5 Sobriety Clichés That Actually Help

There’s a good reason that this advice has become so popular.

Benya Clark
Apr 14 · 5 min read
Photo by Behnam Norouzi on Unsplash

The recovery world is filled with pithy advice and mantras. After four years sober, I have to admit that sometimes it makes me groan when I hear the same saying for the thousandth time.

However, the truth is that much of this advice was instrumental in helping me to stop drinking and stay sober. Below are five clichés that I’ve come to love, even though I’ve heard them countless times before.

One Day at a Time

Taking sobriety “one day at a time” means focusing on getting through the current day without a drink, instead of worrying about what you might do in the future. This advice saved me from relapse more times than I can count.

When I first got sober, my temptation was to think in just the opposite direction: instead of trying to get through the current day, I wanted to start planning my future and dreaming about a life without alcohol. The trouble with this is that it starts to feel incredibly overwhelming.

How could I possible stay sober for months or years when I had struggled so much to quit drinking for even a week? The enormity of the task made it appear impossible, which was incredibly discouraging. It made me want to quit before I had even really bothered to try.

The advice to take things “one day at a time” helped rein me in when my thoughts were spinning out of control. It reminded me to focus on tiny, achievable goals, like getting through one day (or even one hour) without booze. Eventually, all those days added up to years.

This Too Shall Pass

According to legend, there was once a king who wanted something that would always make him happy. His servants crafted a ring with the phrase “this too shall pass.” It did the trick of making him happy when he was sad, but had the unfortunate side effect of making him sad when he was happy.

Growing up Jewish, I heard this story attributed to King Solomon, but Wikipedia tells me it’s even better known as a Persian fable. These days, I see the phrase most often in addiction-recovery spaces.

It’s no secret that quitting alcohol requires going through a lot of rough days. Sometimes, especially during my first year sober, I felt like my entire life was going to be a struggle. Every time that something went wrong, my natural inclination was to return to drinking.

“This too shall pass” is a powerful reminder that all of life — including the positives and negatives — is transitory. As terrible as withdrawal and early sobriety can be, those feelings don’t last forever.

One is Too Many and One Thousand is Never Enough

This saying perfectly encapsulates my troubled relationship with alcohol. Before getting sober, I spent a lot of time and energy trying to drink in moderation. Instead of giving up alcohol entirely, I wanted to just decrease my drinking a bit.

The problem was that “moderation” was entirely antithetical to the way I actually drank. I never had a few beers just to enjoy the taste. For me, alcohol was all about getting drunk. There was no way for me to balance my desire to get wasted with my desire to drink less.

My solution was to cut alcohol out entirely. For me, drinking was an all-or-nothing decision, and I realized that I’d be a lot happier with nothing.

Sometimes, after getting sober, the temptation to drink in moderation would return. I’d have to remind myself that if I took that first drink, nothing could stop me from continuing to drink until I got drunk.

There’s No Problem So Bad a Drink Can’t Make it Worse

What do astronauts and addicts have in common? We both love the phrase “There’s no problem so bad you can’t make it worse.”

As an alcoholic, I had spent years training myself to drink in response to every problem I encountered. Bad day at work? Drink to forget it. Social anxiety at a party? Drink to loosen up. Feeling depressed? Drink to drown out my emotions.

The trouble with this approach is that it doesn’t really work. It’s a purely superficial strategy, which helped me to forget about my problems in the short-term while making them far worse overall. Drinking actually added to my stress, my mental health issues, and even my social anxiety.

After getting sober, it was difficult to escape the mindset of needing a drink to solve my problems. I always kept this saying in mind to remind myself that drinking wasn’t actually a solution — it was only going to add to my troubles.

Progress, Not Perfection

I’ve saved my favorite cliché for last: “progress, not perfection.” This phrase perfectly encapsulates my attitude towards sobriety and self-improvement in general.

Before getting sober, I used to daydream about turning my entire life around all at once. Day after day, I told myself that “tomorrow, I’m going to start living my life perfectly: no alcohol, exercising every morning, eating right, and more.” Of course, I never actually started living this perfect life — in fact, I didn’t make any changes at all.

My life only actually started to get better when I gave up on the idea of being perfect, and started aiming for progress instead. I began by just focusing on getting sober, and putting everything else on the backburner. I did my best to be forgiving of myself when I struggled with quitting drinking.

I made infinitely more progress in my life when I stopped aiming for a “perfect” ideal, and started to take practical steps toward self-improvement.

These sayings might be clichéd, but they have been a huge help in keeping me sober. I hope that they’ll be just as helpful for you. If anyone has any favorite sobriety sayings that I missed, please share them with me and the other readers in the comments!

Edit 4/29/21: I just noticed that Doran Lamb, who writes great articles about sobriety, published an article with the same premise as this one the day before I did. Although I didn’t read her article until today, I’m worried that I might have seen its title and unintentionally aped her idea. My apologies! Her article went in a very different and interesting direction with the premise, and I hope you’ll check it out:

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Benya Clark

Written by

I’m a lawyer and teacher from North Carolina. I write about sobriety, mental health, running, and more. Buy me a “coffee” at ko-fi.com/benyaclark.

Exploring Sobriety

Reflections on life without alcohol.

Benya Clark

Written by

I’m a lawyer and teacher from North Carolina. I write about sobriety, mental health, running, and more. Buy me a “coffee” at ko-fi.com/benyaclark.

Exploring Sobriety

Reflections on life without alcohol.

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