Weddings, birthdays, anniversaries and graduations are widely celebrated, sometimes in grand fashion. We make a big fuss over getting a driver’s license at 16 and aging in to the right to drink alcohol at 21. But these aren’t the only, or necessarily the most important, occasions worthy of observance. After all, when the work is as hard as recovering from addiction, every milestone merits recognition.
Addicts are sometimes reluctant to self-congratulate, partly out of concern that they won’t be able to continue living up to their own expectations. But celebrating your recovery serves a number of valuable functions. Even years into recovery, celebrating reminds you where you were, how far you’ve come and how easy it is to fall back. When life gets stressful, or you’ve disappointed yourself or someone else, circling back to your recovery can be a reminder that you’ve faced bigger hurdles in the past and prevailed.
Tracking your recovery milestones is also an act of hope. Positive reinforcement works to cement what you’ve learned and give you faith in your ability to reach the next milestone. When you focus on one day at a time, it’s remarkable how quickly days of sobriety turn into years. If you’re in recovery from addiction, whether a day, a year or a decade, consider these five sober ways to raise a (non-alcoholic) toast to your extraordinary efforts to change your life:
#1 Celebrate Anniversaries and Milestones.
Just as addiction comes with its own set of rituals, so does recovery. In AA/NA, for example, different colored chips are used to commemorate important milestones such as one day, one month and one year of sobriety. Tracking your sobriety can help keep you honest in the event of relapse and may discourage you from going back “just this once” because you’ll start the clock over again or feel like a hypocrite for pretending the slip didn’t happen.
Celebrating anniversaries is also an important exercise in self-recognition. People win awards for their smarts and medals for their athletic prowess. It’s only right that recovering from a chronic, relapsing illness should be honored. Especially in early recovery, every moment of sobriety requires herculean effort and every day represents a series of hurdles being overcome. On days when you question whether you’re truly getting anywhere, the numbers are a concrete reminder that every day sober is a step in the right direction.
Not only is it good for you to take pride in your accomplishments, but it’s also beneficial for others to share in your joy and to find hope in your story. At a time when many feel that their attempts at sobriety are hopeless, they may hear of your success and find the motivation to say, “If you can do it, so can I.”
#2 Participate in Recovery Events.
While some people prefer a quiet celebration alone or with a close group of family and friends, others find solace in larger, public gatherings of fellow people in recovery. Universities, self-help support groups and other organizations sometimes schedule sobriety celebrations, some of which include picnics, concerts, games, barbeques, dances, educational workshops, guest speakers and other sober entertainment.
There are also national recovery events, especially during National Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery Month, where treatment providers, recovering addicts and loved ones come together from all around the country to celebrate recovery. If you can’t find a local event, recruit others in recovery or a local recovery-focused organization and lead the efforts to plan one.
#3 Treat Yourself.
Dieters who reach their weight-loss goals often treat themselves to a new outfit. The same strategy may also assist people in recovery. The reward for reaching a certain milestone may be a party with friends and family, or something more personal like a special outing you’ve been putting off or a vacation or gourmet meal. Perhaps it’s as simple as a new gadget or piece of clothing, or time set aside for quiet meditation or a cooking class. It doesn’t matter what it is, so long as it motivates you toward ongoing recovery.
#4 Start a Tradition.
By celebrating certain holidays each year, we create traditions. And traditions create memories and a sense of predictability that add meaning to our lives. On your sobriety anniversary, a great way to celebrate is starting a tradition of your own. Organize an annual run/walk/ride for your friends, family or support group, write a new entry in your journal or jot down a list of things you’re grateful for.
#5 Give Back.
Each sobriety milestone is an opportunity to acknowledge your own efforts as well as the people who helped you along the way. You can give back by volunteering at your child’s school or in the community, becoming a sponsor or sharing your story with people who are just starting out in recovery, whether at a self-help support group meeting, drug rehab center or elsewhere. Your efforts don’t have to be recovery-related, though many recovering addicts find this type of service particularly therapeutic and deeply rewarding.
Life throws plenty of curve balls. No one knows this better than an addict. That makes it that much more important to fully immerse yourself in the positive moments, none of which could happen without your recovery.