‘One Day at a Time’: What Does That Mean, Anyway?

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Clichés are badly overused. This does not make them invalid, however; in fact it is the indisputable truth behind clichés that leads people to overuse them in the first place.

In life and in addiction, one of the most commonly expressed of all the clichés is that old saying about the importance of taking things one day at a time. After all, we are advised, Rome wasn’t built in a day (there’s another one!), so how can we expect to change our lives permanently if we are unwilling to invest the time necessary to do so?

And until time travel is invented, the only way to create a healthier, happier future is to build it brick by brick, one day at a time.

All of this is fine, but from the perspective of the recovering alcoholic or drug addict, it doesn’t answer the most vital question: what does taking it one day at a time actually mean, when that advice is being given to someone attempting to subdue the rampaging bull of chemical dependency?

Today Is the First Day of the Rest of Your Life

Conquering addiction demands an approach that doesn’t look too far ahead or too far behind. Addiction is a disease, a disorder of the brain, and once a person has it she will own it for the rest of her life. Even the world’s most skilled addiction counselor will not be able to rescue her from her fate, which will forever be inextricably intertwined with her chemical dependency. So because addiction is there every single day, 24-7, the only possible way to confront it, manage it, control it, reason with it or negotiate with it is to accept it as a daily companion.

Moving back to the land of clichés, it has often been said that old habits die hard, and this is truer with addiction than just about any other category of human misadventure. Alcoholics and drug addicts learned to deal with their stresses, insecurities and need for pleasure in the worst manner possible, and retraining their minds and bodies to accept healthy behavior as normal takes a lifetime of dedicated effort. So again, the only way to pile up enough hours of intelligent, conscious living to negate entrenched compulsive habits is to take it one day at a time, letting the good work accumulate until it begins to make an impact.

While it must be a daily consideration, recovering addicts shouldn’t obsess over their addictions morning, noon and night. Whatever we obsess over will become our destiny, regardless of whether we want it to be, and a substance abuser who thinks of nothing but substance abuse will be marooned in orbit around a horrible gravitational attractor that remains too strong to resist. Every day there will be temptations – this is the nature of the disease – but the addict or alcoholic who refuses to listen and stays resolute in her determination to make productive, healthy choices that transcend the pull of her addiction will be able to ride the wave and stay in control of her life.

Bouncing Back: The Cultivation of the Resilient Spirit

When addicts and alcoholics manage to stay clean and sober after their first try at rehab it is a happy occasion. But this is not the normal experience for substance abusers, whose recoveries are usually dotted with a series of relapses. This reality is undoubtedly depressing and discouraging; if the whole fragile edifice of recovery from substance abuse can come crashing down every time an addict has a bad day, how can any addict ever truly hope to escape the clutches of chemical dependency?

But it is not the bad days that bring recovering addicts down; rather, it is the way they react to those bad days that makes the decisive difference, and that is why the “one day at a time” approach is so important and productive. Simply put, the more good days a recovering substance abuser has, the more good examples she will have available to help her understand how to get her recovery back on track.

Through careful introspection, consultation with her therapist and honest participation in her self-help peer groups, the addict who has fallen off the wagon can explore the reasons for her failure in depth. She can compare the mistakes she made on her bad days with the more successful choices she made on her good days, allowing her to make critical adjustments in the future when the threat of relapse is once again imminent. Days of sobriety are a valuable resource for recovering addicts, who must learn to rely on their own good examples to help them permanently alter their patterns of behavior.

Following the Circular Path to Redemption

Here’s yet another cliché that applies to addiction and the recovery process: the journey is the destination. For chemical dependency, this one is literally true: addiction is a lifelong condition that will never be cured and will never take a holiday, and to stay clean and sane a recovering addict must walk the walk and talk the talk on a daily basis.

When recovering addicts fully embrace the “one day at a time” method of healing and personal restoration, they can foster exactly the type of mindset they need to rise from the ashes of substance abuse and soar into the stratosphere toward a brighter future. There is no other way to do it, and as long as addicts understand this, only the sky will be their limit.

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