One Day At a Time: Practicing Mindful Sobriety

Man doing meditation on rock on mountain

One Day at a Time? What a crock of BS. That was my response early on in my recovery. How are we supposed to live in the day when we live in a world built around scheduling, making sure we have enough money for bills and are constantly asked by recruiters and dating prospects about our 5-Year Plan? I thought it was completely unrealistic.

But that was the old me. The old me was full of his own ideas of how the world worked, was guided by his ego, and had answers coming from outdated thinking. I was like the student sitting in front of a Zen Master, watching the Master pour me tea until it overflowed onto the floor. And when I told the Master to stop pouring, that the cup was already full, the Zen Master told me, “This teacup is you. How can I teach you anything unless you first empty your cup?”

Opening Up in Rehab

For the first ten days of rehab, I remember sitting in meetings full of my ideas on how to get sober. My intelligence and willpower, two of my greatest resources that had bailed me out of so many difficulties, were going to get me sober, too. Regretfully, my cup was too full to make room for any new information from anyone. As I sat through meeting after meeting, day after day, something started to shift for me. I started hearing things I could relate to. Men, whom I didn’t even know, were giving me a vocabulary for things that I had experienced as well. I just thought I was unique because I never talked about these things to anyone.

About ten days into my stay in treatment, I decided to give recovery a chance, but a new problem arose. How was I going to stay sober for the REST OF MY LIFE? Alcohol and drugs were my best friends. I used them as a means to an end. Alcohol helped me to become social and deal with fear and anxiety. Crystal meth helped me to conquer my horrible procrastination and gave me the motivation to succeed in life. How was I going to live without them?

24 Hours at a Time

Clients and staff talked about taking just one day at a time; that I didn’t have to stay sober for the rest of my life. I just had to stay sober for 24 hours. Just break it up into days, they told me. Stay focused on staying sober TODAY. Then when I woke up in the morning, I only needed to stay focused on staying sober that day. And before I knew it, days would turn into weeks, weeks into months, months into years. Staying sober for 24 hours IS manageable! I was told to do five things, consistently, each day to stay sober: Pray in the morning, read some AA literature, talk to another alcoholic, get to a meeting and then pray again at night. If I just did those five things, consistently each day, I could stay sober and have a life beyond my wildest dreams. Now, I can dream BIG.

How One Day at a Time Works in My Life

At the beginning of my recovery, I only applied the One Day at a Time concept to my sobriety. As my recovery and spirituality have grown, I’ve applied it to so many other areas of my life. I used to live too much in my head. When I thought too much about the future, I tended to get stressed out and worried. When I thought too much about the past, I felt guilty and regretful; but when I’m able to ground myself in the moment, I have no problems.

What is happening right now? I’m writing a blog about using the One Day at a Time concept. You are reading this blog. In this moment, you and I have no problems. But if we go inside our heads, there are plenty we can find, and we can make up some if we want. If I’m not careful, my body will respond to these thoughts AS IF THEY ARE HAPPENING RIGHT NOW. My thoughts are causing my suffering even though nothing has happened. My higher power, on the other hand, constantly asks me to let things unfold and then respond to them accordingly. That’s where faith steps in.

Faith in Recovery

I’ve heard faith described as headlights on a car; it’s nighttime and there’s no way you can drive from NYC to Los Angeles in the dark without them. The moment you turn on your headlights, and trust that all you really need to see is 200 feet in front of you, is the moment you can begin your journey and make the 3,000 mile trip. The problem is that my mind wants to see the entire terrain. It wants to know the location of all the road hazards, animal crossings, and speed traps, which is impossible. And if I were given all this information, I might be too afraid to make the trip. Faith is knowing that all you need to see is 200 feet in front of you. That’s how my higher power works. It only gives me the information that I need to know in the moment.

So, how do I live in the day? What about regrets of the past? Stresses of the future? At some point, I had to come to a place of peace about my past. For me, self-forgiveness and forgiveness of others was crucial to this. As I worked Steps 4 and 5 with my sponsor, I came to realize that a lot of my guilt and regrets of the past was a result of my addiction. I was a sick person and could not choose my behavior. Today, I am clean and sober, I’m trying to be the best person I can be. I am no longer the sick person of my past. If I can stay clean and sober today, that person who I was so guilty and ashamed of, doesn’t come back into my life. That person only exists in my mind.

I read somewhere that we can’t suffer from the past; because the past doesn’t exist. We can’t suffer from the future, because the future doesn’t exist. What we’re suffering from is our memories of the past, and our imaginations of what the future might hold. In other words, our thoughts are, again, creating our suffering. If I were to erase all of the mistakes of my past, I would also erase all of the experiences and wisdom gained from those mistakes. When I think about the future, I still make plans, but I try not to LIVE in those plans.

Finding Connections Daily

Today, I’m a list maker. I make lists of things that I need to accomplish to make sure I can reach my goals and responsibilities in the future. And I’m realistic about what I can do today. I do my best to practice “Good enough.” One of the things that crystal meth did for me was that it made me feel like Superman. It allowed me to work around the clock and feed my ego. Today, I realize that all I have to be is human. And if I can say that I did my best today, I have nobody else to answer to.

The biggest tool that has helped me stay in the present is my meditation practice. When I start to get anxious or stressed out, I can feel it in my body first. I then ask myself if there is a thought connected to that feeling. If there is, I’ll ask myself a series of questions: 1) Is the thought I’m having true? 2) Am I absolutely positively that this thought is true? 3) How is this thought making me feel? And 4) How would I feel if I didn’t have this thought? And the answer to #4? I would feel free.

Whenever I am connected to my higher power, I feel grounded, balanced, and that everything is going to be okay. I know that I am always connected to my higher power. The problem is that my awareness of that connection isn’t always there. I have a great app on my cellphone called “Mindbell.” I’ve programmed my app to go off every 30 minutes and when I hear the meditation bell, I stop, check in, and remind myself that everything is going to be okay.

In Tibet, they like to say that if we take care of the minutes, the years will take care of themselves. I have also found this to be true. So today, let’s just take it one day at a time.

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