Live One Day At A Time

CalendarThere’s an interesting and deadly psychological trick alcoholism plays on us. It has to do with time and the horizon problem.

You are already familiar with how urges work. We are surprised at the checkout counter when a sudden impulse strikes. We find ourselves buying some candy or other item we hadn’t intended simply because it is in front of us and at hand. Marketers know all about these impulse buys, and they take advantage of them by displaying their products where it will catch our eye at the last minute.

The reason this works is because our instinctual reaction is much more immediate than our rational minds would like to admit. It takes time to engage our logical powers. Instinct, on the other hand, is meant to react immediately – after all, it might save our lives. You don’t want the delay that comes with thinking things through to slow your reaction to seeing a tiger approaching.

But the same value is used against us when alcohol corrupts our instincts. Cravings are immediate in the same way an itch is. They arise unbidden and we find ourselves in a place we would have avoided had we had a change to think things over.

That’s the horizon problem in a nutshell. Alcohol addiction works on a very short scale and a very close horizon. The struggle isn’t happening by planning out a month or a year. It’s fought in this minute or even second and making false promises about tomorrow doesn’t address what’s happening now.

So, even though the phrase is “one day,” for many, it comes down to “one minute” sometimes. The magic comes in when we can commit to not drinking today, just today. That’s a huge win for many and it leads to an even bigger win as the days accumulate. But a day is a reasonable horizon to shoot for. Like a distant mountain that seems impossibly far away, sobriety shouldn’t be evaluated on that great a distance. We get to the mountain one step at a time and one day at a time.

The guy with a decade sober can tell you exactly how it was accomplished – One day at a time.

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