If you’re a child of the 70’s or 80’s you probably remember the sitcom “One Day at a Time,” a quirky little comedy about a single mom struggling to raise her two teenaged daughters and the building Superintendent who provides a daily dose of comic relief. Millennials now have the pleasure of watching a remake of the popular sitcom on Netflix, replete with contemporary parenting conflicts like bullying, gender issues, online porn, and finding a budget quinceañera dress.
Both versions have addiction as a story line. In the original, one of the main actresses fought a for reals battle with drugs and alcohol and was eventually fired after a pocketful of drug paraphernalia dropped to the floor on set. The 2.0 version weaves addiction into the plot through the Super who has a history of drug and alcohol abuse and the kids’ estranged father who we understand never came into the light.
Well, say you, thanks for today’s pop culture lesson, but what’s this got to do with recovery? “One Day at a Time” is a popular catchphrase in the 12-step vernacular, and every time I hear it, I catch myself humming the show’s theme song in my head. I have issues, alright? But it’s an excellent reminder of how the program of recovery works. It’s exciting and validating to celebrate milestones and collect coins like sea glass, but in reality, all any of us has is this 24.
There’s a lot of controversy surrounding this topic. I just read one online article in which the author, a well-respected addictions expert, claims that the last thing that people with addictions should do is think about their sobriety one day at a time. His contention is that we need to anticipate and plan for our triggers well in advance of their occurrence. I understand this perspective. For instance, if I’ve been invited to visit my family for Thanksgiving, knowing that I have that one relative who thinks it’s hysterical to spike everyone’s drink and insists on rehashing old feuds, I may choose to make alternate holiday plans. I might also show up but feign a sudden auditory disorder and speak in sign language until my relative loses interest in communicating with me. At the very least, I would arrive with a clearly defined exit plan and my own screw top beverages.
Planning ahead to avoid or prepare for triggery conditions is a fantastic strategy for dealing with situations for which we have an awareness of possible harm. You can name a good handful of things that spell relapse for you. It could be in visiting obvious places like bars, clubs, liquor stores, or your dealer’s living room. Life’s milestones are also a breeding ground for ill-conceived notions of self-care– weddings, funerals, the loss of a job or pet, illness, vacations, celebrations, concerts, and sporting events can churn up feelings of primal lust for your substance of choice. Some associations are more imprecise, though no less dangerous – sitting in an airport waiting for a flight, thunderstorms, gorgeous sunny summer days when it seems like the entire world is on a front porch swing enjoying a cold one, preparing dinner, smoking, seeing a liquor advertisement, or finding yourself with time to kill between activities.
It is in the situations for which we may not have a premeditated escape hatch that we have an opportunity to practice living our program one day at a time. Focusing on the 24 hours ahead, one hour (or minute) at a time if you need to, relieves you of the anxiety and worry that is the side dish of contemplating an entire future without mind altering substances. When I first got sober, I couldn’t wrap my mind around experiencing every little thing life might throw at me, every damned day for the rest of eternity. No way I could think about doing this furEVerrr. But I told myself that I could do dang near anything just until I went to sleep at night where I would lay my head down and thank the universe for keeping me sober and somewhat sane for one more day. Every night I ask that same universe if it could find it in its heart to maybe do that again the next day, pretty please with sugar on top.
Living one day at a time allows you the grace to fully experience the beauty of a life lived without all the nasty side effects of an addiction – the guilt, shame, remorse, lying, cheating, hiding, planning, and paranoia—while finding gratitude in manageable chunks of time. It’s about living in the present moment when regrets about the past or worrying about the future might trigger a relapse.
Aside from all the cool things that shining a spotlight on the present 24 hours allows us to do, like focus on a task, really listen to someone else, and get down to the business of healing old wounds, eventually you also discover that when processed daily, feelings are manageable. Besides, I’ve never met a non-fictional character who’s been successful at doing it any other way! If I ever do bump into someone who can show me the recipe for skipping through life 2 or 3 days at a time, I’ll be sure to friend him on Facebook, because I’d like to give that a whirl the month before a big vacation!