For those who are new to 12-step program lingo, this is a strange-sounding phrase. Its meaning will become clearer over time, but is confusing at first. Just what do they mean by “one day at a time”? Most newly recovering addicts will argue that they are here for long time recovery or to quit forever. As usual, this is a great idea, but a tough one to live out.
For most who have developed a lifestyle that is centered on their addiction, the specter of remaining abstinent looms dark and forbidding into a future that seems bleak without the companions of substances and behaviors that have been the only friends an addict sometimes has left. Take these away, and just what, pray tell, are they supposed to do? A savvy friend or sponsor will laugh then and tell them that they only need to remain abstinent for this one day. “Oh…so that is it,” thinks the newcomer…”but I still don’t understand.” And of course, they do not understand. Other than the loss of the horrendous consequences they have been paying for their addiction and its accompanying behaviors, there is little to recommend a life without the practice of active addiction. And, if there is a life without it, what kind of life could it possibly be?
Certain that there is no more fun to be had in their lives, that they will never laugh or enjoy themselves again, because they are so uncomfortable without the security blanket of their drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, or whatever their addiction was, even one day seems to stretch out in front of them, dreary and bleak. They have become so used to the feelings of being in an altered state of mind that it is impossible to see how it could ever be any better without the only friend(s) they had left.
So, one day at a time can mean that they only have to figure out how to go through this 24-hour period of time without substances. To even contemplate staying abstinent for any longer is an overwhelming idea. So, it can be broken down into segments that are comfortable for the newly recovering addict…one day, which can be further broken down into hours, or even minutes if their anxiety about not using or drinking or participating in an addictive behavior is at stake. With the help of their newly-formed support group and a strong relationship with a sponsor, it can go that slowly…one minute, one hour, one day at a time. Somehow, they will wake up in the morning after a strenuous day and feel amazed that they remained abstinent for that day!
The true miracles of recovery are those first days. They are absolutely impossible to achieve, and yet, it does happen! With or without a treatment or recovery setting, there is hope! With the hope that they can do it for just one more minute, one more hour, or one more day coupled with the experience of actually having done it for a few minutes, hours and days, there is hope and a sense of certainty. A support group will provide this certainty as well. As the newcomer hears the stories of the recovery of those in the meetings, they become more assured that, “If they can do it, so can I!”
Kelly McClanahan has an MSW in clinical social work, with a specialization in substance abuse treatment. Having worked in this field for over 20 years, she is currently working on her certification as an addictions’ counselor.