If you’ve ever gone to a 12-step meeting, you’ve heard the phrase “one day at a time,” so often as to make it a mantra. Personally, it always left me wanting more.
Is “one day at a time” enough?!
I think the notion is a correct one… when it comes to early recovery. However, once the initial excitement of staying sober has worn off and life without the crutch of drugs, alcohol, or any other addiction, begins, I believe that there is great value in planning.
Thinking ahead is exactly the sort of thing that addicts don’t do well. As far as I know, there’s only one way to improve a lacking skill – practice.
If a recovering addict truly takes things “one day at a time,” never making plans that take the not-so-near-future into account, where does that leave him except for being sober for one more day? As far as I’m concerned, that’s simply not enough.
I had a lot of learning to do when it came to living a normal life after I cleaned up. I barely knew how to function in the simplest ways without the crutch I’d become so comfortable with. I’ll never forget the single sentence lesson my dad gave me over the phone regarding handling my mail.
“Most people pick up their mail, open it up on the spot, throw away what they don’t need, and handle the rest immediately” he told me.
To me, that was more than a foreign concept; it just sounded strange. You see, I would let mail pile up for weeks, eventually throwing it away when it simply seemed overwhelming. The notion of taking care of my mail, or anything else for that matter, on the spot, sounded so simple as to be impossible. But guess what – it works!!!
Fortunately for me, by the time my dad had shared those pearls of wisdom, I’d been clean for six months and ready to put the lesson into action.
Making plans the right way
Recently, my fiance introduced me to an exercise that requires you to write down your plans for next week, next month, next year, and five years from now. I liked it because it made me think concretely about where it is I’m going in life both in the very short, and relatively long, future. By writing down how I saw different aspects of my life play out in the next five years, I got to think about them more directly than I ever had before.
I’ve adapted the exercise for addicts in recovery. I think that you should try it as early as you feel comfortable with it. The trick early on is to just complete it. Once the first draft is finished, you should go back and change it every once in a while.
Given how quickly things change in early recovery, the second draft should be completed after a week. Since you’ll be getting better, and more realistic, every time, the third draft should probably be done about a month later. From that point on, further edits can be done whenever life calls for it.
I think you’ll find that simply going through the exercise will tell you a lot about where you are in your recovery.
The exercise itself
The first thing you’ll need is a piece of paper. Divide the paper (you can use one side or both depending on how much you like to write) into five sections and title them as follows: “Tomorrow”, “Next week”, “Next month”, “Next year”, and “Five years from now.”
Under each one of the headings, answer the following questions for each of the time periods. Be as specific as possible. Feel free to add, or replace, any of these questions with ones you see as more relevant to your life.
- Where will you be living?
- What will your job be?
- Will you be in a relationship? If so, with who?
- How much money will you be making?
- What car (or other mode of transportation) will you have?
- List your five most important relationships – Describe the quality of each.
- What special trips, events, or occasions, will you be taking part in or planning?
That’s it. You’re done. Take a deep breath and read over the list.
Though it seems simple enough, you’ll see that answering these questions can be quite difficult at first. This is especially true the more specific you try to be (answers like “I’ll be living in a 3 bedroom house in Mar Vista with hardwood floors and a home office that faces east” might take some time for some of you).
Again, the point is simply to complete the exercise that first time. I promise you that it gets easier with time. Since you’ll be repeating it relatively often initially, you’ll be able to adjust your plans according to the changing circumstances of your life. Feel free to go back and redo the list any time.
Having goals, both short and long term ones, will help focus your mind. It will also plant the seed of the direction in which you want to take your life. Without this direction, things can seem chaotic, especially when one has recently given up their best friend (cocaine, marijuana, porn, and chocolate fudge ice-cream can easily be thought of as best friends when one is in the throws of addiction or recently out of it).