Counting days in recovery from addiction

Counting recovery time

Counting days is the default thing to do when starting out in recovery. Anniversaries are celebrated, whether that is weeks, 10 days, months, 100 days, years or 1000 days.

Some people see them as a badge of honour, giving positive feedback of effort made.

These are my own thoughts on counting days and whether it makes sense for me to count my time in recovery.

One day at a time.

A piece of advice that we hear a lot is that we should not think too far ahead. We should make a commitment to stay in recovery just for today. I personally use a modification to this as I believe that the mindset is important here also. In early recovery people may not have tools developed yet to be able to cope with trauma or the things that life may throw at us. They may be “white knuckling” and getting through day to day. This is where we need to use every tool that works for us. For me this is operating at a low level. If we can move beyond this so that we can see the joy in recovery, then that is a better place to be.

Living in the moment

We also hear advice about being mindful. That the only time that exists is now. All other time (past and future) only exists in our head. Its a construct of our minds. I struggled to reconcile this thought with the idea of counting days. If we have to live in the now, how can we look forward to an anniversary? A bigger and more important question is how do we think about relapse, and the apparent loss of days.

Does slips / relapse reset the count?

If we are defining this “performance indicator” as days since last substance use, then yes by definition the count is reset. And this is my biggest problem with the count. If we are to come up with some measure of our success then this is a crude, threatening, coercive, measure. It’s more of a stick than a carrot.

If we had a medical intervention, where it improved our quality of life for 99% of the time but 1 in every hundred days we were ill, would we view that in the same way we view slips / relapse?

So for me I started to wonder if there was a better way to think about this, a better metric to judge ourselves, or even if being a Judgey McJudgey is good at all.

Operating at different levels

I started to think that could take a multi level view of this.

At a high level, where am I with respect to my feelings of self worth, of how solid I think my recovery is, of what risk of slip/relapse I have. Where am I in my journey?

At a medium level, what hurdles do I have to overcome in the medium future. Again what risks are there, and what mitigation I can put in place.

At a low level, can I stay grounded. Do I remind myself that the goal is contentment? Am I being mindful and living in the moment.

Pros of counting recovery time

I really don’t want to take away from anyone who finds counting time useful. I will always celebrate others achievements.

It is something to feel good about.

It shows progression

It is a motivating factor in not succumbing to temptation because you have built up the score and don’t want to see the score go back to zero.

It is good for goal setting and milestone celebration.

My view is anything positive and helps us recover is good, and anything that is negative and hinders recovery is bad. That sounds obvious, but I have certainly been in situations where I have been caught in negative loops of the mind where I know it is a bad mind loop, but I still do it anyway.


  1. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts on this Michael. It’s a great insight into how we measure our recovery. Inspiring 😉

  2. Hi. This looks like a very interesting group, I hope to join you at the next meeting.

    My own take on counting days is to have an Excel spreadsheet with a calendar (column A, each day in a new row) in which I record total sober days to date (column B) since I decided to give up drinking for good. If I drink, I leave the cell blank. Column C multiplies the column B figure by the average daily cost of alcohol (say £7.00) to give cumulative savings to date. I also have other columns for weight, giving cumulative weight loss to date (about 35lb) and morning and evening blood pressures.

    1. That’s a very methodical method and one that lays out very clearly where you are and enables you to see trends.I am commenting some time after your bridal post, how’s it going now ?

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