One of the most difficult mental hurdles to jump when entering into a newfound life of recovery is coming to terms with the notion of “never again.” Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and other 12 Step programs are based on total abstinence. This means no mood or mind-altering substances whatsoever; not even psychedelics, not even once a year on camping trips. For someone who is a daily drinker/recreational drug user, being told, “You will never be intoxicated again for as long as you live,” feels nothing short of intimidating. Panic-inducing, even. The good news is, AA is a “one day at a time” program, meaning that you only really need to stay sober one day at a time. Wake up in the morning and think to yourself, “Today, I am going to stay sober. Just for today.” Do the same thing every day, and soon you will have strung together years of solid sobriety. Of course, it isn’t always that easy. Sometimes even making it through a full 24 hours seems like an insurmountable challenge.
On some days you will be required to take things minute-by-minute. Maybe you are experiencing an intense craving, or you are in the midst of a high-stress situation that has you feeling particularly close to a drink. It is important to remember that like everything else in life, sobriety is in constant flux. Some days you wake up feeling grateful for your sobriety and ready to tackle anything life throws your way. Other days you feel full of self-pity and remorse; you are mad at the world and at everyone in it. Human emotions ebb and flow, and one of the gifts of recovery is getting to experience emotions on a full spectrum. This might seem like a punishment at first, but over time you will realize that pain truly is the catalyst for spiritual development, and that even uncomfortable emotions are beautiful in their own right.
The Origin of “One Day at a Time”
Where did the slogan “one day at a time” come from? While it is difficult to say for certain, the slogan was popularized upon the development of AA in the mid-1930s. AA, a mutual aid fellowship designed to help people of all ages overcome alcohol use disorders, was founded by two men — Bill W. and Dr. Bob. The two men suffered from severe cases of alcoholism themselves, and found that when they followed 12 Steps and subsequently helped other men through these Steps, they were able to maintain sobriety for an extended period of time. “One day at a time” has likely been around since the inception of the 12 Step model, used as a form of encouragement for those having a difficult day.
One piece of AA-associated literature, Living Sober, reads, “Although we realize that alcoholism is a permanent, irreversible condition, our experience has taught us to make no long-term promises about staying sober. We have found it more realistic—and more successful—to say, ‘I am not taking a drink just for today.’ Even if we drank yesterday, we could plan not to drink today. We may drink tomorrow—who knows whether we’ll even be alive then?—But for these 24 hours, we decide not to drink. No matter what the temptation or provocation, we determine to go to any extremes necessary to avoid a drink today.”
Other Tips for Staying Sober
There are many other useful idioms and adages that have made their start in AA. While they may seem excessive and over-used at times, they are often really beneficial, especially if you find yourself in a precarious situation and need a little extra motivation. Some of these AA slogans include:
- Easy Does It — This slogan encourages us to be gentle with ourselves as we navigate sobriety, remembering that staying sober is a monumental feat in and of itself.
- Let Go and Let God — This slogan suggests that when we find ourselves in a situation we don’t know how to tackle, we simply sit back and allow things to unfold the way they are meant to.
- Progress, Not Perfection — Despite the fact that many alcoholics have perfectionistic tendencies, any kind of forward progress is reason for celebration. Perfection is an unattainable ideal, and it is important to remember that progress is more than enough.
- Keep it Simple — As alcoholics we have a tendency to over complicate things. This slogan reminds us to slow down, take it easy, and assess things at face value.
- First Things First — What exactly is the first thing? For us, the first step we have to take on any given day is to prioritize our sobriety. Without our recovery intact, everything else will fall by the wayside.
- Take the Cotton Out of Your Ears and Put it in Your Mouth — This slogan simply reminds us to be quiet and listen.
- Nothing Changes if Nothing Changes — This slogan might seem extremely redundant (because it is), but it is also very true. If you don’t make any changes yourself, you can’t expect the world around you to change. This slogan is along the same lines as, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
What to Do If One Day is Too Much
What if no matter how many times you tell yourself to get a grip and make it through the next 24 hours without a drink, you simply can’t manage to stop for longer than several hours at a time? One of the symptoms of a diagnosable alcohol use disorder is being unable to cut back on the amount you drink despite repeated attempts to do so. If you cannot successfully quit drinking on your own, professional help might be necessary. This might look like entering into a medical detox program where you safely undergo alcohol withdrawal, and then transitioning into a higher level of care like inpatient rehab, partial hospitalization, or intensive outpatient treatment. For more information on finding a treatment center in your area, contact us today.
If you or someone close to you has been struggling with a substance use issue of any type or severity, engaging in a 12 Step program might be a beneficial solution. 12 Step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous can serve as a standalone treatment option in some instances, though we recommend a step-down treatment program for those who have been using chemical substances continuously for an extended period of time. A higher level of care might also be beneficial to those who have underlying, co-occurring issues, like unresolved trauma, anxiety, or depression. If you would like to learn more about the treatment options available to you, or if you would like help determining which course of action makes the most sense for your unique case, contact us today. At 12 Step New York we are dedicated to helping people of all ages and walks of life move in the direction of recovery. We understand how difficult it can be to take the initial step and reach out for help. However, once you take this step, you are well on your way to living a beautiful and fulfilling life free from the devastation of addiction. We look forward to speaking with you soon and answering any additional questions you might have.