Many of the sayings used in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) have moved from nondescript meeting rooms into our mainstream consciousness. These sayings include: “What other people think of you is none of your business,” “If you want what you’ve never had you must do what you’ve never done,” and “The healthy person finds happiness in helping others; thus, for him, unselfishness is selfish.” Possibly the best-known phrase to come from AA, however, is the phrase “one day at a time.”
In terms of sobriety, “one day at a time” means that all you have to do is be sober today. That’s it. No long-range plans. In terms of changing a long-held habit, like drinking or using drugs, the thought of committing to being sober for the rest of your life can seem overwhelming. So break it down to one day, today. Just remain sober today. One day at a time.
All people look back at episodes from their past with regret from time to time. If you have had a problem with drugs or alcohol, you may have a tendency to ruminate and beat yourself up over events that happened in the past, or perhaps actions that you didn’t take in the past. Your actions may have caused pain to the people who loved you. Dwelling on the past may be one of the reasons that you became addicted to drugs or alcohol in the first place, as many people drink or use to keep painful memories at bay. Dwelling on past mistakes can also be a trigger that could cause you to relapse.
While it is impossible to forget the past, we can choose to not dwell on it. In fact, we can choose to be grateful for the past, even for the painful parts. What we have gone through has strengthened us and shaped us into who we are. When we find ourselves dwelling too much on the past, the phrase “one day at a time” can help to bring us back into the present, into today. We have no control over the past, but we can control our actions today. One day at a time.
Thinking about the future can fill us with dread. If we have struggled with addiction or mental health issues, we can become afraid of the future. We might fear that we will start drinking or using again, or that our depression might return. We might be afraid that we will cause emotional distress to someone we love. We start to think about the future in terms of worst-case scenarios. We fear the future because we don’t know what will happen and we cannot control it. Excessive worry about unknowable future events can be a trigger that causes us to drink or use again. Although planning for the future is healthy and can be motivating, we never really know what will happen. As the saying goes, “life is what happens to us while we are making other plans,” so bring your attention back to today. You cannot control everything that happens today, but you can control the actions you take and your reactions to situations. Focus on today. One day at a time.
Making the decision to focus on today instead of the past or the future can be very good for us beyond coping with an addiction to drugs or alcohol. As we learn to take one day at a time, we can also learn to cope with one challenge or problem at a time. At any given moment, most of us have a number of problems staring us in the face. It can seem overwhelming if we try to solve them all at once. Taking on one problem at a time is much easier, and much more effective.
In addition, when we focus on the present, we may find that we enjoy life more. We may notice the sights and sounds that we wouldn’t notice if we were obsessively focused on the past and the future. When we pay attention to the present, we can find more enjoyment in everyday activities, like eating a bowl of strawberries, taking your dog for a walk, or reading a book with a child.
So how do we learn to live life one day at a time? Part of how we do that is by making a conscious decision to focus on the present. When you notice that you are dwelling on the past or becoming anxious about the future, stop, take a breath, and bring your mind back to the present. You can use the phrase “one day at a time” as a reminder to bring your focus back to the here and now. Bring your attention back to what you are doing and what is happening right now.
Another way you can focus on the present is to shift your attention from your thoughts to your senses. Focus on something that you can see, something that you can hear, something you can touch, something you can taste, and something you can smell. Focusing on your senses will bring you into the present. It is a cliche to say that you need to stop and smell the roses, but sometimes you literally have to stop and smell the roses!
Learning to live in the present is a life skill that will help you in your recovery from drug or alcohol addiction and it is one of the skills that we will teach you at Enlightened Solutions. We are located on New Jersey’s southern shore and we are licensed to treat co-occurring disorders, which means that we can treat mental health issues, like depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), that often accompany addiction. We individualize a treatment plan for each client that comes through our doors and we focus on meeting the needs of the whole person. In addition to traditional psychotherapy and support groups, we offer a range of holistic treatment modalities including art and music therapy, yoga and meditation, acupuncture and chiropractic care, and equine therapy. If you are struggling with addiction to drugs or alcohol, call us at Enlightened Solutions at (833) 801-5483 today.
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