What does One Day At A Time mean?

One Day At A TimeOne of the most common 12-Step slogans is “One Day At A Time.”

This has become one of my most oft-quoted mantras in recovery.  But what does it really mean?  What about this slogan can help me gain perspective and hope in recovery?

Living in the present moment has become a huge paradigm-shift and a constant practice for me.  Accepting that the present moment is really all I have and is the only place where I can ever feel God has changed the focus and greatly expanded the serenity I feel on a daily basis.

In the early days, weeks, months of my recovery, the slogan “One Day At A Time” helped get me through some of those almost-impossible days when trauma was eating me alive.  I had no idea what was going to happen in my life.  Trying to exist, fold laundry, parent my children, without a constant reel of movies in my mind seemed like an impossible task.  I started with setting 20 minute timers.  No imagining scenes for 20 minutes.  I could do that.  I could handle that.  And if I couldn’t, that was okay.  I would just re-set the timer.  I could make it for just One More Day.  I could make it for 20 minutes.

Today, the slogan “One Day At A Time” also reminds me how God has been working in my life these past 3 years in recovery.  One of the blessings of being a sponsor is that I often get to talk with women who are deep in trauma, where I was so stuck for so long.  As I speak with these women and hear the trauma in their voices, I am filled with empathy for them, and gratitude for the way God is working in my life.  How well I remember this pit of despair.  What a miracle it is to me that I am no longer drowning in trauma, depression, bitterness, anger, and incredulity. How was I rescued?

By working my Steps, One Day At A Time.  And One Day At A Time, my Higher Power is opening my eyes.

First, He allowed me to see how unmanageable I was.  Thank you, Trauma, for making that so obvious.

Next, He allowed me to see more clearly who He was as I opened my eyes to the idea that I may not know everything about Him.  Through the Power of Not Knowing, I came to know Him in new and intimate ways.

Then I began to trust Him enough to begin practicing surrender daily, choosing to turn to Him, and to my Sponsor, to let go of the unmanageable emotions that kept me spinning in chaos.

As I spent months working on my 4th Step inventory, He opened my eyes One Day At A Time to the coping strategies and defects that were blocking my progress.

As I was able to share these things with my sponsor, my therapist, and my group, I was awakened to how these coping strategies had never brought any truly good thing into my life, and I became willing to let them go.

Now I can see so clearly that the more willing I become, the more I see tangible results in my life that are undeniable evidence that He is removing these defects from me, and I grow more peaceful in the trust that He has my back.  There is a stillness in the Hope that He will indeed remove all my defects of character as I become aware and willing to surrender to His will.

My relationships become more healthy as I do my best to make amends, grow in empathy, acceptance, and love for others, and become more willing to hold healthy boundaries despite what others may think.

My daily focus becomes connecting with Him, through prayer, meditation, music, journaling, reading, or attending meetings.  He becomes my first priority and this is reflected in how I choose to spend my time.

When I talk to women who are still stuck in the pit, (I know all too well that I am always just one bad day from being back in that pit), I am filled with hope and gratitude, for myself and for them.  Because of the gift of realizing our own unmanageability, we are both exactly where we need to be to start seeing God work miracles in our lives.

Could I have explained to my stuck self what I would become or the journey I needed to go on?  Never.  I couldn’t have comprehended it in the least.

I just had to start.  Go to a meeting.  Make a phone call.  Read Step One. Read it again.  Answer a question.  One Day At A Time.

And trust that One Day At A Time, my Higher Power is going to change me.  With or without a change in my circumstance, He can change me.

And He did.  And He is.  And He will.  One Day At A Time for the rest of my life.  What a gift.

What does “One Day At A Time” mean to you?


7 thoughts on “What does One Day At A Time mean?”

  1. I LOVE THIS SO MUCH, every word of it!

    As I’m reading, I think of a CS Lewis quote that has become the very definition of what it feels like when I’m in recovery. It also sums up Step 3 for me:

    “[To have Faith in Christ] means, of course, trying to do all that He says. There would be no sense in saying you trusted a person if you would not take his advice. Thus if you have really handed yourself over to Him, it must follow that you are trying to obey Him. But trying in a new way, a less worried way. Not doing these things in order to be saved, but because He has begun to save you already. Not hoping to get to Heaven as a reward for your actions, but inevitably wanting to act in a certain way because a first faint gleam of Heaven is already inside you.”

    I love the line “a less worried way.”
    I think about this quote often, and I love it so much. It reminds me of the truth that is always found in simplicity -in the reminder of, “one day at a time.” That’s all we really have anyway -the moment right in front of us. Thanks for this post <3

    1. I love CS Lewis. Thanks for sharing his wisdom. I also love the “less worried way.” I never realized how often I was doing EVERYTHING in my life in a “worried way” until recovery. Now I feel like it is such a gift to be able to realize, “Oh, there’s that tightness in my shoulders again and that rush in my step. Breathe. Slow down.”

      I also love the line “wanting to act in a certain way because a first faint gleam of Heaven is already inside you.” I love this. This feels like the process of recovery to me. Growing in trust, willingness, openness, and one-ness…one day at a time!

  2. Oh, how I remember pleading every morning, “Lord, just help me get through this day.” At the end of the day, I thanked God for getting me through the day. That’s all I could do during the early days of trauma. I simply got through each day, one day at a time. Now, “one day at a time” means making life happen instead of allowing life to happen to me. By that I mean instead of waiting for moments of joy, I try to create them. I try to live an open-hearted life and enjoy even the smallest moments of happiness. To do this, it is crucial for me to stick to daily habits that strengthen my emotional health: scripture study, prayer, healthy eating, self-care (including 12-step work) and some exercise. It’s not always easy to do all the things I’d like to do. That’s the beauty of “one day at a time.” I do what I can today without shame if I can’t do it all. With each new day, I have a new opportunity to do what I can, enjoy the process, and feel satisfaction with my efforts. I used to be a chronic worrier. Taking one day at a time has been liberating and life-changing!

    1. Thank you for sharing these thoughts! I relate to what you are saying! The early days we are clinging to the tiniest spark of light just to make it through the day. As time passes and we keep working it, we begin to realize that our life can be filled with light again. The dailies are crucial to allowing this process to happen! Thanks for the reminders!

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