When I say to you that I couldn’t tell you how many Day 1s I have had, I mean it. Some of those Day 1s have been one in a string of 40 Day 1s. Some have been the first Day 1 after 700+ days of sobriety. Whether you are trying to achieve sobriety for life, or simply testing the water to see whether you can go a week, a month or whatever timeframe without booze, Day 1s have meaning, and mostly not in a good way.
Many years ago I joined a group called Hello Sunday Morning (HSM). Created by a fellow Australian. HSM was my first approach into an online community of people who were either questioning their relationship with alcohol or very painfully aware that it was a problem. In fact it was being part of the HSM community that brought me here to the BOOM Community because while a member of HSM, I met the beautiful spirit of Winged Victory... and the rest, as they say, is history. But I digress.
While part of HSM, and other groups I joined later, I saw a lot of posts about Day 1s. Hell… I made a lot of posts about Day 1s. Let’s face it. It’s something we talk about a lot. We talk about it being our first Day 1, our feelings of shame and guilt about another Day 1, and how we are convinced this will be our last Day 1. We debate whether a Day 1 after a stint of sobriety means we should restart the clock, and whether to call that Day 1 a slip, a blip, a f*ck up, a “-1”, or some other creative term.
For my part I do not count days anymore. In the beginning I found it helpful. If I was tempted to drink I would use my days of sobriety as a bribe – “You’ve made it to Day 4. Cummon. You really want to throw that away?” But as time went on I got sick and tired of the feeling of utter failure I felt if I drank and had yet another Day 1. Counting days began to work against me – “Hey. Day 4 is nothing. You know you will drink eventually. Why punish yourself?”
While part of those many online communities, I have heard every angle of the Day 1 debate. Some of us believe that repeated Day 1s are proof positive that someone is not “truly committed” to sobriety. Others state firmly that Day 1s don’t matter, it is intent that counts – being willing to keep trying. Some us believe that no matter how many days of sobriety have passed, drinking means starting back at Day 1. Others consider the journey more important than any individual day within it.
If nothing else is true, this is: We all hold our own beliefs about what a Day 1 is, and those beliefs may be set in stone as far as we are concerned or still something we are trying to figure out. They may be helpful to our thinking, or harmful. Since I have obviously walked myself into the bear trap anyway, I may as well voice what Day 1s mean to me… so here goes.
I do believe that there is some substance to saying that if life is an endless string of Day 1s, then something needs to give, if you want to achieve sobriety. Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. If we don’t create change, we can’t achieve change. However we do need to keep in mind that attempting to define a general theory of relativity is quite different from attempting to achieve sobriety.
Einstein had a point, but the biochemistry of alcohol addiction (or any other drug for that matter) is complex, and we cannot in any way underestimate what it takes to push back against what our biochemistry is relentlessly compelling us to do. Perhaps endless Day 1s mean we need a new approach, but that new approach can be hard in itself to achieve.
As for whether a Day 1 means restarting the clock, this is the one I see no logic in. When you are teaching a child to ride a bike do you stop them every time they fall over and say “Okay, back to the end of the street you go and start again” or do you say “Up you get. Jump back on. Let’s try again. You can do it!” If you are trying to find a restaurant and you get lost on the way, do you drive all the way back home and start over, or do you ask for directions and keep looking until you find it? Why should one night of drinking be considered more important than all the proceeding days of sobriety stacked together?
Instead of counting days I simply focus on today. My goal is not to drink today. That’s it. I don’t try to bribe myself with the idea that if I just “tough it out” I will have another day under my belt, or try to guilt myself with the notion that “I’ll regret it tomorrow.” All of these lines lead back to the same place – willpower. And willpower doesn’t work.
Willpower requires energy and conscious effort. What that adds up to is an exhausting battle which feels like pushing poop uphill with a fork. It’s not effective or sustainable and ultimately willpower runs out. When this happens, the failure of our willpower leads inevitably to shame and guilt – emotions which can do a mighty fine job of demolishing any belief we had that we can actually succeed at sobriety. None of that is helpful.
Rather than white-knuckling our way to bedtime, what we need is to change, just as Einstein was trying to tell us. Do nothing and we arrive inevitably in the same place, but change our environment, the places we go, the things we do, how we do them and who we do them with, and suddenly we open up the possibilities for different outcomes.
By changing aspects of our life we slowly but surely create lasting change in our thinking which is effective and sustainable. Quite literally change begets change. But no one said change was easy. It isn’t. It doesn’t matter what habit you are trying to change, whether it’s drinking too much or a worrying habit of hiding the ironing… change is hard. It is not instantaneous and it is only rarely instinctive.
Rather change is a process. It is trying different things. It is feeling our way. It is making mistakes. It is learning from them. It is getting back up from our knees when we land there. It is acknowledging success. It is accepting setbacks as an integral part of being human. Viewed through this lens, day counting in any form becomes questionable.
However, the most important thing is that we each engage with change on our own terms. Count the days, or don’t. Consider each Day 1 as a clock reset, or see every day as a new day. View every Day 1 as a failure or view each Day 1 as an opportunity to try a new tactic. The only person’s opinion that truly matters when it comes to Day 1s is yours. You are the master of your journey. You are the Captain of your ship. Sail it your way, through your day to the destiny you choose.
Be the change you want in your life.
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