We’re a couple of days into 2016, and it’s hopefully been going well for you so far. It can be difficult adjusting a new year with new challenges, but the good news is that you get to start with a clean slate. Everything that went wrong last year should provide you with some ideas regarding how to best focus your efforts this year and make sure that things go as smoothly as possible. And if you read our guide to making your New Year’s resolution, then you’re already starting the year with some ideas in mind.
Of course, finding the proper path for yourself goes far beyond simply making a few resolutions and doing your best to carry them out. This is a big part of it, but the fact that you have a chance to start over with a clean slate this year may seem quite overwhelming to those who have more than one or two changes they’d like to make in their lives. This is why we’d like to focus a bit on just what it means to start with a clean slate, and how you can focus your efforts toward making the coming year the best one yet.
The Tabula Rasa Philosophy
To some philosophers, the mind has always been a clean slate. Or, in Latin terms, a tabula rasa. This idea has been around for quite some time, but one of the first men in existence to utilize the idea in a philosophical context was none other than Aristotle. In his treatise On the Soul, Aristotle posed the following question:
“Have not we already disposed of the difficulty about interaction involving a common element, when we said that mind is in a sense potentially whatever is thinkable, though actually it is nothing until it has thought? What it thinks must be in it just as characters may be said to be on a writing-tablet on which as yet nothing stands written: this is exactly what happens with mind.”
In other words, people are impressionable. Human beings are remarkable creatures in that we have the ability to think up whatever we wish, and these thoughts can take our minds just about anywhere. Those who have struggled with addiction and alcoholism know that this can be a bad thing, as our negative thoughts will often lead us to dark places that produce the worst of actions. We will find new reasons to hate ourselves, which will lead us to drink and abuse drugs, and possibly even get ourselves into legal trouble that may change the course of our lives for the worse. Of course, these negative thoughts are not always based in truth. So says Diogenes Laërtius:
“Perception, again, is an impression produced on the mind, its name being appropriately borrowed from impressions on wax made by a seal; and perception they divide into, comprehensible and incomprehensible. Comprehensible, which they call the criterion of facts, and which is produced by a real object, and is, therefore, at the same time conformable to that object; Incomprehensible, which has no relation to any real object, or else, if it has any such relation, does not correspond to it, being but a vague and indistinct representation.”
These “incomprehensible” thoughts are the ones which often trouble us the most. John Locke believed that the tabula rasa theory meant that men and women were the authors of their own souls, that we could use this clean slate to bring out either the best or the worst within ourselves as we chose. To the addict or alcoholic, this is a most difficult struggle. Everyone who has struggled with alcoholism and drug addiction knows what it is like to be pulled in one direction when they feel like they are destined for something greater. To feel as if we our holding ourselves back, wasting away despite a firm internal conviction that we truly are good people. Our clean slate has been filled with writing which we abhor, and we know not how to erase it and start over.
The answer is actually quite simple. We do not need to erase the slate at all. In fact, all of our prior actions should almost certainly factor into our future ones. All that is required of us in order to do the most with our clean slate is to read the writing that has come before and do our best to learn from it. If we can do this, then we will almost certainly unlock the key to a better way of life. But looking at our pasts in an honest manner may be difficult, and it may take some a little bit of instruction regarding how to do it without further losing their way.
Reading Your Previous Slate
When looking at our previous actions in preparation for writing our clean slate, it is easy to become discouraged. We may see things that we don’t like, and lose hope for the idea that we may ever be able to change them. But if we are truly committed to removing our character defects and realizing our true potential, then it should be easy to make a fresh start. In order to do this, there are four aspects of our character upon which we must focus. These are the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual sides of our being.
The physical side of ourselves is arguably the least important, yet it must still receive some focus. After all, we are rooted to this planet by way of the physical realm. If we do not appreciate who we are, then we will often let this go by the wayside. This is why the major signs of addiction often include changes to our weight or hygiene. Our physical bodies are not necessarily the cause of our addictions, but our addictions will often cause them some damage. When looking back on the sides of ourselves that we would like to change, it is important to pay attention to this fact and decide which harm (be it hygienic, or even something more extreme such as liver damage) we would most like to undo.
