Days and Slips and Chips

sprayerimageHi Friends,

Even though it’s long, I wanted to post this email and my answer today. If you’re not in recovery, it probably won’t apply to you. If you are, I’d love to hear your thoughts. 

Hi Heather, 

I hope you are well. I want to ask you about a situation, if that is ok. 

 I recently had a “slip”. I drank late one night after 120+days, resumed my sobriety the next day. 

My feeling is that, though not continuous, the transformation I have made in my life has been miraculous. I abused myself for years with booze, and though I feel disappointed that I drank, I feel like it is time to stop with the self-castigation. I screwed up…I am trying to learn to be kind to myself.

I don’t want credit for what I have not achieved. At the same time, I don’t want to be discredited for the changes I have made.

I have not found a lot of resources or support for this scenario in the recovery world. It has pretty much all been “you are back at day 1”. Is it only about the “days”?

 Do you have any thoughts on the subject you would be willing to share?

Congratulations on your sobriety and your honesty. This is such a difficult issue and I’ve been tempted to post about it, but haven’t yet. I’ll see if I can try to be helpful.

As your note points out, counting continuous, unbroken days of sobriety and picking up milestone chips is an honored tradition in recovery groups. I think the purpose is threefold: to encourage people to stay sober, to celebrate hard work, and maybe more important, to show newcomers that long-term sobriety really is possible.

That said, this ritual rubs some people the wrong way, and I understand why. Whenever you introduce what looks like a system of reward, by default it can seem to punish, as well. For example, in some groups the chairperson asks at the opening of the meeting if there is anyone here with less than 30 days of continuous sobriety. The idea is to get to know newcomers and hand out “desire” chips. But it can also be used as a device to let the group know if someone has had a relapse. When a person with long-time sobriety raises their hand at this juncture, it can feel like they’re being publicly outed. When I relapsed after 6 months, my sponsor (I didn’t even get one til after the relapse) told me I should raise my hand at every meeting when this question got asked until I had more than 30 days. Regardless of the good intention, it felt humiliating, and almost like punishment. But because humility and rigorous honesty had been so stressed to me, it felt wrong to do any less. In the best of circumstances, this kind of public accountability can be helpful, I suppose. Some people say that the fear of having to tell everyone about a relapse keeps them from relapse. But I question whether that’s sufficient—or even a good—motivation to stay sober. Fear of humiliation only takes us so far.

A couple months after my 6-month relapse, I got in a huge fight with my husband while family was here and wine was out on the counter. On impulse, I grabbed an open bottle, planning to chug—but after one gulp, stopped. Halted by the horrible specter of yet another relapse, I corked the bottle with a sigh of relief. At the time, I was naïve enough—or blatantly in denial enough—to call it a close call, not a relapse. I didn’t tell my brand new sponsor and I forgot about the incident until many years later—actually, I came across the memory while writing my book. When I let my sponsor at the time read it, she felt hurt and deceived. She accused me of harboring a dark secret and insisted I change my sobriety anniversary date by two months (from Sept 2007 to Nov 2007) and tell my home group what happened.

I didn’t have any problem with her suggestion—and did so promptly. But I did object to her thinking the worst of me. Ironically, in retrospect, I’m so glad it wasn’t clear to me then that a gulp of wine is a relapse in the eyes of my program! Had I thought of it as such, especially given my recent relapse in September, I am absolutely positive I would have drank that entire bottle, been furious at myself, and would have decided that since I was back at Day 1 anyway, I might as well get good and drunk. And who knows how long that relapse might have lasted. Instead, my naiveté (or intentional denial—who knows?) sort of saved me.

So what am I saying or suggesting? I’m not sure, but here are some things to consider. The whole thing about chips and counting days can be helpful–or it can be harmful, depending on the person and their experience with reward systems, guilt, and the like. For me, coming from a conservative Christian background, it hinted at the kind of legalism I was trying to escape. It reminded me of how quickly churches or Christians erect all kinds of unwritten rules that have nothing to do with Scripture and everything to do with culture. Or human nature. I think it’s our egos that prompt us to set up systems that help to measure who’s doing it right or wrong, who’s losing and who’s winning, who is the “strong Christian,” or who is working a “strong program.” So we turn suggestions into commandments and value a practice we’ve come up with more than the principle that inspired it.

