I’ve had so many Day Ones that I’ve lost count. They’ve followed inconsequential wine tastings and compromised career opportunities, fights with friends, and even times spent meandering my way through near-death experiences like an intoxicated Mr. Magoo.
I’ve always been terrified of confronting that first day sober. It doesn’t matter what happened to finally initiate the desire to change. Navigating Day One is essential to achieving success in your new relationship (or lack thereof) with alcohol. After all, in order to make it to Month One and Year One, you’re going to have to make it through Day One, and that’s a lot of pressure to put on twenty-four hours.
There’s always a sense of reckoning: Why do you drink, and why can you not continue to drink in the ways that you do? Questions like these can create cracks in the identity you’ve maintained. The void caused by the sudden absence of a chemical placeholder may overwhelm you with spurts of anxiety and waves of depression. It might feel like you’re reliving not just the previous day’s regret, but also that of every moment that ever led you to question your drinking. Trust me, I’ve been there.
But then there’s elation, too, and motivation and newfound confidence. A change is on the horizon, and it’s exciting. Perhaps doing the dishes unexpectedly transports you to a childhood memory you didn’t know you had, or a glance in the window’s reflection encourages you to see your face in a new way. And you have the clarity to recognize it.
Yeah, there are feelings on Day One. Lots of feelings.
I could tell you about accepting your emotions without judgment and forgiving yourself unconditionally, but that might feel like a tall order. Even practical advice (“Exercise!”) can fall flat. It often seems that on Day One, all your mind can really do is think about how much time there is left in eternity.
But here’s my secret to Day One: the only way to really get through the day is to not think about the future and what it might be like to never drink again. You must actively try to stop counting what day it is. Here applies the old adage, “One day at a time.” Avoid grand declarations of sobriety and visions of the future, and focus only on getting through this one day without alcohol, on a moment-to-moment basis. Hold on however you can, just to get through today, and you’ll see. You will.
One exercise to help get through Day One is giving yourself a sort of existential free pass. Take whatever unpleasant thoughts happen to be inundating your mind, and consciously tune them out until tomorrow. Take a break, and consider it a sort of vacation day. If you can literally take a vacation day, even better. I once took a day off work to go to the movies, and something about that experience was enough to soften the day. This little break isn’t really an act of avoidance or denial inasmuch as it is an act of recalibration. Doing something seemingly unconventional, like going against the instinct to be hard on yourself, is a wonderful symbolic gesture for the inner shift you’re initiating. It’s a conscious effort to tell yourself that you’re about to take on life from a new angle.
Here’s another secret: every day is Day One.
Every day spent deliberately choosing to not drink is a day I choose to live a healthier, fuller life. In that sense, I’ve learned to redefine just what the big, bad “Day One” really means. When you’re committed to recovering from alcohol abuse, every day is Day One. Every day has the potential for ups and downs and unexpected feelings, and every day will be an adventure.
If you’re here with me on this journey, too, I’ll say Welcome to Day One. It doesn’t matter if it’s been twelve hours or twelve years since you last drank. This day has the capacity for immense beauty and discovery. “Welcome to Day One” should be exciting and inspiring. It’s another way of welcoming you to the rest of your life.