natural pacemaker is worn out. It has to be replaced promptly and without regret.” 

The Twelve Step program's tools of taking inventory and taking action worked well for us. (She is in Al-Anon). Within one more day, Christmas Day, she was feeling fine, just sore from the incision spot. Whether it is physical health, mental health, emotional health, or spiritual health, it is useful for us to take our own inventory as we go along, with help from sponsors, doctors, counselors, and God. When I find something wrong with me, I think of those leaky soup cans, and do everything I can to get rid of it promptly and without regret. Happy New Year to everyone!

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Topics: Alcoholics Anonymous, alcoholism, 12 steps of aa, AA Big Book, Chemical Dependency

John MacDougall

Written by John MacDougall

John MacDougall is the Spiritual Care Coordinator at The Retreat.
His book, “Being Sober and Becoming Happy” is available from

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