Reaching one year sober is a milestone worth celebrating. Often described by addicts as a physical and emotional “roller coaster”, the first twelve months of recovery are a force to be reckoned with. There is no shortage of supportive literature in these early stages of treatment, while resources addressing the later stages of recovery are more difficult to come by.
Below, you’ll find of list of what you may experience when you reach that 365-day milestone:
A Case of The “What Nows?”
Shifting Out Of Survival Mode
Interest in Kicking Other Bad Habits
A Focus on Mindfulness
Romanticized Feelings About Past Substance Use
Thoughts About The Future
The early stages of sobriety feel quite clear-cut. 1) Stop drinking or taking drugs 2) Create a support system 3) Learn to cope with triggers and cravings. While everyone’s journey is unique, there are some fundamentals that can make early recovery feel somewhat formulaic. And for a person that is trying to piece back together a broken life, those defined steps can feel quite comforting.
Once the items on that sobriety checklist gets ticked off, however, many recovering addicts experience a sense of “What now?” The novelty of a more clear and present life has worn off slightly and the steps become much less clear cut. Relatable resources can be more difficult to find for those in the latter stages of recovery, making it all the more important to connect with others who have experienced long-term success. Getting through the first year is a tremendous accomplishment, but recovery is a lifelong journey. Allow others to help you define your next steps.
There is a sense of fragility in early sobriety. Many fear that one unexpected trigger or curveball will derail weeks or months of progress. This wariness can keep the brain on high alert and make those first 12 months of sobriety feel more like a game of Survivor. After one year sober, many experience a sense of accomplishment and peace. With that accomplishment comes an increased security in the long-term nature of the commitment.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t still challenges, triggers, and cravings ahead, but that those hurdles crop up less often and with a decreased intensity. The addict who is being proactive in her recovery, begins to trust herself again. And with that trust comes opportunities for self-development, exploration, and emotional growth.
Early sobriety often highlights areas in the addict’s life that have been neglected. Everything from physical health and nutrition to nicotine and caffeine addiction can suddenly be viewed as cause for concern. Yet, the bulk of those who have been through recovery will urge addicts to address one issue at a time. Attempting to alter multiple behaviors with one fell swoop is overwhelming and a recipe for relapse.
After a year of proactive addiction recovery, an addict is more equipped to address other areas of concern. Many of the coping strategies collected in drug and alcohol treatment can be applied to these other changes. Perhaps the most powerful tool possessed by an addict with a year of success is a sense of pride. A sentiment that is regularly expressed by my clients when they reach this important milestone is, “If I can do this, I can do anything!”
These days, it’s nearly impossible to turn on the radio or flip open a magazine without seeing a reference to mindfulness. In fact, countless recovery programs are incorporating aspects of the practice into the treatment planning process. In early sobriety, it is encouraged to explore new coping strategies to navigate life’s inevitable challenges. Mindfulness based practices like journaling, meditation, and yoga provide healthy outlets for processing stress, grief, and depression.
While early recovery exposes many addicts to the fundamentals of mindfulness, it can be fine-tuned and personalized over time. Exploring local meditation or yoga groups can prove a solid segue into broadening one’s social circles, while an independent practice can heighten one’s sense of self-connectedness. That’s the beauty of a mindfulness routine. It can be designed to meet each addict’s unique needs in a way that nurtures a continued, long-term recovery.
While there is much to be celebrated when an addict reaches one year sober, it’s important to note that risks still remain. Life is, after all unpredictable, and there is a danger in complacency. At the one year mark, some addicts begin to steer away from the hefty collection of supports and resources that they’ve accrued. As a result, the dangers of the addiction no longer feel front and center.
As an addict drifts further from her recovery “roots” she may begin to fantasize about having “just one drink” or reuniting with some of her substance-centered friends. She may view the past in a misguidedly glamorous light while overlooking the casualties of her past behaviors. The surfacing of these thoughts are a red flag and should be addressed immediately.
The “one day at a time” mantra so often evoked in early recovery is a powerful tool. Thoughts of the big picture and long-term sobriety can feel daunting to a degree that leads many addicts to relapse. After successfully navigating the first 12 months of the recovery journey, however, many addicts are able to resume a healthy examination of the past, present, and future.
After one year sober, it’s quite natural to look forward and ask, “What can I do with my big sober life?” Passions and interests that were once casualties to the substance abuse have likely been unearthed and revisited with heightened focus and curiosity. At this stage, it’s quite helpful for an addict to consult with her now well-formed support system. The possibilities will seem endless and the prospect of a healthy, substance free future unfolds.
Sobriety milestones mean different things to different people. Some may choose to celebrate one year of substance-free living with a giant party while others simply choose to note it internally. Regardless of how you mark the big day, it’s important to recognize that the recovery journey will continue to evolve. Remaining vigilant in terms of support and resources will afford you with continued growth as you navigate this long, but promising path.
Jen Anderson is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), Sobriety Coach, and former alcohol enthusiast living in Florida with her husband and son.