Recovery Cliches and Why They Are Still Relevant and Valuable


Emma Liverite on February 1, 2019 at 2:07 PM

1.     One day at a time


Potentially the most overused cliché of them all, it is arguably also the most important and valuable. When I first came into recovery, I heard this constantly.

“I’m having a hard time staying clean.” “Stay clean, one day at a time.”

 “I’m having relationship problems.” “You have to take things one day at a time.”

“I’m having issues with my sponsor.” “Take it one day at a time.”

So why is it that this is such an overused phrase when we come into recovery? It’s simple, really. It’s because taking things one day at a time is an effective, attainable approach. It’s attainable because it’s entirely realistic to expect to get through one day. A single 24 hours. How much could life possibly throw at you in 24 hours, right?

Substance abuse is such a tremendous problem to tackle, so it makes sense that we “break it down” into a daily, approachable, smaller challenge, as opposed to a life-long struggle.

When I first came to recovery, I could not tolerate the idea that I could never use drugs again, for the rest of my life. I was still very much dependent on my drug of choice psychologically. But I could tolerate not using my drug of choice, for 24 hours at a time.

But the “one day at a time” rule doesn’t just apply to using drugs or alcohol. It’s how we live our life.


2.     Easy does it


This is another overused phrase in recovery. I hear it all the time when I go to meetings and when I’m around people who are in recovery. The idea is that “taking things easy” will aid us in our recovery journey. Put differently, it means “don’t be so hard on yourself,” or “don’t take things so seriously.”

It’s actually a little contradictory if you think about it. What I mean is, substance abuse is very much a life-or-death struggle. This is evidenced by the ever-rising overdose statistics nationwide, and particularly in the state of Michigan.

So, does it make any sense to tell people to “take things easy” when we are fighting a life-or-death battle? The answer is, of course, yes. The “easy does it” approach makes recovery more approachable, and more attainable. Similar to the “one day at a time” philosophy, “easy does it” helps us, especially in early recovery, to handle the challenges of life.


3.     If nothing changes, nothing changes.


This is one of my favorite ones, mostly because it is just SO TRUE. How can we expect anything to change if WE DON’T change anything, right?

This phrase is just so fundamentally accurate. When I first came into recovery, this phrase really resonated with me. I found it to be even more meaningful when I truly internalized the idea that recovery is something I have to work on, every day. We don’t just recover when we stop using drugs and alcohol. It’s not something that naturally happens in the presence of abstinence alone.

I used to think that abstinence equaled recovery. Which is why, for almost ten years, I could never attain more than 60 days in succession. Five years ago, I finally understood, on a deep level, that recovery is work. A spiritual awakening is not something that just manifests when you are abstinent.

The idea that “nothing changes if nothing changes” began to make sense. It’s so simple and intuitive. If you keep doing what you’ve been doing, you will get the same results that you have always gotten. If you change what you are doing, you can get a different result. As they say, if the action changes, the result changes.


4.     Progress, not perfection.


This is another one of my favorites. Recovery truly is about progress, not perfection. If we were to expect perfection from ourselves or those in our lives every day, we would be seriously disappointed. All the time.

Recovery, to me, is all about personal development. As long as I’m making progress towards my development on a daily basis, I’m doing fine.

Education has been a very significant part of my recovery. For years, in and out of active addiction, I tried to succeed in school. I would sign up for classes every semester, and a few weeks in I would already be dropping classes, failing exams, and missing assignments. But school was so important to me, that I never gave up. I still tried. But my addiction was so disabling that I could never succeed.

Since I’ve been in recovery, I have attained 3 Associate’s Degrees and will be graduating with my Bachelor’s in April of 2019. My experience with school and recovery reinforces the importance of “progress, not perfection.”

As long as I’m going to work, going to class, not using, and cultivating my spirituality on a daily basis, I am making progress. I truly believe this, on a deep level. I don’t need to have everything now. I don’t need to be a “perfect” recovering person, a “perfect” employee, a “perfect” student, a “perfect” daughter, sister, friend, or any other identity.


5.     Live and let live.


For me, this phrase goes hand in hand with the spiritual principle of acceptance. Living and letting others live (or be) is a fundamental application of the principle of acceptance. Sometimes, it is difficult for us to let people live. Often, this is because we’ve been where they are. We’ve seen it through. We feel that they are making a mistake.

I experienced this recently. For me, relationships in early recovery have always been a barrier. I pursued relationships when I would get clean, for no other reason than to fill the massive void I felt without drugs. My friends and mentors always told me that relationships are discouraged because they are often a factor in relapse. My relationships definitely were. Additionally, how can one expect to recover, when recovery, at least initially, takes everything we have, if a significant portion of our attention is diverted from ourselves and our recovery, to another person? It’s a lot of responsibility. Most of us don’t know how to take care of ourselves in early recovery, let alone taking on another person.

So I felt inclined to intervene when I saw an acquaintance, who is in early recovery, get involved in a relationship. Technically, it was none of my business. In the end, I didn’t get involved, and I “let her live.” But I so desperately wanted to warn her, if only because I didn’t want her to go through what I had been through. I didn’t want her to experience the same fate.

In the end, I lived and let my acquaintance live (be.) It was the right decision.


6.     One is too many and a thousand is never enough.


I could not agree more with this phrase. This phrase sums up my entire experience with addiction. The idea is that you cannot use drugs, at all, not even once. This is the foundation of the 12-step program. I tried so many times to use drugs just once. It never, ever worked.

As individuals with substance use disorders, our very physiology is different. Our brain structure changes as our addiction progresses. An alcoholic’s liver metabolizes alcohol differently (faster) than a non-alcoholic. This is why it’s so crucial that we, as individuals with substance use disorders, do not ever use. Ever. Not even once.

The second part of this phrase refers to the fact that once we are in active addiction, we can never get enough of our intoxicant of choice. Ever.

I never believed that this was the case until my last relapse. I so desperately wanted to stop using, but I could not, no matter what I did. Also, I needed more and more drugs, in terms of quantity and variety. My need for “more” was insatiable. In fact, it was so impossible to quench my need for more drugs that I eventually had a very serious overdose. I literally could not stop doing more and more drugs to the point of death.

My personal experience reinforces the validity of the phrase “one is too many and a thousand is never enough.”

To sum up, these recovery clichés are still meaningful and valuable. It is imperative that we live our lives by them, every day.



Nick Harris

Emma this is great and so true! Can’t wait to see more!

1762 days ago