One Day At A Time vs Permanent Recovery

You will not find the slogan most commonly associated with Alcoholics Anonymous in the first 164 pages of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. What you will find, however, are numerous references to ‘entire abstinence’ and ‘permanent recovery’.

One Day At A Time was a useful tool in early recovery, when the prospect of a life without booze seemed unrealistic, painful, impossible. As with other spiritual and psychological tools, once the student has reached a certain state of development, it is possible, indeed necessary, to remove the stabilizers.

After taking Step 5, having taken thorough inventory, I experienced the fifth step promises. It was around this time that I made the transition of not drinking one day at a time to living life one day at time. In the first few months of recovery I was terrified of relapse, expecting a Pythonesque hand of a punishing God to descend from the sky and pour whisky down my throat. In those very early days, my sole focus was on my head hitting the pillow sober.

I have, on occasion, heard the following type of share at a meeting:

I’m just not drinking for today. Should I feel like one tomorrow then maybe I’ll have one tomorrow.

When I hear the above type of sentiment expressed, it produces a red flag. Because my mind works like this: Well, if I might have a drink tomorrow then what the heck? I may as well have one now!

There must be no reservation of any kind, nor any lurking notion that someday we will be immune to alcohol. I contend that the ‘if I feel like having one tomorrow’ tool is a potentially dangerous lurking notion. Particularly if you subscribe fully, as I do, to the belief that ‘with us, to drink is to die’. Let us substitute taking the first drink with punching ourselves in the bollocks: If I want to punch myself in the bollocks tomorrow then I will punch myself in the bollocks tomorrow. Why would you want to entertain the thought of punching yourself in the bollocks at all?

You may think the above illustration is too ridiculous. But is it?

As I once heard Joe Hawk share on a recording: Do you really want to go through the rest of your life not drinking ONE FUCKING DAY AT A TIME?


My experience is that of a man who drank up until the point that he no longer wanted to drink. As a newcomer at meetings in Liverpool, I remember hearing old-timer ‘Boxer Charlie’ growling at newcomers that their ‘drinking days were over’. I remember thinking ‘Thank God for that’ because I had surrendered.

Bill Wilson quite rightly saw ODAAT as effective advice for newcomers.

“Most people feel more secure on the twenty-four-hour basis than they do in the resolution that they will never drink again. Most of them have broken too many resolutions. It’s really a matter of personal choice; every A.A. has the privilege of interpreting the program as he likes.”

I agree with the sentiment that Bill expresses here. I have never said and will never say that I will never drink again. But I frequently state that it is my honest intention and primary objective to take actions on a daily basis which ensure that I will never drink again. The aim of the game is to get sober, live sober and die sober. As my first sponsor once said: ‘This is a war of attrition and I aim to be the last man standing’. The irony of what seems to be quite an ego-driven statement, is that in order to have a chance at being last man standing, I have to devote a considerable amount of time to ensuring that many others will also be ‘last men standing’. Standing alone on the podium would not be a real victory.

Let us consider the following three lines from the Big Book:

We must walk day by day in the path of spiritual progress.

Every day is a day when we must carry the vision of God’s will into all our activities.

Let the alcoholic continue his program day by day.

In The Lord’s Prayer, we are invited to ask for ‘our daily bread’, the spiritual strength to shoulder that day’s burdens, in whatever form they might present themselves. Matthew 6:34 tells us: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

We live life one day at a time. We quit drinking ‘for good and all’.

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