Over the years, I have sat in tens of thousands of hours of support group meetings as a leader and a participant.
Some of these are 12-Step meetings and others have been psycho educational and processing groups.
Many have a check in format of sharing your recovery date and then your sobriety date which are generally different.
In the tradition of support groups, sobriety dates can create great encouragement for the individual and the group.
This is often celebrated with plastic “chips” or tokens with a 24-hour chip, and then a 30-day, 90-day, 1-year, 2-year chip, etc.
This can be a great motivator or positive reinforcement.
Now the chip or token in and of itself has no real monetary value.
However, to the individual in recovery, this chip means the world to them and serves as a reminder of their work and sobriety.
Many have never had 90 days without their addiction. It is a wonderful thing to celebrate.
Eventually, they earn a 1-year, 2-year, and then 5-year chip and so on.
However, eventually a blessing can become a burden.
For example, let’s say Bob has been in recovery for 5 years.
He has worked his steps several times and has sponsored many others.
He is now serving as a group leader.
Over time, complacency sets in, and he begins to allow small “slips” that slowly slide him back into his old habits.
He runs to an old addict friend and begins hanging out with people and around places he promised he would not.
He comes to his meetings but does not share this “little” information, because he places such great value on his 5-year chip-a date and a number.
The blessing of the sobriety date is now a burden.
Pride takes hold.
The sobriety date is now an idol.
He does not want to reset his sobriety date in fear of what others will think of him as well as the disappointment they will have in him.
After weeks and months of taking small “sips” of his old addiction, he is now in a bind as he checks in.
Slowly but surely, he goes deeper into his addiction, crossing bottom lines and boundaries.
Until one day his spouse catches him, he loses his job, gets a DUI, or gets arrested for passion.
He comes to the group and shares what happened.
The group is shocked, hurt, angry, sad, and betrayed but loving.
How did this happen?
Why did this happen?
If it could happen to Bob, it can happen to any of us in this group.
This is an all too common occurrence in recovery.
I am not here today to say sobriety dates are right or wrong.
I am here to challenge you to think if sobriety dates are wise or foolish for you.
Initially, they have great value and power.
However, after a year or two, you might want to consider not letting a number become your next addiction.
For example, it is much like working at a factory or manufacturing company.
Many use group accountability and team motivation.
There is a number for all to see “Days Accident Free” or “Days Safe.”
Let’s say after every 120 days accident free, the company provides a bonus in your check, gift card or lunch.
It has been 115 days.
One day, you come in for your shift, and the number is reset at 1 day.
You ask, “who messed up? We were only a few days away!”
The point is, like working for a factory, the 115 days do not matter.
They mean nothing for today.
The company’s record of 275 days means nothing in the present either.
You are only as good as your last shift!
Wow, this is so true and so applicable to recovery.
Many of my guys in group check in with “I am sober as of 6 a.m. today.”
They have been sober for 5, 6, or 10 years, but that no longer matters to them.
All that matters is today.
It keeps them humble and motivated as if it is day one of recovery!
They put their boots on, and go to work grateful and free of the burden and pressure of any date.
Promising ourselves we will never use or act out again is too great, so we live one day at a time.
The same is true for those with years or decades of sobriety.
The burden of a sobriety date to be maintained becomes too heavy… let it go!
Be free, and let go of the heavy burden of “precious.”
It might be costing you more than you know.
Cory Schortzman is an author, speaker, teacher and licensed mental health professional. Since 2008, he has served as the Executive Director of Transformed Hearts Counseling Center in Colorado Springs, CO. He is the founder of SARA, the Sexual Addiction Recovery Association. Cory is passionate about helping couples and individuals overcome sex addiction. He is also passionate about bringing awareness to the public and supporting the elimination of sex and human trafficking. Cory has been married since 1998 to his beautiful wife, Kerry, and lives in Colorado with their four daughters. He and Kerry have been seen on the CBS Early Show, Inside Edition, and ABC Good Morning America, Fox 21 News, and TLC/Discovery discussing the harm of sex addiction and the joys of recovery. He has also been heard on numerous radio programs.
Cory’s books include: Out of the Darkness, Into the Light the Workbook, Into the Light the Steps, Ashes to Beauty the Steps, 301 Dating Ideas, 301 Conversational Ideas, 301 Ways to Say I Love You, 301 Ways to Love Your Children & 301 Recovery Tools & Tips.