One Important Recovery Milestone to Celebrate: Sober Anniversaries
In the spirit of this month’s theme of celebrating recovery, I’ll be featuring four key milestones in recovery that are worth striving for and commemorating in fun, special ways. Broadly speaking, these recovery milestones break down into two categories: time and space, in terms of birthdays, holidays and other sober anniversaries; and, the attainment of critical skills that support your recovery.
Sober anniversaries (this week’s focus) fall within the first of these two categories: they are critical points in time and space that deserve to be cherished and set apart from your ordinary routine. And there is a strong evidence-based rationale for honoring sober anniversaries, be they that first birthday or Christmas sober, or the first year since you last picked up a drink, among other occasions. A study in the Journal of Traumatic Stress compared memories of a trauma with memories of a positive event, and found that memories of the negative experience exerted more of an impact than memories of the positive event. Other related research only confirms such findings. That makes positive memory building of crucial healing importance to anyone in recovery, for whom memories of traumatic events and negative consequences associated with drug abuse are common.
Sober Anniversaries to Celebrate
The beautiful thing about recovery is that you can come up with all sorts of valid excuses to celebrate (and, in turn, make positive memories). The more festive, pleasure-packed moments associated with recovery that you have on your calendar, the more you’ll be forming positive new memories with which to anchor a commitment to long-term freedom from drugs and alcohol.
You can start by marking your calendar and planning for the most obvious occasions when hoopla is a must:
- Your first birthday sober is a no brainer, and there are plenty of ways to pump sober fun into your special day. If you’re looking for some creative ideas for wholesome, drug and alcohol-free entertainment, this article in The Huffington Post can help.
- Your first Christmas or holiday season sober can trigger anticipatory stress, by reminding you of the many substance abuse triggers that so often accompany these events. The holidays can also stir up emotion-laden memories of past holidays spent drinking or doing drugs and dealing with the family fall-out. That said, a little advance planning, positive reframing and intentional celebration have been known to make this sober anniversary a happy time that is chock-full of rich, good memories. Here is one example of how to do that.Another way is to start your own recovery-related tradition at this time of year. It could be as simple as lighting a candle each day in December to say “thank you” for one thing you love about being sober. Or, if you live with family, a new recovery-related tradition might be choosing a service opportunity with which to give back what you have received, thanks to your recovery. The options are endless.
- Other anniversaries marking how long you’ve been sober are a big one. That first-year anniversary since you quit drinking or doing drugs is a great opportunity to be extravagant in rewarding yourself with a memory that you’ll want to recall for years to come. That may mean saving up for a really fun vacation or traveling to a new place you’ve always wanted to visit. One study showed that just planning a trip makes people happier.These bigger celebrations marking your sobriety are important, but they also need not eclipse the smaller, meaningful moments that deserve positive time and space in which to reflect on your achievement and reward yourself:
- Completion of a first week of detox
- Finishing one month of residential treatment
- Staying sober during the first week of a new job fresh out of rehab
- Showing up sober on your child’s first day of school
- Becoming a first-time sponsor in a 12-Step group
These are just some of the smaller, meaningful sober anniversaries you might add to your recovery calendar, with the goal of populating it as much as you can. And, chances are that just one hour devoted to brainstorming all of the sober anniversaries you have to strive for, celebrate, and mark on the calendar, will be its own reward.
The icing on the top will be visualizing how you’ll celebrate each achievement, the only requirement being a fun and sober form of patting yourself on the back. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Sharing that achievement and how it made you feel in a 12-Step meeting or with a close friend
- Or, if you’re embarrassed to toot your own horn, “paying it forward,” by applauding someone else for the same achievement and internalizing those same words of affirmation for your self
- Presenting yourself with a handmade certificate of achievement
- Rewarding yourself with a latte or sweet treat at your local coffee shop
- Taking the day off from work
Here again the sky is the limit.