Recovery Dates – By Sally Stacey


How important is your recovery date to you…that date when you finally threw in the towel on active addiction and walked into a life of recovery? Do you celebrate the date on it’s anniversary in any way? Circulate it publicly? Use it as a benchmark when looking for friendships, support or sponsorship if relevant? What role does your recovery date, and that of others, play in your life…and why?

For me, this year I have to admit…I forgot the date until I checked my phone and saw it was January 3rd. Immediately, I was awash with gratitude…having escaped the vice like grip of addiction 4 years previously for a second time. I wrote about it online and shared my gratitude in a couple of AA meetings that day. A quiet day, a little emotional and reflective…it ended quite fittingly with a family games night. That was it, anniversary done for another year.

In relation to being part of a 12 step community..I’ve only ever picked up one anniversary coin and that was eight years ago, it was my sponsors first coin and I treasure it. I gave a rousing speech at the monthly anniversary meeting but it didn’t sit well with me internally, I had yet to understand the value of authenticity in recovery versus being fully embraced by everyone. I’ve not picked up an anniversary coin since…but I do enjoy the celebration of others who do. Some say a celebration is good for the newcomer to hear, everyday is a day to celebrate in recovery.

I don’t publish my recovery date either nor initially search for it in another (aside from a newcomer situation) when getting to know them, that’s just me. I live my recovery day by day and personal experience has me listening more for quality and less at quantity when considering healthy recovery generally. Without a doubt they often correlate. And what exactly does a recovery date reflect? Abstinence from just alcohol, and/or all mood altering substances (prescribed medications can be a hot potato for some) or behaviours such as gambling, sex and compulsive shopping? Perhaps some people have multiple recovery dates reflecting different addictions. At the end of the day, it appears to me that a recovery date is open to both individual and recovery mode interpretation..there is no universal guideline in determining a date.

Interesting to reflect on. From a discussion perspective, there are no right or wrong answers…just experiences and thoughts to be shared. I’ve given mine…feel free to use or not use the opening questions as a loose guide if you want to participate. Curious to hear the experiences of others…let’s learn from each other and grow 🙂

Sally S

About Sally S

Born in Yorkshire, raised on the little Island of Guernsey...I’ve always been a curious type of person. A bit of a nurturer...fascinated by people, cultures, nature and the world at large. My mother tells me my most frequently uttered word as a young child was “why?” and I was that kid on the beach that never lay on a towel catching rays but would spend my time turning over stones in rock pools to see what lived underneath. Having lived in a few countries and explored many more..I’m always humbled and perhaps oddly comforted by knowing that I’m just a tiny dot in a vast world of interconnected life. Forever evolving, forever changing. Addiction is a large part of my adult life..when active, it was a destructive force but the existential crisis it eventually led to is something I am now truly grateful for. I don’t know what lies around the corner but one thing I’m pretty sure of, life in recovery is for living
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  1. I made sure that my sobriety date was 01/21

    That had been my wife’s birthday: she’d died 10 weeks before.

    It wasn’t just a gift to her, it was a sort of “sobriety strategy” thing, also: I knew I would never want to give up that date.

  2. very good article, Sally! i’ve earned a few medallions throughout the years. i have lost SO many things thru my travels but i have every single 2 year medallion (one on my keychain) & my more recent 1 year medallion tucked into a Jim Morrison portrait on my bedroom wall.i was sober for a lot longer than 2 years while raising my kids but i had drifted from AA so i didn’t get medallions then…i used to not publish my time on my profile either. i don’t pay much attention to others either…i look when they first friend me, just to see if they are new to sobriety. but i should know from my own experience that having a few weeks doesn’t mean you are new to recovery. one might just be coming back…& after all, all we have is today xo

  3. Sally thanks for sharing your thoughts and congrats on writing your first article here.
    I quit drugs and alcohol 28 years ago, I tackled my sex/love addiction 23 yrs ago, I quit hiding in overwork 21 yrs ago, I stop smoking and overeating on a regular basis. I even quit recovery groups for 20 years. What is my sobriety date? Have I even achieved sobriety? Does it matter?
    For me, recovery is a process, not an event: it is about the journey, not a destination.
    As a result of my particular family dynamics, I am not comfortable celebrating formal anniversaries of any sort. I was raised in a home where I was forced to participate in all sorts of anniversaries with very negative associations. These celebrations were all about putting on a front, indulging in denial and pretending that we were a ‘perfect’ family. Even as I child I was painfully aware of the hypocrisy and false smiles. So, I choose not to mark my annual sobriety date but I am happy to celebrate with those that do. I do declare a date on recovery sites – not to boast but hopefully encourage others by illustrating that it possible to survive and continue to grow without our primary drug of choice – in my case alcohol. That’s not to say that I am not proud of my achievement, I am but I prefer to celebrate quietly with myself when the quality of my sobriety is demonstrated rather than because I made it through x number of days.

