Every once in a while, those who attend 12-step meetings may hear someone open a share by giving their sobriety date. There are men and women the world over who will not begin a share in AA or NA without mentioning this date, as it is one of the dates held dearest in their hearts. At some meetings, it is even common to start with group introductions in which everyone gives their sobriety date.
The other information given by people at such meetings may be subject to change; however, whenever introductions are given, you can almost count on the fact that sobriety dates will be included.
There is a reason for this. Our sobriety date is one of the most important facts we share about ourselves in recovery. Some of us may choose to embrace the “anonymous” aspect of 12-step programs a bit more zealously than others, but we will still generally share this one vital piece of info about ourselves when it is requested. Before discussing why, however, let’s talk about what “sobriety date” actually means.
How Do You Define Your Sobriety Date?
This sounds like a simple question. But poke around the internet for a bit, and you will find multiple forums in which people have asked what their sobriety date is supposed to be. Many people consider it to be the first full day on which they did not use drugs or alcohol. Some will calculate their date as the last day on which they used, provided that they were not loaded at the day’s end.
There are many who have a problem with this, as they consider the practice to be on par with celebrating your last drunk. Others still are inclined to embrace this very concept, as their last drunk was usually the final straw that caused them to enter recovery.
Whether or not you assume that one’s sobriety date should be calculated from the day of their last use or the day after their last use, a further problem arises when medication-assisted treatment is involved. Vivitrol treatment does not have any of the mental effects as the opiates it is used to combat, but what of other medications?
Designating The Date
Aren’t alcoholics a bit loopy when taking Librium? And hasn’t methadone proven so effective as to be abused outside of treatment? Those who have received such medications may sometimes choose to designate their sobriety date as the day after their last medication session.
Then, there are those who choose to make their sobriety date a bit more meaningful to them. Perhaps a person must wait a week to enter addiction treatment after deciding to take the plunge, and they do not use for the entirety of that seven days. Yet they still may choose to designate their sobriety date as the day they entered their treatment facility, as it is a date with which they associate their journey into true recovery.
We have known at least one person whose sobriety date is two days after he quit drinking because that was the date on which he met his sponsor. He had relapsed two weeks prior and moved back to a sober living facility after a hellish run of debauchery at the seediest gentlemen’s clubs in New Orleans.
Having lost everything, he came back with his tail between his legs, flat broke and uncertain as to whether or not his family would ever speak to him again. He credits his sponsor with helping him to turn things around, so the day they met is now one of the most important dates of his life.
One Day At A Time
Of course, there are some who say that the only sobriety date which truly matters is today. There is a common expression in recovery, that between a person with thirty years of sobriety and a person with only thirty days, the soberer of the two is the one who woke up the earliest.
This is clearly a reference to the dictum that we must live life “one day at a time,” but some people take it very seriously. We once met a man who, upon picking up his three-year chip, said that his original 24-hour chip was still the most important one he had ever been given.
Everyone has their own view of how a person’s sobriety date should be defined, but it is a decision that we must ultimately make ourselves. There is actually a cool little sobriety calculator offered on the website for the AA Grapevine magazine, which allows you to put in the date of your sobriety.
Given that it allows you to denote hours, minutes, and even seconds, it would appear as if they simply define your sobriety date as the moment that you decided to make a positive change for the better. You might disagree, but that’s up to you. If the date is meaningful to you, and if it helps keep you going, then nobody has the right to tell you that it’s wrong.
Reasons to Remember Our Sobriety Date
In a sense, we already briefly touched on some reasons to remember your sobriety date. It reminds you of an important date in your life, a date on which your life began to change for the better. That said, there are many other reasons for which we should always remember our sobriety dates, and some of these reasons help to explain why many old-timers will not share in meetings without mentioning their sobriety date at least once.
One of the primary reasons to remember our sobriety date is that it helps us remember not only when our life began to change for the better, but also what it was like before. As previously mentioned, many people came to recovery because their last time using resulted in consequences that finally caused them to hit rock bottom, the point at which they had either lost more than they were willing to lose or saw that such a loss was imminent. Their sobriety date allows them to look back on those times, and reflect on how much things have changed since then. For those with long-term sobriety, the change is often especially profound.
