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When to Take Sobriety One Day at a Time
Does this popular strategy eventually become exhausting?
Can you ever stop taking sobriety one day at a time?
I recently heard this question, and initially, it struck me as a little funny—simply by asking the question, aren’t we going against the advice?
However, I’ll be honest and admit that I often used to wonder the same thing. When I first quit drinking, I tried hard to focus on getting through the current moments, but despite my best efforts, my thoughts often drifted to the future.
Trying so hard to stay in the moment—to get through the current day—can become surprisingly exhausting. I would wonder how long I’d have to keep it going. A year? A decade? The rest of my life?
Now I’m six years sober, and those exhausting days are a distant memory. As for the question—do I still take sobriety one day at a time? I think I’m probably going to ruffle a few feathers with this answer, but the short answer is: not really.
One Day at a Time
To expand on my answer, I want to take a step back and ask what it even means to take sobriety “one day at a time.” I think that it’s one of those phrases that we all use, but to which we might assign slightly varying meanings.
For some people, “one day at a time” is an entire lifestyle. I’m not knocking that, but to me, it’s just a strategy, albeit a vitally important one. It’s a way to get through intensely negative feelings that would otherwise lead to a relapse.
For example, when I used to get strong cravings to drink, I would tell myself that all I needed to do was get through the day sober. I gave myself permission not to worry about tomorrow and to just focus on the present.
Sometimes, even a day felt like too long. When that happened, I’d just try to get through the next hour or even the next minute.
This strategy is incredibly powerful. I truly believe that it’s one of the best sobriety tools in existence and that everyone who is working to overcome an addiction should remind themselves that they just need to get through the day.
What used to happen when I didn’t take it one day at a time? When I used to get cravings, my natural response was to let my thoughts spiral out of control. I’d tell myself that it didn’t matter whether I resisted the cravings or not this time around because eventually, I’d give in.
Even if I made it through the day, wouldn’t sobriety just feel worse tomorrow? I never lasted more than a few weeks, why would this time be any different? Why keep torturing myself when I could just have a beer and feel better? Isn’t that where this would all inevitably end up?
You can see just how self-destructive these thoughts become. It’s far too easy to let a stray thought about long-term sobriety turn into a full-blown panic about your future.
That’s exactly why “taking it one day at a time” was so important to me. It reeled me back in. It kept me focused on short-term goals that I could visualize achieving.
Whenever I started to panic about whether I could stay sober forever, I told myself that I could wait until tomorrow to worry about that. For the time being, all that mattered was getting through one more day.
So, when I say that I “take sobriety one day at a time,” what I mean is that I don’t let myself spiral out of control worrying about the future. When I face challenges, like cravings or personal crises, I remind myself that I just need to focus on staying sober through the day.
What’s nice about this is that as I’ve stayed sober, I’ve had to use the strategy less and less. This is not because it’s become any less powerful, but rather because sobriety has simply become far easier. I can’t remember the last time I had a craving, and while I still have plenty of things go wrong in my life, they never make me want to drink.
It’s not as if I can give an exact cutoff, but generally speaking, my first year sober was insanely difficult, the second year started to get better, and the next four years have been fairly smooth sailing.
I’ll still say that I reached six years sober “one day at a time,” but that means that the small steps added up, not that I was fighting to get through every single day. I truly can’t remember the last time that I had to actively employ the strategy of focusing on the current day.
Will I ever have another craving? Will I ever struggle with sobriety again? It’s certainly possible, perhaps even probable. If or when that happens, I may have to return to actively working to stay sober through each day. But, in the meantime, I’m happy to report that sobriety is not the constant struggle it once was.
My first year sober was rough. I had to remind myself, again and again, to just keep putting one foot in front of the other.
After six years without alcohol, sobriety no longer feels like a constant daily struggle. Life becomes not only bearable but downright enjoyable. Alcohol no longer feels like something that’s missing. Instead, it’s something that I mostly just forget about.
When to Take Sobriety One Day at a Time
I will forever continue to recommend to anyone newly sober to try taking it one day at a time. It’s a powerful tool that was instrumental to my success. (It even helped me to quit smoking a few years later!) However, I hope that my advice will never be misinterpreted to imply that every single day for the rest of your sober life will be a struggle.
I found success by reminding myself to take sobriety one day at a time when I faced challenges that might have otherwise derailed me. However, as I stayed sober, I had fewer and fewer of these challenges.
It’s comforting to know that “taking it one day at a time” is there for me if I need it. But it doesn’t feel like an exhausting tool that I have to use every moment.
I hope that if you’re still early in sobriety, this can provide a little bit of relief. Can’t promise your timeline will match mine, but I can at least tell you that sobriety does tend to get far easier.
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