When a New Year’s Resolution Unexpectedly Transforms Your Life
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Published on December 15, 2020

sonja hegman selfie sticking out tongue

When a New Year’s Resolution Unexpectedly Transforms Your Life

If you had told me at this time four years ago that I’d be living in South Dakota, divorced, safe and happy, I would’ve stared at you blankly and flatly said, “Sure.”

In 2017, I participated in Dry January for the first time and have every year since. If you’re unfamiliar, Dry January is when you abstain from alcohol for the month. It helps me start the year with a clear head. It’s not something I’ve ever broadcast before because of the preemptive eye rolls or the sarcastic comments of, “Wow, a whole month sober! You’re so brave!” The person eye rolling the most about such things is always me. People live in recovery 365 days a year, so 30 days alcohol-free seems a bit trite, but something had to give, even if it was eye-roll worthy.

When I set out to participate in my alcohol abstention, I thought perhaps being alcohol-free, even for a short time, would cleanse my life somehow. Maybe it would boot out some of the not-so-great things I’d allowed to creep in. Mostly, I needed a reset on my mental and physical health, truly believing that my issues were all internal.

At the time, I was on the other side of 200 pounds. Since my hysterectomy in 2014, I had struggled to lose weight. I was depressed, in-part because of my cancer survivor’s guilt. Instead of being grateful for the fact that I would seemingly have a long life ahead of me, I was sad that mothers were being taken away from their children by the same cancer that had spared me. Heavy, I know, hence the need for a reset.

However, one bright spot at this time was that, after looking for a year and half, I found a job. A job that was perfect! And in all places: Delaware.

Since beggars can’t be choosers, I thankfully accepted the job and would begin promptly on Feb. 1, a fitting reward once I completed my Dry January journey. Little did I know how drastically this small choice would change my life.

How Dry January Impacted Me

Now, I don’t know if my results are typical, but this is how alcohol abstention impacted me over the month during that initial year:

  • After my first week, the fog over my brain began to lift. The synapses in my brain had been unclogged, as if there had been a major traffic jam throughout my gray matter’s superhighway and all the cars were busting free.
  • By the end of the second week, I was drawing and painting again. I hadn’t picked up a paint brush in years.
  • By the end of week 3, my writer’s block was completely gone.
  • By the end of the month, exercising was one of my favorite parts of the day, and I wondered why I hadn’t been consistent over the years.

I lost 75 pounds that year and drank only on special occasions. Still, something was off. I would soon realize it had something to do with the person I loved. A person who constantly reminded me of my failures as a woman. The thing that Dry January gave me the most of was clarity.

When the Abuse is Subtle

I was in an abusive marriage.

Mental and emotional abuse is subtle. A name call, here. A snide comment, there. This is extremely difficult to admit and the absolute reason why my mental health had gone downhill, and why my alcohol consumption had increased. I was unhappy and the person I chose to spend my life with was part of the reason why.

The clarity I garnered from making better choices began to untie a blindfold I never wanted to admit was over my eyes. I realized that over the years with my ex-husband, I drank to suppress the things I couldn’t control with him. Drinking for me was always about forgetting. The name calling. The dirty looks. The way he alienated everyone I cared about so I was completely alone.

I never even told him about my Dry January participation that fateful year. He would have ostracized me, saying things like, “So what? Now you think you’re better than everyone? You’ll never make it a month without booze.” His ridicule would have driven me to fail, like it had so many times before.

Throughout 2017, I became more and more aware of his genuine nature as the blindfold lifted from my eyes. By the end of the year, I was done.

Breaking Free from Abuse

In November 2017 — on our 10th anniversary — his abuse escalated from mental and emotional to physical. By the end of my second alcohol-free January in 2018, he was out of my life, but it wasn’t easy.

Police were called. A protection order was filed. When I met with a victim’s advocate after the second incident, they called me “brave.” My reaction was to promptly roll my eyes. Then they said, “You know at the rate it was going, you would have been dead in a year.”

I burst into tears because I knew they were right.

It’s sincerely mind-blowing to me how embarking on a journey that seemed inconsequential at the time, completely transformed my trajectory in the world.

I’ve since found the true love of my life. I live and work in places I enjoy, and I’m closer to the family who were once alienated from me. I’m still healing, but those moments without hope feel more like distant memories now.

sonja hegman and fiance


If you’re in a setting that is unsafe, never feel like you’re alone. More people than you know have been in similar situations and professionals are also available to help.

Nothing is ever hopeless. Remember, you’re always one decision away from changing your life.

Sonja Hegman is a Digital Content Developer with Avera.

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