We’ve seen the phrase on the walls of treatment centers, or twelve-step meetings and even on bumper stickers. It even pops up in movies, TV shows and songs about substance abuse. Indeed, the phrase “one day at a time” is now used so often that, for many of us, it runs the risk of becoming a sort of cliché. It can be easy to just dismiss this mantra as lip service; as a trite and empty phrase designed to make our loved ones and ourselves feel better about the fact that we’re in recovery. Once we start unpacking this phrase’s true meaning, however, we may start to feel different about what it actually means to live one day at a time.
Let us consider what it means and what it looks like to live beyond one day at a time. The reality is that, whether we mean to or not, many of us eventually wind up over extending ourselves as we move further along in our recovery. Whether it’s trying to spread ourselves too thin among our family and loved ones, thinking we can skip a meeting or two because we have our substance use under control or putting any other part of our recovery on the back-burner, the allure of biting off more than we can chew is all too real.
We may not feel as though we have to live one day at a time until we find out what happens when we don’t. When we feel the pressure of mounting obligations, the disappointment of our loved ones for our failure to follow through on promises that were lofty and unrealistic to begin with and the weight of expectations that we simply can’t meet, things can go south in a hurry. And it’s not a stretch to want to alleviate our stress with the familiar embrace of drugs and alcohol. Stress is one of the leading causes of relapse, and if we’re not careful and realistic about our limitations, we can end up causing ourselves a whole lot of undue emotional strain.
When we live one day at a time, we can set attainable yet meaningful goals while being realistic about our ability to move too fast and too far. Life, particularly life in recovery, is a series of small decisions, moments and circumstances that are often within our control; however, when we start trying to control the world, the world ends up controlling us. Living one day at a time simply means taking a reasoned and measured approach to life. We don’t have to squander our ambition or resign ourselves to a second-rate life; we simply have to be careful and remember to put ourselves first.
The next time we think about or hear the phase “one day at a time”, it may help to think about what it truly means and why it’s so widely used, rather than just dismissing it outright as a simple tagline on a poster. We may learn a little more about ourselves in the process.