Photo by Aleks Marinkovic on Unsplash
If you’ve been in recovery from drugs or alcohol for any significant period of time, you’ve likely heard the old adage about taking things one day at a time. And if you’ve been around twelve-step programs, you probably hear it a lot.
It’s easy for simple advice like taking things one day at a time to start sounding cliché after a while, but it’s a really sound theory because it kinda just makes sense. While it’s impossible to put everyone who struggles with addiction into one little box, what the bulk of us do share in common is that we’re victims of our past experiences. And, in turn, we often let fear (of nonexistent future events) control us, which is frequently what drives us to want to escape our lives through drugs, alcohol, or other coping mechanisms.
Being a victim of past experiences and fearing what might happen in the future (aka living in the land of “what-ifs”) can quickly become a vicious cycle. It starts with “why me?” and ends with, “this never ends well.” Are you with us?
Teachers like Eckhart Tolle, Buddha, and all of the great mindfulness scholars are really big on the power of presence. Not to say that this is the right way of thinking––how we approach life and interpret the world is totally up to us. But staying present can be a serious game-changer for addicts because it helps us to stay grounded in reality. In reality, the vast majority of us are totally okay at this very moment. We’re not in danger (hopefully), we’re not dying (again, hopefully), we more than likely have food in the refrigerator, a bed to sleep in, and roofs over our heads.
Most addicts are victims of their own thinking and perception of the world around them. This is all influenced and colored by past experience, which then leads to serious future trippin’––never a good place for the head to go. And, of course, this isn’t only addicts. It’s part of the human condition and it stems from ancestral survival mechanisms––it’s that “fight or flight” thing. But in the modern world, we’re typically not “fighting” against the same types of threats as our ancestors. You know, like evil predators out in the wild, enemy tribes attacking our food supply, and woolly mammoths. For whatever reason, however, this seems to be easier for non-addicts to intellectualize, while many addicts seem to let their impulses run the show. The survival mechanism then becomes numbing out with drugs and alcohol, rather than facing our fears which are typically much bigger than what’s on the other side of those fears.
One of the coolest things about recovery is that we can begin to examine our past and where our fears stem from while remaining present. Practicing mindfulness can be really useful as well. Staying in the present moment is one of the best things that we can do to help ourselves stay clean because rarely is there anything happening right in this moment that makes us want to self-sooth. It’s those unsavory, painful past memories and uncomfortable “what-ifs” that usually drive addicts to want to drink or use.
Finally, when it comes to your actual sobriety, perhaps try celebrating the fact that you’re sober TODAY. Aside from celebrating milestones, there’s never any reason to gloat about how long you’ve been sober, nor is there any shame over being in early recovery. Every day you’re sober is a gift and there’s also no need to worry about tomorrow. Again, you’re sober today and this is all that matters. Enjoy it and keep living your life to the fullest, right here and right now, sans drugs or alcohol. Right now and for the rest of your life, all you’ll ever have is this moment. Make it count––one day at a time.