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Should We Celebrate Recovery Milestones?

Recovery milestones are a major victory and often a reason for celebration. Getting sober and maintaining life in recovery is hard work, and marking achievements can be a powerful motivator.

What Are Recovery Milestones?

Recovery milestones are markers of success on the path to recovery. Typically, Typically, we celebrate specific time periods, such as:

  • 24 hours sober
  • One month sober
  • Three months sober
  • One year sober

Self-help support groups often celebrate these recovery milestones with embossed coins, keychains, recognition, and speeches.

Recovery milestones celebrate the successes of a person who’s struggled with drug and alcohol use. Many people may have struggled with addiction for months or years – a full sober day is a huge accomplishment and any day beyond the first 24 hours is an additional victory.

Celebrating Recovery Milestones

People with substance use disorders know precisely how difficult staying sober can be and are rightfully proud of having achieved and sustained sobriety.

The tradition of celebrating recovery milestones was widely adopted through 12-Step groups shortly after they came about. In a 12-Step meeting, it’s common to recognize people for their accomplishments at either the start or end of a meeting with small tokens to commemorate their sobriety. These tokens are a tangible reminder of the work that goes into maintaining sobriety, one day at a time.

People celebrate these milestones beyond the confines of a 12-Step meeting – family members, friends, and treatment centers also celebrate sustained sobriety.

But is there any benefit to celebrating recovery milestones, or is this simply a tradition that exists for tradition’s sake?

Benefits of Celebrating Recovery Milestones

Celebrating recovery milestones is particularly meaningful to those who have achieved their goals, and the benefits extend far beyond tokens. Celebrating a recovery milestone has many benefits that can ripple into entire communities.

Recovery Milestones Show That Recovery Is Possible

One of the key benefits of celebrating recovery milestones is that they show recovery is indeed possible. People in the midst of a substance use disorder can feel as though there’s no way out of the psychological pain and cravings they experience.

But seeing somebody from a similar situation who has just achieved hours, days, months, or years of sobriety can provide social proof that abstinence is achievable. You can see with your own eyes that people have fought back against their substance use disorders, and their experience can act as a guide for how to navigate a similar situation.

So while recovery milestones are often a point of celebration for the individual, these achievements can actually help other people recover as well.

Celebrating Resilience

A recovery milestone is a true accomplishment; substance use disorder is a progressive, relapsing brain disorder. It takes hard work to overcome the daily (and sometimes hourly) challenges that pop up in early sobriety, and recovery is a lifelong journey. Recovery milestone celebrations allow people to feel a healthy pride in their accomplishments.

This pride can even help to sustain recovery in the future: it builds self-esteem, proves that you are capable, and can be a landmark moment for you to reflect upon when you are going through stressful situations.

Recovery milestones prove that you have worked tirelessly to fight for your sobriety, even when it felt impossible. They’re a reminder that you can do hard things.

Motivation

Many people see recovery milestones as a goal they can constantly work toward. Someone who has been sober for three weeks may still face intrusive cravings, stressful situations, and temptations to return to active substance use.

But a recovery milestone is a competing desire, and being able to look forward to celebrating 30 days sober can help keep their goal at the front of their mind through their most challenging times.

This motivation is part of why 12-Step groups emphasize recovery milestones in early sobriety. During the first year, there are several milestones broken up into increasing durations, but people often transition to an annual celebration after years of recovery.

A common format for recovery milestone celebrations includes celebrating the following:

  • 24 hours sober every day for the first week of sobriety
  • 30 days sober
  • 60 days sober
  • 90 days sober
  • Six months sober
  • Nine months sober
  • One year sober
  • 18 months sober
  • Multiple years of sobriety

As you can see, the recovery milestones are weighted heavily on people new to recovery. Sustained sobriety is often the most difficult for those earliest in their journey, and breaking a goal into small, digestible pieces increases the likelihood of success. The first 24 hours can feel like the most significant celebration after an initial detox.

Recognizing How Far You’ve Come

People who have stayed sober for extended periods can lose sight of how far they’ve come. For many, the reasons they decided to get sober in the first place can begin to slip out of focus, and life’s frustrations can get in the way of continuing their journey.

But when people celebrate their recovery milestones, they often remember their first days struggling to get sober. Remembering the struggles of active addiction can galvanize people into restrengthening their efforts and continuing the path toward lasting recovery.

Recovery milestones also help people recognize other achievements they’ve made in sobriety. Many people in recovery unknowingly accomplish goals and tasks that they can easily take for granted when the focus on sobriety is at the top of the list.

