Many recovery support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) give out colored chips or coins to celebrate sobriety milestones and anniversaries. In AA, the tradition dates all the way back to 1942. Several ideas motivate the celebration of sober anniversaries, including the following:
- Helps keep recovering addicts honest
- Provides another positive goal to seek
- Discourages “one-time” use that resets the clock
- Allows other recovering addicts to share in the joy
- Recognizes an important accomplishment
Coin or no coin, sober anniversaries are worth celebrating, and there are several ways to do so that also benefit the recovery. The following list represents five such ways.
- Celebrate with Loved Ones and Recovery Partners
In 2006, the Addiction journal identified supportive social relationships as a key factor in sustained recoveries. When sober anniversaries come around, it is often worth celebrating with the friends, loved ones and recovery partners who helped you get there. Obviously, the gathering should not happen at a bar or include alcoholic beverages, but participants can make it fun with different themes. For example, everyone brings a healthy dish to a house gathering, or maybe the celebration involves a group hike or day at the beach. Moreover, the celebration gives family members the chance to interact with sober friends and learn more about the recovery process. In this way, the gatherings can also help restore relationships that the addiction had strained. For the person celebrating the milestone and any recovering addicts involved, it is essential that neither the planning nor the event become stressful or cause conflict. Trying to do too much or setting expectations too high can result in negative emotions, thoughts and interactions.
- Fulfill a Long-Term Objective
A sober anniversary is an excellent time to fulfill a long-term goal. For example, a recovering addict who always wanted to run a marathon, hike a mountain or achieve some other physical feat can make that the day they do so. Such activities typically require training, but the sober anniversary might be an ideal target date for actually doing them. Likewise, the anniversary could be the day that a new objective begins, such as taking cooking classes, learning to surf or starting to paint, write or perform. Other potential objectives to do that day might range from taking a High School Equivalency Test (formerly known as the GED) to starting graduate classes. Whatever the case, fulfilling or starting a long-term objective on the sober anniversary connects more positive history to an important date.
- Complete Several Positive Acts
In 2000, the Social Science & Medicine journal noted the importance of recovering addicts constructing non-addict identities for themselves. That is not to say that people should hide their addiction histories, but rather, they should pursue positive activities that create new narratives for their lives. In the pursuit of new life narratives, recovering addicts can use their sober anniversary as a day committed to doing positive acts. Among the many options, a person might choose to volunteer for an aid organization, donate items to charities, pick up trash on the beach, aid an elderly or disabled neighbor, give blood or simply go out of his way to say nice things to everyone he encounters. Doing good deeds for others always helps people feel better themselves, but it also helps recovering addicts construct new identities as positive people.
- Recap the Journey in Writing
Traditions help create memories, meaning and predictability in the lives of recovering addicts, and an anniversary tradition worth considering is a written recap of the past year’s journey. Whether as a private or public blog or handwritten journal, the recap can recount goals achieved, problems averted, lessons learned and reasons to be grateful for the recovery. Sometimes the act of writing something down allows people to gain perspective on their lives, and recovering addicts will certainly benefit from recapping all the positive events that happened since the prior anniversary.
- Create New Goals for the Coming Year
In 2007, the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment described recovery as a voluntarily maintained lifestyle, and maintaining a recovery lifestyle involves positive growth and setting new goals. A sober anniversary is the perfect time to write down new goals for the coming year and the steps that can be taken to fulfill those goals. Areas to consider include personal health, positive hobbies, group activities and social support. Discuss the goals with your recovery sponsor, and when applicable, encourage other recovering addicts to take part.
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