Idolizing Sobriety Dates in Addiction Recovery
As someone who has not only personally experienced addiction recovery but has also worked as an addiction professional, I know all about the idolization of the sacred sobriety date. However, if you’ve followed this blog for long you will probably notice that I’ve never given the my exact sobriety date or the precise weeks, months, or days I’ve been free from my addiction. This is because I really don’t honor the sacred sobriety date like so many others do in addiction recovery. I have no ill will towards those who do participate in this ritual, but I’ve learned over time that it just isn’t my thing.
What is a Sobriety Date?
For many recovering addicts their sobriety date represents a day or moment of freedom; the week, day, month, or exact minute that they chose a different life for themselves free from whatever addictive habit or substance was causing them harm. In theory, it’s a great practice to memorialize that moment in time forever, but it’s not that way for everyone.
For some it serves as a reminder of accountability and it can help determine where you are in your recovery, what specific struggles might be plaguing you, and what to expect at each phase of sobriety. However, for other people it’s not quite as simple or celebratory.
One of the biggest challenges with idolizing recovery or sobriety dates is the self-inflicted (or community inflicted) shame that arises with the pain of relapse. In many recovery communities there is this belief that your life doesn’t really begin or even matter prior to your sobriety. This is both problematic and incredibly painful for recovering addicts like myself.
Speaking from experience, as a recovering addict who has relapsed more times than I could count (yes, sometimes even after a full year in recovery) there is an incredibly toxic tone that accompanies this huge fixation with the sacred sobriety date.
Every Single Day Counts in Addiction Recovery
Call me crazy, but I don’t think 12 years, 12 months, or even 12 days of sobriety should just get thrown out the window if you have one brief lapse in judgement. I believe every single day you spend in addiction recovery should be powerful, prioritized, and completely celebrated. Even one measly day you choose to abstain from your addiction represents 24 painstaking hours that you chose recovery over addiction and that is a big freaking deal if you ask me.
You shouldn’t somehow lose the days, minutes, and hours that you worked so hard to obtain. One relapse or two or three should not bar you from celebrating all of the other months or years that you abstained from your drug-of-choice.
I know this idea is counter-culture (at least it is in many of the recovery communities I’ve experienced) but I really don’t understand why we feel the need to discredit years of hard work just because someone made a mistake. You will never lose that « sober time » in my opinion, but instead you just gain more as you go.
I also think it’s important to remember what counts as a « brief lapse » as opposed to an extensive relapse or full-on binge. A brief lapse, in my experience, is a quick fall back into your old life or habits, but an equally fast recovery and mental realization that this isn’t who you are anymore. This is completely different from someone who relapses and ends up back in their full-blown addiction for three months or more.
While I do still believe that every day counts in recovery and that a relapse (no matter how long) should not determine your worth or the work you’ve previously put in, I can also understand that if a relapse is extensive and ongoing then it should be highly prioritized and you should ultimately seek the medial and psychological help that’s needed.
Idolizing Sobriety Dates Can Harm Recovering Addicts
Ultimately, only you and the trusted mental health professionals in your life can decipher what qualifies as a brief lapse and what might be a full-blown relapse. I believe everyone is different, so I’m not here to make that decision for you.
However, at the end of the day, whether you’ve just lapsed, relapsed, or are celebrating your fifth incredible year in recovery, I want to encourage you to step away from the belief that sobriety dates somehow determine your worth. The moment we begin to feel superior to others in our recovery is something we should all fear and be wary of. Pride will get you nowhere in addiction recovery. Trust me, I’ve learned this from experience.
Just remember to have some grace for the person sitting beside you at your next group or community event. We are all struggling with the same things and we all have moments of pain and moments to be proud of.
Addiction recovery should not be a competition. There are no winners here, just a group of people trying their hardest to live their best lives possible.
How do you handle sobriety dates? Share your thoughts in the comments.