  4. I enjoyed reading your article, Sally.
    When I finally got sober, I knew it was more likely I would die drunk than get one year of sobriety. My blackouts scared me, but I would always drink anyway. I hoped they could fix me in a few days in the treatment center—I didn’t want any part of a ‘Day At A Time’ journey. It looked grim for me.
    For many reasons, the percentage of people who have long-term recovery is dwarfed by the numbers who don’t stay long enough to find a comfortable sobriety. If I was a cancer patient, I would love to hear stories of people in remission for many years no matter how I was feeling. Some arrive in 12 Step programs with a similar hopelessness. Sobriety would be a gift instead of a sacrifice.
    There were random days when someone at a meeting would celebrate 2, 5, 10 and even 20 years of sobriety, and I realized that the seemingly impossible could happen—that maybe I, too, could have another chance at life. Hope, that thing that seemed so far removed from my life, was returning.
    I kept coming back—I knew they had better things to do than to go to meetings and lie to me. I noticed it was their intention to help me, not be better than me because of their number of years. I wanted to be one of them, part of the ‘We’.
    I’ve been blessed to be sober for many years now—often longer than many of the younger ones have been alive. When I tell someone, usually only when I’m asked, I’m thinking of the person who comes in like I did, facing the impossible. But in my daily interactions with others, I can only be helpful if I’m just another garden variety alcoholic who has found a way out. I don’t want my time to be something that separates me from others, or has any expectations.
    I’ve had long periods of ‘quality’ sobriety, but sometimes life caves in and I have to hold onto the ‘quantity’ until better days come. I had to learn how to ask for help again. I wasn’t protected from life, but rather had to learn how to live it. Otherwise, to drink is to die.
    I can only be helpful if I’m on the same level, not comparing my entry date in the fellowship. All we really have is the Great Right Now. I’m definitely not a spiritual giant—I’ve not only been restored to sanity, but also restored to human being. I hope I never forget to be grateful.
    This is just one more way to look at it, which is what freedom is all about.

    • “I have to hold onto the ‘quantity’ until better days come.” I needed to hear that! That’s where I am now; holding out hope that quality will come.

    • Hang in there—My sponsor told me several times, “This too shall pass”. I still forget that sometimes when I’m in the middle of something.

  5. What a great topic!

    I think for me my recovery date was something I anchored into when I first got into AA. I will never forget the bit of relief watching “X days *in recovery*”. I remember anchoring myself in those last two words. I wanted that date to be pushed back far away in the past. It brought a twofold response for me, first a bit or relief and second also shame.

    For me now, I use my recovery date as a milestone. A reminder of how each 24 hour moment adds up and to stay the course.

    I still have a bit of ego that creeps in when that day rolls around. I remember my previous sponsor shared a close recovery date to mine. So during our weekly meetings when it came time to get chips- we both got one.

    He had a very flamboyant personality and basked in his day, usually giving some sort of rousing speech. I usually just sat in the shadow wanting to speak my moment… so obviously I still care *a bit*… even if the other 364 days it serves more as a personal internal milestone reminder.

  6. Thanks Sally!

    What a great topic and well written article!

    I look forward to reading other views on this subject.

    I myself love to acknowledge milestones in my recovery ~ it gives me a focal point to look at my successes, goals, and so on.

    Many folks are involved in more than 1 program and deal with multiple issues which means they may have different milestones for each.

    Stop smoking, eating issues, gambling, sex or even emotional sobriety ~ its healthy to work on whatever concerns one has.

    I do get frustrated at the concept of relapsing and how some view it as a complete set back to day one. This discounts the tools and experiences one gains from any healthy period of abstinance.

    I myself have relapsed a few times.. I feel that my experience is not unique.. I even made conscious decisions to drink, but ultimately came back for the sober lifestyle I grew to love.

    So does this make the idea of sobriety dates and milestones more confusing? Not in my mind.. I am grateful for any period of harm reduction in my life, and view each as a chapter that has made my life in recovery what it is today.

    I have also looked outside of 12 step programs and found many tools which complement my own path and journey in recovery.

    Thanks for the opportunity to share my opinion outside of a pure AA~NA/12 step discussion.

  7. I just want to dip in and thank everyone for sharing their thoughts and experiences so’s broadened my appreciation of what a recovery date can mean at an individual level.

