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Recovery milestones are important for staying sober.
December 23, 2016

Planning for a Sober New Year: Recovery Milestones to Put on Your Calendar

Recovery milestones are important for staying sober.Recovery is about a lot of firsts: first sober date, first sober job, first sober holiday, and on and on. Some sober milestones—for example, one month without a drink—can be major moments and undeniable times of celebration. Other days may not be officially recognized sober anniversaries, but can still be defining moments in your recovery.

In many 12-step groups, it is common practice to count days of sobriety, especially under the big 90-day mark. Those who attend 12-step meetings know that if you’ve got one to 90 days of sobriety under your belt, you get quite a bit of recognition accompanied by applause and even a hug or introduction after the meeting. The trick is to practice and celebrate recovery even on the days when nobody is looking.

Typical milestones in recovery are 30 days, 90 days and a year sober. Other milestones are things like staying sober through holiday, family and alcohol-related events such as Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. Holidays can be especially tough because they are often events when heavy drinking is permissible and even encouraged. Staying sober through these holidays can also be challenging because they frequently stir deep and conflicting feelings about identity, purpose and belonging.

Occasions to Celebrate

There are many occasions to celebrate during recovery. The more traditionally recognized ones include:

  • One day Sober
  • 30 days Sober
  • 90 days sober
  • Six months sober
  • Nine months sober
  • One year sober
  • Multiple years sober

Less traditionally recognized occasions to pat yourself on the back for progress in your recovery can include:

  • One week sober
  • One year and a day sober
  • First Christmas sober
  • First New Year’s sober
  • First Thanksgiving sober
  • First job interview sober
  • First day of work sober
  • First act of physical intimacy sober

Everyday Celebration and Sober Fun

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) emphasizes the importance of the 24-hour cycle in sobriety with slogans like “one day at a time.” AA’s focus on breaking down sobriety into one-day increments is a major component of its success with alcoholics and an important tool for anyone looking to achieve lasting sobriety. Most problem drinkers cannot fathom a life without drinking, especially during important holidays and events. For a person with even one day of sobriety, focusing on just the day ahead makes staying sober more accessible, manageable and a more positively encouraging process.

Having more everyday fun and celebrating in a way that does not include substances are important components in long-term recovery. Here alcohol-free venues and/or options that do not center on alcohol are a good place to start—for example, arcades, amusement parks and places for laser tag, paintball, billiards or ping pong. Hosting a dinner party where you can control if alcohol is served is also a good option. In these ways you can get your fun fix without having to worry so much about alcohol or other substance abuse triggers.

Sober New Year’s Celebration

Recovery offers much to celebrate: it signifies a new life full of new possibilities that has only just begun. Moreover, being in recovery does not mean you have to stop celebrating the holidays—even on New Year’s Eve when drinking seems virtually required. There are ways to have a fun and happy sober New Year’s celebration. Here is one idea, for example:

  • Sample non-alcoholic drinks to discover your favorite (such as juices, sodas, mixers).
  • Bring your new favorite drink to any gathering you attend.
  • Decide on someone who can be your back-up friend at any social gathering in case you run out of your favorite drink or feel awkward bringing it to the party.
  • Keep it in hand at all times as a natural deterrent to the drink pushers.

Routines and Practice

Building a habit takes practice. This is true even with bad habits like an addiction. What begins as one drink a day or a binge on weekends can progress into full-blown addiction and alcoholism. The more you emphasize a routine, the more automated it becomes. When you first enter recovery, it is thus important to be intentional about the actions you take and the routine you create. Once some of these practices are in place, then recovery simply takes advantage of the way that routine works.

According to research compiled at George Mason University, high self-control is connected with lower levels of alcohol abuse. For most people struggling with alcoholism, self-control is a learned behavior. The first step in developing it is learning how to narrow down options so that decision-making becomes an automated process supported by daily routines and substituted habits. An example of a substituted habit can be attending a 12-step meeting instead of happy hour after work. Eventually, by practicing this as a regular habit, you will find that even if you have a craving after work, you will likely end up at the meeting because that has become a simpler, easier routine than happy hour.

The same idea can be applied to special occasions. Limiting decision-making can effectively limit the potential for relapse. By finding and practicing new systems and habits, such as planning ahead about when to leave the party and having extra supports with you or on call, you can learn to enjoy celebrations without putting your sobriety at risk.

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