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By Nathan Bailey, MA, LPC

Along the path to recovery, there’s a number of frequent sayings or phrases that are often used. Any community has unique ways to illustrate a principle or idea but in recovery if the deeper meaning is lost, those sayings can become a way to hide from actual reflection. Let’s take a look at 7 such sayings and understand their intended purpose:

1. “I’m taking it one day at a time.”

When someone starts the path of recovery, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the thought of a lifetime of effort, struggle and strain. When we limit our perspective to “what do I need to do today” it suddenly becomes more manageable. Those with years or even decades of sobriety will often credit their success with just stringing together a lot of 24hr segments of time, completing the actions they needed to sustain change. It’s a little like a professional baseball player thinking more of where their feet are in the batter box, their hands on the bat etc. as opposed to “I need to win this game.” When someone tells me “I’m just taking it one day at a time” I ask “what is it you need to do each day in order to be the best version of yourself.” Drilling into this type of specific application is critical.

2. “It’s all about me right now.”

When approaching recovery, it’s important to recognize the incredible effort needed to establish and maintain healthy behaviors and attitudes. Narrowing the focus of this effort makes sense because we all have a capacity and operating above ours will cause a problem. Think of this like the instruction we hear when flying “in the event of an emergency, put your oxygen mask on first before helping others.” Certainly we have responsibilities that extend beyond ourselves but if we’re not doing what we need to do for ourselves first, we can’t be present for others.

3. “Keep it simple.”

Sometimes as a way of encouraging someone looking to make a change in their addictive behavior I’ll say “recovery isn’t rocket science.” What I mean is that while everyone’s different, we do know there’s a number of key principles/practices that can make a profound positive impact in change. By “keeping it simple” we don’t create a pressure to do “everything” all the time which of course, we can’t do anyway.

4. “I’m doing what I’ve got to do.”

Similar to #1, the challenge here is in knowing what exactly that is. You might not be surprised that when I ask someone to clarify what “it” is, often there’s not a clear answer. It’s important we find those things we can do or do more of which directly contributes to an increase in our emotional and physical well being.

5. “Patience is a virtue.”

I have to admit that when I hear this, it’s like nails on a chalkboard (remember those?). I think the reason is that a big part of recovery is learning to “wait.” To recognize the balance between what we can control and what we can’t. There are many aspects in life that don’t happen on our timeline and when we try to control or force something to happen, it can cause us great harm. This is a dynamic that I see as so critical to healthy recovery that when I perceive someone has fallen into the trap (of just repeating this without letting it sink in) I want to encourage them to dig deeper into what this might mean in their own daily life.

6. “It is what it is.”

While this can be a statement of acceptance, it can also be a trap of fatalism. Certainly there are things we will encounter that we can’t change that we will need to accept, at the same time we can choose how we respond or react. For example, we can’t change the fact that someone in our family might want to judge or insult us but that doesn’t mean we have to just “take it” because they’re family. We can choose to confront them (in a healthy way) to bring about change. If that doesn’t work, we can set boundaries that protects us from their negative (or even abusive) behavior.

7. “Live life on life’s terms.”

I’ve heard this used to respond to a number of situations. The way I might encourage someone to apply this would be to invest time/energy into addressing those areas in their life that are contributing to their compulsive behavior as opposed to avoiding them. It’s often not as apparent that certain things we’ve been avoiding are challenges to stopping use of substances, pornography or online gambling, the reality is that those activities are likely being used to “escape.” When we tackle the attitudes, emotions, physical ailments, relational minefields etc. we can make significant strides comprehensively.  

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