    A few of the things mentioned have also triggered additional memories for me, one in particular springs to mind. Jeff, you talk of keeping your coin in your pocket and using it to help you pause when agitated. When I came back into recovery after my relapse, it was my first sponsor who I reached out to..and I tucked the coin I mention in my opener into my bag and carried it with me as a source of strength for many months.

    Really appreciating all the responses, again…many thanks 🙂

  8. I celebrate mine by announcing it for a week at the meetings I attend and get a coin from my home group. There are two reasons that I do this. I was taught early on that it is an accomplishment for us to get one day let alone multiple days or years. The other reason is to show new comers that the program does work. I know when I came in I heard people talk of their time and I thought there’s no way, these people are full of it. As a result of working the Steps I found there is a way and it is a wonderful design for living.
    There is no right or wrong answer, it is more of a personal preference for each to decide for themselves.
    Also when I came into the program I was very angry. The oldtimers told me to keep my coin in my pocket and grab it and say the serenity prayer before I reacted. Which helped me to learn to pause when agitated like it says in the BB.
    In my area it is also a custom to pass the coins around the room to rub them for luck and to say a prayer over them. Does it work? I guess if you have faith that it does it will.

  9. I didn’t want to celebrate my first anniversary, I felt like I shouldn’t get rewards for something like that, but the oldtimers insisted that I stop thinking about me but think of the newcomer who needs to know if can be done. So I announce it for newcomers but I have never forgotten that I’m just one drink away from a drunk and that I have nothing to brag about.

    I’m still making living amends and trying to be of service.

    Good article Sally! Glad to see you writing again.

  10. I choose to live by the 11th tradition of anonymity, “There is never need to praise ourselves.” What and when I did anything is between me, and God. I like the idea that every day is our sober day, and date. Using this tradition is also humbling.

  11. Great share Sally. I celebrate our Anniversary, It’s important for others to see that one can live a life without drinking or other chemicals. My first day sober was on Christmas of 1977, Every year, I try to make the midnight Al-Cathon Meeting. Its a great way to start Christmas and mark another year being sober.

  12. I was happy to read a post that speaks to the whole “date thng”. As someone who has been in and out, I can tell you that on a personal level, the recovery date has been more of a bludgeon than a motivator.

    And as a close friend has said to me, toxicity can come from someone with 25 years as much as it can come from someone with 25 minutes of time. Wisdom and caring too can come from both ends of the spectrum.

    I say this not to denigrate anyone’s success – if you are living happy and healthy? Congrats! That should be our common goal.

    My personal journey has seen many jaunts of pure ‘sobriety’ but until I started to focus on the root mental issues, happiness was fairly lost to me. It is a funny equation – happiness is very often lost to artificial stimulants. But removing those artificial stimulants is not a guarantee of happiness either.

    12 step may not have been for me. But I still did take some important stuff from it. Admit the issues. Take stock of your life and do so as you progress. Meditate. Help others.

    I’m pleased to say that happiness is once again a big part of my life.

  13. Thanks for posting that article. Very thought provoking and well-written.

    I got clean and sober on January 30, 1994. I am very proud of all I have done and what a tremendous battle it has been. Since you asked 🙂 I’ll give you my 2 cents worth.

    My date was when I went into the hospital and finally got it kicked into me. They had to kick my butt really hard. My sobriety date is the day I quit drinking, quit using all illicit drugs, including recreational marijuana and quit abusing prescription drugs. It was the day I got honest to myself and to all of my doctors.

    Each fellowship has differing opinions of what a clean date means. AA seems to not have an opinion on “outside matters,” even though (other) drugs were mentioned in the Big Book. NA includes alcohol as a drug, like any others. They also don’t consider someone clean if they are in drug replacement therapy (methadone/suboxone, etc.) for coming off of opioids/opiates. They briefly mention psychiatric drugs but don’t really talk about them much. Many claim to have no other option but to use benzodiazepines (Xanax, Valium, etc.) for anxiety, etc. Some doctors love the stuff and some doctors hate the stuff. Then there are anti-psychotics and anti-depressants, which no one for good reason will touch. (Anymore…you should have seen some of the old-timers in the program when I got in in 1994. Wow.)