There’s nothing in the core literature of the most popular 12 Step program that suggests handing out chips and such. Or for that matter, that even talks about sponsors, much less sets them up to be the boss of another person’s sobriety. The role of a sponsor is to help take you through the 12 Steps and acquaint you with the program. Sponsors share their experience, strength, and hope. But given our human natures–both to want to be told what to do and to want to tell others what to do– you’re somehow a better recovery soldier if you have a hard-ass sponsor.

I’m sure you’ve noticed tons of other unwritten “rules” in recovery having to do with a myriad things. Some of these are helpful. And sponsorship, if you ask me, is extremely helpful, too. But we do ourselves and the program a disservice when we become strident about any of these things and let them take precedence over love and grace and yes, live and let live. We encourage folks to take what works and leave the rest—but we forget to warn them we might freak out if they do.

More and more, I find myself shying away from those who want to turn their recovery into a religion. Those who want to believe there’s only one right way to do anything. Given our diversity, we need more grace than that.

So what’s my answer to you about slips and chips and “days?” I know of many folks who simply stopped caring about or taking chips because they don’t want to participate in that aspect. I have a sponsee who hasn’t taken a chip in years because she feels an aversion to it—and since she’s doing marvelously, why would I try to force that on her?

That said, I do take chips. I enjoy celebrating my friends’ and my milestones. But those who love me know that I personally celebrate April 4 as my Miracle Sobriety Birthday—not Nov 24, my official sobriety date that commemorates that dumb gulp in the kitchen. The April date is the day my life changed, the day I walked into a treatment center, shaking in my bones, terrified but made brave by desperation. That’s the day that changed the course of my life and it’s also the time of year I experience all my anniversary feelings.

But out of respect for a program God used to help save my life, I take my birthday chip on Nov 24. And so maybe that’s the key thing here. Pray and ask yourself what action feels right for you today—and how you can honor your choice and the program you attend at the same time. Of course, if you have a sponsor, consider their suggestion. Hopefully it will be a suggestion or wisdom and not a direct command.

Personally, my wisdom is this: If you think publicly announcing a relapse and starting at day 1 will derail your sobriety, then just don’t. Just keep going. Just keep going and don’t take chips and then someday if you decide to change your date, fine. Your date is no one’s business but your own. And the objections of others who might get upset if they knew—those objections are likely based on a certain kind of competitive spirit–No fair!

Love yourself and your recovery enough to be faithful to it first. Check your heart and your conscience. And of course, while it’s fine that you keep your own and your sponsor’s counsel, I don’t recommend you lie. And maybe the most important thing I need to say is that it could be a big mistake not to publicly admit the slip, too—and if you keep relapsing, then it will be clear what you need to do.

In the meantime, if it’s just silly pride about having relapsed, then bite the bullet, bro.

As you know, we all only have one day at a time. I don’t have 61/2 years. I have today.

One last caution: It’s almost always true that every time you relapse it becomes harder to get sober again. I’ve seen it over and over. People get casual about a relapse or think they’ll just have a quick slip and get right back on the wagon–except they can’t. Some seed about the possibility of relapse gets planted and pretty soon they turn into chronic relapsers. And I don’t know of any group of people on the planet more miserable. To enjoy few or none of the benefits of recovery while also not being able to enjoy drinking is to live in a nightmare. Don’t go there, friend. Whatever you do. It might be life or death for you.

I hope some of this helps. Your sister in recovery, Heather

A related post in case you’re interested is here.


Author: Heather Kopp at

Heather Kopp is an author and blogger who writes about the intersection of addiction and faith. Her memoir about her recovery, Sober Mercies, was published by Jericho, a new imprint of HBG (Hachette Book Group) in Spring 2013.