Our mental sides are a little bit harder to focus on, but they still deserve some tender love and care. After years of heavy use, our brains may not be running on the same horsepower they were running on before our addiction started. If you feel as if you have become a bit slower, a bit less respondent to mental stimuli, then this is something upon which you must focus when writing your clean slate.
Emotionally, the addict is often quite handicapped. We can be quick to anger, fear, depression, and a slew of other negative emotions with which we would prefer to struggle no longer. We may find that we have developed numerous resentments over the course of our addictions. If we wish to begin a clean slate, it is time to start taking an inventory of these resentments so that we may begin to let them go. Otherwise, we may risk becoming mired in these resentments forever. This is no way for the recovering addict or alcoholic to live.
The spiritual side of our being is a little harder to define. But as we discussed when talking about the disease model of addiction, spirituality is quite important to the recovering addict or alcoholic. Note that spirituality in this context does not necessarily mean religion. This is the side of ourselves which is able to connect with the people around us and enjoy life without resorting to alcohol or drug abuse. This is the side of us which is at peace. Needless to say, those who struggle with addiction have often found this side of themselves compromised long before they began using.
As we look back at each of the above four aspects of ourselves, we will often find that we are unhappy with most (if not all) of them. This means that we will have to undergo great change in order to be at peace with ourselves. And while the true trick is to learn how to accept ourselves as we our, the notion of starting off with a clean slate also grants us the opportunity to begin changing into the person we would most like to be. To do this, we must simply concentrate our efforts on the discoveries we have made above.
Rewriting Ourselves on a Clean Slate
We’ll begin with the physical aspect of ourselves, since this is technically the easiest to fix. That is not to say that it will not take time, patience, and effort. Rather, there are simply not too many things that we must do in order to begin rewriting ourselves to become healthier and more physically fit. If we stay sober while putting some focus on exercise and good nutrition, then we will eventually make the physical changes we seek. Be sure, however, not to get too carried away. If we find ourselves seeking cosmetic surgery or developing eating disorders, then we may suffer from body dysmorphic disorder or some other ailment that has warped our view and may cause us to fall further into addiction.
Fixing ourselves mentally will take time more than anything. We have often done great mental harm to ourselves over the course of our addictions, and this will not sort itself out immediately. If trying to increase your mental prowess is truly important to you, then you may wish to try spending a bit of time each day on mental activities such as trivia games, crossword puzzles, or even jigsaws. This may sound like child’s play, but it will energize your mind and get you to start using your mental faculties on a daily basis. Also try reading every day, whether it be a novel or simply the daily news.
Your emotions will need a great deal of adjustment if you are still in early recovery, but this is a major component of sobriety itself. If you often find yourself held back by negative emotions, focus your efforts on developing some gratitude. Learn to let go of resentments, seeing your part in the harm that has been done to you. There may be instances in which you played no direct part, but you likely fed into the grief that others caused you and allowed it to define you rather than rising above it. There is no shame in this, but you may need counseling or other outside help in order to rise above these things. If you have a strong and sober support network, then it may be time to start leaning on these people.
Spirituality can be hard to improve, but a big part of recovery is developing the willingness to field suggestions from our aforementioned support network. If we do so, we will often find that our spirituality sorts itself out over time. You may want to practice walking meditation or Zen sitting meditation if you have trouble opening yourself up spiritually. In any case, your main focus should be to fill your clean slate with positivity, but also a heavy dose of realism. Don’t get too far ahead of yourself, expecting more of yourself than any one person could deliver. If you really want to start the year on a clean slate, then you need to know how to achieve a sense of balance. Never let the pendulum swing too far in any one direction.
It may seem as if this is all a lot to balance, but the key to writing your clean slate is to take one thing at a time. Whichever of the above four aspects of yourself requires the most work should be your main focus. Start peppering in the others as you go along, ensuring you do so at a pace that does not leave you overwhelmed. If you can do this, then you will find yourself fulfilled in a way like never before. It will take time and effort, but you can do it. All you have to do is trust in your instincts, have a little faith, and follow your heart until it is truly content.
A new year just began. Let’s make it a good one.