    Then of course, there is “harmless” marijuana. A significant amount of people in AA use it for “marijuana maintenance” when coming off of alcohol or for other reasons. People with chronic pain, who are being forced to stop opioids and are left for dead, use “medical cannabis” if their specific condition is allowed by state law. All I will say is that all the wonderful things all over the Internet said about how “harmless” marijuana is, it isn’t. In some people it is addicting. There is a lot more research about the dangers, but it is getting buried in all the propaganda. Is it less harmful than alcohol? Does that matter? Is it better than a handful of prescription drugs that insurance pays for? Marijuana Anonymous, a real fellowship, just like AA and NA lets you decide if you have a problem and are addicted.

    Thanks for listening to my OPINION.

  14. Awesome piece, Sally. I like to celebrate my anniversary. It gives me a positive affirmation of what I am accomplishing. I also use the anniversary to reflect on my journey.

    Thanks for the thought provoking walk on the issue.

  15. What a great timely question Sally – I celebrated an anniversary yesterday

    As a newcomer, time in the program meant everything. I knew little to nothing about recovery and those with time held the keys to the kingdom as far as I was concerned – I could not wait to accumulate time and recovery dates were very important. I was not capable of discerning quality from quantity early on. Eventually over time a person’s sobriety date carried less significance to actual quality of their sobriety, at least in my experience. Today, the quality of my life in sobriety is much more meaningful than an actual number.

    Cake has always been a requirement on my anniversary and this year was no exception. However, you must accept an expanded understanding of “cake” for what was consumed this year. I didn’t get to a face to face meeting or go out and buy a cake but I did make pancakes for breakfast and called it good!

    Excellent article Sally

  16. Fabulous and thought provoking article Sally! I’ve come to expect nothing less when you write. In early recovery I was really excited about sober dates; and I still am for the ones that are counting days and do want to celebrate! For myself, I am grateful for the years in the program but not so into gettting a new medallion each year. However, to be honest, I’m not so into celebrating belly button birthdays either anymore! 🙂 I’m glad to be sober, glad to be working a program of recovery, but I continue to be a work in progress. Thank you for this article. You put to words thoughts that until now were only my head.

    • That was supposed to say you “put THOUGHTS TO WORDS”. I had much more I could have shared but truly Sally’s words spoke much of my truth. I am forever grateful for the rooms of AA and the program for that is what got me sober!

  17. It’s a wonderful read Sally! Structure and content; as if I know much of such things, but I know true feelings when I see them and when it’s written to express rather than impress. I did have a sleepless night and needed to re-read only because I’m sluggish. I still am not sure about one little part but I’m sure it will come to me and if not I know you’ll help.
    My recovery date is important to me as it was freedom. A beginning and becoming. It carries zero importance when getting to know someone. As for sponsor I look for someone who is working it, living it. I’ve had three. The good, the bad and the ugly. Bad came from out of town trip drunk 2 years ago, still maintains 26 years sobriety. (Not my place to narc) Ugly I just lost.
    I was once pushed into publishing sober date on our whiteboard at home group as a service gesture. I’ve since erased because I’m odat. I spoke once but froze. My group was kind and it just went smoothly to open discussion. Sally I do wish to comment in a more comprehensive manner. I’m rambling and your words demand more respect. I’ll post this but come back when my mind is more clear. I hope that will be fine or even permitted in this format. Thank you so much for sharing your ides, beliefs, yourself here. Wonderful !!

  18. Pingback: 6 months – Brilliant Sanity

  19. Forgive the typos. I thought I reread and corrected it but evidently not so much. Hoping it makes sense. Thanks again Sally