Taking the time to celebrate their sobriety can remind them how meaningful these experiences are, whether they’re rekindling friendships and familial relationships, securing a job, developing healthy coping mechanisms, or trying new hobbies.

Life in recovery isn’t always easy, and every step counts.

Connecting with People Who Need Help

In addition to celebrating people with extended lengths of sobriety, recovery milestones help people who need the most by sharing their stories with their communities. People with less than a year sober are often at higher risk of relapse, and celebrating 24 hours or 30 days can help the community create a more robust network of support for those who need it the most.

Giving back or paying your recovery forward is often an essential recovery strategy. Many treatment centers emphasize community or alum programs because it’s a proven technique for sustained recovery – you can help yourself, help others, and find a sense of fulfillment by sharing your story.

Enjoying Your Sobriety

Finally, one of the best reasons to celebrate recovery milestones is that it’s simply good fun. People get sober to live better lives – what’s better than enjoying yourself and your accomplishments with the support of your community?

Recognizing recovery milestones is a fun way to show your loved ones you care or to celebrate a personal achievement that is deeply meaningful. Like any other achievement, it’s worth the reverence: it’s a special day to appreciate your progress.

Whether you honor your accomplishments with cake and a candle, a token, a speech, raucous applause from your loved ones, or all of the above, celebrating recovery milestones gives you a chance to have more fun in sobriety and recognize that it’s possible to enjoy life in recovery.

Recovery Milestones to Celebrate

The most common recovery achievements are based on the length of abstinence from addictive substances. But dozens of other milestones are worthy of celebration as well, such as:

  • Personal achievements
  • Repaired relationships
  • Quitting smoking
  • Mental health progress
  • Days without cravings

Recovery milestones are a personal accomplishment, so you can set goals that matter the most to you.

How to Celebrate a Recovery Milestone

There are dozens of ways to celebrate a recovery milestone, either for yourself or for a loved one. Common examples of recovery milestone celebrations include:

  • Celebrating at a self-help support group
  • Going out to a nice dinner
  • Having a backyard barbecue
  • Throwing a surprise party
  • Calling an out-of-state friend to say congratulations
  • Heading to an amusement park
  • Treating yourself to ice cream
  • Reflecting on your journey in a personal journal

Think of celebrating a recovery milestone like you would observe a birthday; in a sense, the two share a similarity in that, much like a rebirth, people who got sober began a new life on their sobriety date.

Of course, you can celebrate your recovery before a specific milestone. Each day is an accomplishment. Nourishing yourself with small celebrations can help deepen your gratitude. According to Harvard Health, gratitude is associated with more positive emotions, good experiences, better health outcomes, more resilience when facing adversity, and stronger relationships.

Recovery Milestones and Relapse

Often, people dismiss celebrating their accomplishments because of one reason: relapse. People who relapse often feel disheartened by milestones, as they can feel as though they should have reached them but didn’t.

It’s important to remember that relapse is often a part of recovery and that the number of continuous days of sobriety isn’t the only metric for success. People who struggle with relapse can still celebrate their recovery, and there are other indicators that they have made significant progress in their recovery journey.

One of the most common ways to acknowledge their progress despite relapse is by tracking their total sober days. If you’ve stayed sober for 365 days, with just two days of relapse, that is still a tremendous accomplishment.

Too often, people who relapse feel as though they’ve completely wiped out the progress they’ve made, but this simply isn’t true. Any day free of drug and alcohol use is a success for a person with a substance use disorder. You can still make progress in your recovery journey despite having a slip-up.

If you’ve recently relapsed, don’t let recovery milestones become a negative event where you wish you could have done better – beating yourself up with negative self-talk will only cause more harm. Instead, take a moment to pause and reflect on how far you’ve come. Continue working on your personal goals, striving toward bettering yourself in recovery, and celebrating being able to stay sober another day without returning to active addiction.

Building More Support in Recovery

If you’d like to learn more about the in-person and virtual addiction treatment programs at All Points North, reach out to our team by filling out our confidential online form or calling 855.235.9792.

Wherever you’re at in your recovery journey, we believe in you. Recovery is possible, and you deserve to celebrate yourself with the support of a community of professionals and peers.

Reference

  • Koob, G., Volkow, N. Neurocircuitry of Addiction. Neuropsychopharmacol 35, 217–238 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1038/npp.2009.110
  • “Giving Thanks Can Make You Happier.” Harvard Health, Harvard Medical School, 14 Aug. 2021, https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/giving-thanks-can-make-you-happier.