A Measure Of Gratitude
Remembering our sobriety date is also a measure of gratitude for those who have helped us to stay sober. Building a strong and sober support network is one of the most important aspects of any relapse prevention strategy. While gratitude is best expressed through actions, it is also built from a mindset. This mindset is strengthened every time we recall our sobriety date, and remind ourselves that we might not have met many of the people in our support network if that fondly remembered day had gone differently.
For those who have relapsed, the sobriety date serves another purpose. Whenever we recall our sobriety date, we are likely to recall that it was not our first one. And while our first sobriety date may still be etched into our memories for the rest of our lives—and it should be, as our first stint in recovery still added to our toolbox—our new date is the day on which we decided to do things differently.
Maybe we hadn’t taken our recovery seriously the first time, or maybe we did not follow aftercare recommendations after leaving treatment. Whatever the reason for our relapse, our second sobriety date is a reminder that we have not truly failed, that the only real failure is to give up.
The Lesson Of Humility
Finally, remembering our sobriety dates can teach us a lot about humility. There are times at which we may look back and think of how great our lives have improved from what they used to be. There are other times, however, at which we may realize that great lengths of recovery have not fully cured us of our character defects.
We have grown quite a bit—that much is to be certain. But as far as we have come, we may still have a ways to go before we have made some of the fundamental changes that we would like to make. Trying to eliminate our character defects is like trying to carry a load of laundry without a basket. Pick up one fallen sock, and another one escapes our hold and falls to the floor. It’s a juggling act, and for most of us, it is never truly over.
By remembering how long we have battled our defects, we remind ourselves how truly human we are. It may sound distressing, but humility is in truth one of the greatest gifts that sobriety has given us.
Much like the definition of the sobriety date itself, we all have different reasons for remembering the start of our recovery. None of these reasons are better or worse than the others, provided that they motivate us to keep making positive changes in our lives, one day at a time.
Of course, the First Tradition calls for unity, so we must look at our recovery as more than something we do as individuals. We are part of a much greater picture. It is therefore that we must also remember how our sobriety date may be helpful to others.
How Our Sobriety Date Can Help Others
We may sometimes fail to realize just how much our sobriety means to others in recovery, but it can mean a lot. Many of us have been spurred on when we met people with as much as thirty years in recovery. Their mere existence allowed us to realize that the possibility of a long and fulfilling life without drugs or alcohol was more than a myth. It was a stark reality, and it was a reality that we wanted for ourselves.
When we give our sobriety date at a meeting, there is no telling how many newcomers may be listening. Even if we only have a few months under our belt, that may seem like an eternity to those who are still grappling with physical cravings and the mental obsession.
But as they see us in action and learn of our journey, they will come to realize that the darkest hours of early recovery will eventually pass, after which the recovering addict may experience a spiritual awakening that will enhance their sobriety and give their life a new sense of purpose and contentment.
The Ability To Inspire Others
Even when we are still young in our recovery, our sobriety date may act as an inspiration to others. If you attend meetings, then you may have experienced this firsthand. You will meet someone with less than six months under their belt—possibly less than thirty days—and will be absolutely astounded to learn of the life they lived before they entered recovery.
They will tell you their story, little by little, through shares or outside discussions. You will learn that this man or woman of newfound purpose used to struggle with mounting legal issues and a lack of inhibitions. You will hear of their transgressions, but you may not believe them at first.
Because this well-adjusted individual in front of you does not seem to be the same person that has been described through their stories. It will be nigh impossible to picture this person in a state of intoxication. From all they have told, their recovery will seem like the stuff of miracles.
A Probable Impact On Others
This is the impact that our sobriety date may have on others. Sometimes, those who are affected by our stories may approach us after a meeting to express gratitude. Other times, we will touch someone without ever knowing it. Either way, it is worth the minimal effort required of us to simply state our sobriety date at the beginning of a share.
When we complete our share by explaining what things were like, what happened, and what things are like now, we will have potentially changed someone’s entire view of recovery. In doing so, we will have also helped ourselves. The joy we sought through the illusory euphoria of drugs and alcohol will suddenly seem far more attainable through the works we have performed in service of others.
So if your sponsor ever tells you to open your shares with your sobriety date, listen. Because you never know—you just might be saving a life.