  20. As always, Sally, your writings are very well-thought-out. Like others have said here, thought-provoking. Some mulling over tooas you mention. I can see the different sides of this conversation. In one way we say it’s just a date, and everything is one day at a time, and every day is the beginning of a new year. For instance today’s the first day of the next 365 days. Happy New Year! Being brought up with dates and schedules and whatnot, we are beholden almost to time, milestones etc.. I think there’s a certain amount of healthy pride wrapped around our recovery date. We are told to pick up chips, celebrations, cake, parties and what have you. So from day one, importance on the day we surrender is part of our journey. I think with me too, it gives my children a reality check each time my anniversary comes up. When I say to them “mommy is sober 6 years today” and to see the astonishment on their face is as crucial to my recovery as it is priceless to their hearts. To hear how they are so proud of me and have both even written essays in regards to it. Me openly sharing my journey allows them to go really deep and share it with their classmates. I think it’s therapeutic for them and educational for the children and teachers. James’s college essay hit deep. I was ashamed. I experienced all kinds of emotions when I read it as well as having read Genevieve’s essay. But in both of their essays they refer to the date or the years. So I take into consideration more than just myself and that it gives others hope when I speak of my date. Even my relapse date. Again a date. I originally got sober in August of 2010 and relapsed in January of 2011. There you go more dates. I didn’t necessarily lose that time. I refer to it often and to the treatment center I went to. I experienced so much gowth and enlightenment at that Center. After relapsing on and off for 6 months, back into recovery in June11, 2011. I will never forget that day and when I said, ” take me to the hospital.” IT was do or die on that day. I would certainly be dead and found in my home with a bottle of vodka. I don’t doubt it for a minute. I can understand not being beholden to a date for some . Some people don’t like the hoopla surrounded by it but then again some people need it . To feel that accomplishment and sense of Joy on where they came to where they are now. I embrace all forms of recovery. I like the way some of it is not Fellowship centered or 12-step centered etc.. I value everyone’s take on things. As long as we stay open-minded and kind to each other and remember there is not just one way to do it. I really enjoyed this. It brought my recovery to the top of my thoughts today and just how proud I am of it. As to my date, while it’s not all about the celebration in hoopla it is about the inner workings of Jennifer and finding Solace and pride in myself from where and what I have accomplished. Primarily it is for my children because they because the date is almost like a point of reference and they are a deep part of the recovery process forme and the reason my feet hit the floor each day. The date helped them in providing them clarify to share their hearts and the sadness they once felt how their mom has been sober for over 6 years , and joy they now feel. Looking forward to hearing and reading more of your writings. It is certain that you are brilliant I’m have a relatable way with words. Thank you!

  21. Sally, you invoked some thought in me through your well written article. I appreciate it very much. The think, think, think slogan is coming to mind right now.
    Each anniversary I acquire is important. I engage in some reflection. I will attend a meeting so that I may obtain a coin. I’ve even had some members provide a cake for my milestone at a meeting.
    Many times I have given a card to a member whom I was close to for an anniversary or attended a meeting so I could present a coin to her.
    I do not speak of my clean time/sobriety very often. The world no longer revolves around me. It’s more important for me to hear how others are staying clean and sober.

  22. So glad you wrote this, Sally. It’s a great reflection on something I’ve also pondered. For me, I think that yes, the clean date is important. There may be a level of peer approval that even at 53, I seem to benefit from and having others acknowledge my milestones in the past has fed that need. I don’t know if that would be considered “healthy” or not, but it works for me. I’m more motivated to stay clean and it’s a more rewarding experience on ITR to have that date posted. I’ve also gone through periods where I removed my clean date from public view and more than once, it was assumed by others that not having it posted meant that I was using. That’s too bad that people often assume this.

  23. Sally,

    This Friday at my regular AA meeting, I will celebrate my third year since my last drink. And while I can claim that I have had many days over the previous 12 years where i had chosen not to drink, I had used the rooms more as a Crisis intervention line than a place to find recovery. These three years are different. For these three years, I stayed and have walked the road of recovery. And so for me, yes indeed I am celebrating – inviting my recovery friends to attend that Friday night meeting with me. I even invited my Pastor because he too has been an important part of my recovery.

    Yet, much like your article – I have other dates that are important too – especially as I have re-started my recovery from sex addiction – as well. The most important amount of time being that which has me free of all inner circle activities – with the major one being freedom from “porn” – checking my recovery app I see that this is 198 days now. Getting my 6 month key tag nice on a day when we had a differing newcomer come into our room.

    I would love to give you a date for recovery from food addiction – but I can’t as of yet i still use food to smooth out the rough edges. One day at a time. Thanks for your thoughtful article.

    • Hi Sally,
      My take on recovery dates is similar to yours. I really look at how people treat others and themselves as the main indicator of living a spiritual path like the twelve steps or any other for that matter. I have always picked up a coin at my home group but since going to mostly online meetings have not made a fuss about dates. Having relapsed after 17 good years in recovery on prescription pain meds, which I needed badly at the time, my perspective was changed greatly. After my relapse I experienced some judgement and pulling away by some of my brothers and sisters in recovery and it really devastated me. While I struggled with the pain pill addiction for several years I continued to live by the program in all other aspects. I just couldn’t quit the damn pills. I picked up too many white chips during that time and any self-confidence I had was smashed on the rocks of addiction. At a local meeting one evening the chairperson, who I often broadcasted his sober time, asked that we go around the room and give our sobriety dates. I felt shame. Mine was short and tentative at that time. We started going around the room and when it got to one of members who is a very kind man and has been around a long time said something I will never forget. He said “This is a 24 hour program. I live one day at a time. Today is always my sobriety date.” I was so moved by his kindness I could have kissed him. He knew my story and had watched me struggle. And I knew he was showing compassion towards me. I learned a lot that day about “sobriety dates”.

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