I’m sure you have all heard the phrase “one day at a time.” It’s a common expression but one that particularly illustrates the importance of healing from substance use disorder (SUD). Members of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) use this phrase as a reminder that the healing process isn’t a cure; it’s a practice that must be undertaken daily. The idea isn’t to cure someone from substance use disorder but rather to practice good habits.
I’ve worked with many clients who are currently on the path toward recovery, and I am also walking the same path. I was dependent on alcohol, and while it was daunting to take the first step and seek help, I’m enormously happy I made that decision. I’m also fortunate to have met so many wonderful people at AA. While taking part in AA, we shared our stories and worked together towards a common goal.
The most beneficial practice for me was integrating daily reflections into my routine. I’d like to focus on the idea of “one day at a time” and how I use this phrase in my daily reflections.
What Does “One Day at a Time Mean” in AA?
You don’t have to worry about what the future holds for you or whether something horrible might happen. You simply focus on what’s in front of you today.
While it’s a common phrase, “one day at a time” is heavily referenced within AA’s 12-step program, as well as other 12-step recovery groups.
AA emphasizes remaining sober for the next 24 hours instead of worrying about the rest of your life. That’s because AA’s tenets state that alcohol misuse isn’t something that’s curable but rather something to manage, one day at a time. The rationale is that if you can focus on staying sober for one day, it becomes easier to continue that routine for the next day, and then the next. Rather than searching for a cure and worrying about future sobriety, AA members support and motivate each other to continue taking things one day at a time.
How to Take It “One Day at a Time”
I know how difficult it can be to focus on now, not on what happened before or what might happen later. I’ve worried about my past behaviors coming back, and I’ve worried about whether I will succeed and stay healthy in relation to preventing a relapse. However, focusing on this moment right now and working towards your current goals truly allows you to move forward in a healthy manner.
Sometimes, of course, that’s not easy to do.
Here are some tools that have helped individuals, me included, remain in the present.
Embody “Just for Today”
At most AA meetings, a “just for today” card is read to members.
On the card, there are multiple commitments you can stick to, including:
- Live through 24 hours, not your entire life
- Be happy for 24 hours
- Learn new things
- Perform a random act of kindness
- Be agreeable
- Follow the recovery program as best as possible
- Relax and reflect for 20 minutes
- Enjoy life
Use AA Daily Reflections
It can be challenging to remind ourselves why we need to live one day at a time. We may have plans coming up that we’re worried about, we may see or do something that triggers negative memories from the past, or something else. Fortunately, AA has supplied a wonderful resource known as “Daily Reflections.”
Daily reflections are something you can do on your own. You can keep a journal and reflect on your day, writing thoughts that come up, what you learned that day, or what you’re going to do to improve the next day. However, AA Daily Reflections provides a more specific, focused topic each day. If you aren’t already journaling, AA Daily Reflections is a great resource that reflects on a different idea every day and keeps you focused on now.
These reflections can be viewed online, and each reflection includes an overall message and quote from a book aptly titled Daily Reflections. It’s a great resource to have to help you remember to live in the now and focus on the next 24 hours, not the rest of your life. Even better, the book always keeps you learning new things. These reflections also come with one of many AA quotes, which are testimonials from AA members designed to help others connect with each other and reflect.
It’s Hard to Take It “One Day at a Time”
We’re all human. We aren’t perfect creatures. Sometimes we struggle to remain in the now, and sometimes we slip. To help, I always try to remind myself and my clients that now is what matters, not who you were and what you did, and not what could happen later.
This isn’t an easy task, and there are times when it might be hard to remind yourself of this. I’d like to talk about a couple of those briefly.
Opposition to “One Day at a Time” Phrasing
AA believes that SUD isn’t a curable condition but rather one to manage. That said, some people believe that reminding yourself daily of certain commitments reinforces negative thoughts. This isn’t a philosophy I agree with, but I think it’s important to note that the goal with “one day at a time” is the same no matter what: to focus on now and how we can live a healthy life. There are many testimonies from AA members who have had their lives changed through the program and who have found peace and fulfillment in life by employing daily reflections.
The Initial Step
As I’ve mentioned before, it was very difficult for me to take that first step toward getting help. It can seem very overwhelming dealing with various emotions, especially when it comes to seeking treatment for SUD. Anxiety plays a significant role as well, as no one knows what’s going to happen in the future. You might worry that treatment won’t work, that you’ll be shamed for slipping up, or that something bad will happen to prevent you from making progress. However, there’s one crucial point to consider if you’re worried about this first step.
It’s always easier to manage today’s problems than problems that don’t exist and problems that happened in the past. We don’t know what tomorrow holds, and we can’t go back and fix our mistakes from the past. However, any issues that exist right now are issues we can work to address. As a result, it’s much more likely that you will succeed in solving an issue that’s happening today than an issue that’s happening any other time. You can solve today’s problems so that a brighter, happier future can exist.
Should I Ignore the Future?
I’ll keep it simple: no. While you should always strive to live life to the fullest every day, that doesn’t mean you should totally ignore planning for the future. For example, you should plan for retirement and save money in case of emergencies. However, focusing your attention mostly or only on the future is unhealthy, and it prevents you from experiencing right now.
Sometimes, if you say or hear “one day at a time,” it isn’t always a suitable method of staying in the present. Sometimes it requires something more substantial to remain in the now. If this sounds familiar to you, one great tool to consider is AA meditations. AA members use mindfulness meditation to help remain in the present. This meditation focuses on inner emotions, goals, and issues concerning right now. That fits well with the general philosophy behind mindfulness meditation, which aims to keep people aware of the present and connected to the self.
Meditation isn’t time-consuming or difficult to perform—you just need to be able to sit comfortably and focus on your breathing. While you’re focusing on your breathing, should a thought cross your mind, rather than trying to stop it or change it, you simply let it pass and gently return to breathing. This helps keep you focused on what you must do now—which, in this case, is only to breathe.
Mindfulness can also be practiced without meditation. For example, you can take time to feel your feet on the floor, count how many dishes you’ve cleaned while you’re doing dishes, or smell your laundry as soon as it exits the dryer. Whatever you must do to focus on the sights, smells, sounds, and other sensations around you right now can be part of mindfulness practice.
Successfully Living “One Day at a Time”
The road to recovery is never an easy road to walk. Every day presents a new challenge. However, the beautiful thing about life is that there’s always hope when you focus on the day in front of you.
You’ve likely heard the phrase “one day at a time” many times throughout your life without even truly noticing it. I encourage you to really consider that phrase, especially how you say it and hear it moving forward. If you have a loved one struggling with SUD, use this phrase to remind them that their life doesn’t have to be figured out today. Today, they just need to commit to doing the best they can to stay sober for the next 24 hours. By doing this, they can live every day with hope for a brighter future.
Starting over is hard but I am living proof that there is hope. It was challenging to begin the journey, but I’m so grateful I did it. You, too, have the power to take that step, take things one day at a time, and live a life of happiness, hope, and health. Use mental health and SUD resources at hand to arm yourself with information and contacts. The journey may seem daunting now – just remember: one day at time will get us through anything.” I have faith in you.
We all need a little inspiration from time-to-time and one day at a time.
You’ve got this,