71 thoughts on “Days and Slips and Chips”

  1. Thank you for this. I had a slip after
    23 yrs of sobriety due to enormous stress. Because I work in the treatment field and didn’t trust a colleague in my home group not to talk and I had a lot of shame and thought I have to start on day one so what the hell it turned into months. I now have a new sponsor and home group but am re-thinking whether or not chips work for me. I only wish I’d found your post months ago.


  2. i had 23 years then had a stress-induced slip that, due to shame and believing I had to start on day one and being afraid of someone in my home group gossiping since she also works in the treatment field, I changed home groups and sponsors. I only wish I’d read this months ago. Thank you.


  3. Hi. I was just passing by and found this. I can only talk about my experience. I know that I may ruffle a few feathers but here I go: I have been sober for a few years. 5 to be more exact. During my first year I relapsed twice. I basically had 2 binges during the year, one in August and the other in November. Both lasted a few hours (enough to get me drunk, though). I decided to talk to a friend who was not in the fellowship, someone I respected and thought could give me unbiased support. She reminded me that I went from having daily blackouts to having drank only twice in a year. Wasn’t that a progress? Why the need to see that as a “failure”? Going back to square one seemed like playing Snakes and Ladders. It seemed defeating and unempowering. At that time I was still finding my feet in the fellowship. I did not feel safe to “confess” to a number of strangers, including some people who I thought were pretty unwell and who definitely did not have the kind of sobriety I wanted. I did not say anything and it was the best thing I did. I went to loads of meetings in my first year and once I found the ones I liked, I started to really go deeper in the recovery process. After that 1st year, I did not drink again, not even a sip. Anyway, many people say things that they do not really mean. One is “take what you need and leave the rest.” I did exactly that. I love the meetings but ultimately, I am responsible for my own sobriety and I am not in AA to please people or to follow other people’s view of what means to be sober. I am told”. I am open to suggestions but ultimately, I am looking for recovery, not for other people’s validation. I am happy with what I’ve got and you may not believe but I do have many friends in the fellowship who respect me for who I am. Let me just remind you that in the Big Book, there is nothing about chips, sobriety birthdays and even sponsorship. So, my advice is simple: Everything that is in the BB is to be followed, the rest are suggestions which you are free to accept or decline as you will. My sobriety started on the day I made the conscious decision to change my life, not the day I went to my first meeting or finished the 12 Steps which are great by the way (if you have a great sponsor which I made sure I had and still have) This is only my opinion. Do what feels right to you, without fear. Your sobriety is all about you, not about other people. Good luck 🙂


  4. Heather…I love you’re writing and honesty. You are a very lovely person. I was a die hard AA member for several years. I loved AA, loved my sponsor and all of my groups. I was active and had been appointed secretary for one of my groups and a treasurer for another. But what I hadn’t told anyone was that while on a cruise with my family of very heavy drinkers, I drank a little. I didn’t get drunk and felt immediate remorse and hightailed it to the AA meeting on the cruise ship. After being home for about 6 weeks I finally told my sponsor who kindly said “we’re alcoholics, that’s what we do.” She suggested I tell my groups right away. So I did. And the AA family I had grown to love with all my heart completely turned on me. I was asked to leave the room while they discussed the matter amongst themselves and they would then take a vote to see if I could remain as secretary of the group. Well, after 20 minutes outside sitting on the church steps they asked me in and told me that I had been voted off the island. I stayed for the meeting and maybe I went back once or twice but it was never the same and I finally stopped attending. I was also asked to relinquish my treasurer duties for my other group. I felt like I was now one of the losers, not the winners we are supposed to “stick with.” I made terrible decisions during my five years of sobriety that I will pay for for the rest of my life (leaving my husband of 20 years…marrying the first guy I went out with and moving out of state for five years). I recently woke up from my running and wow, what a kick on the pants I’ve had. I thought I could get my old life back and now I realize I can’t. I am back home where I belong, drinking again on a nightly basis (which as you know isn’t so much fun when your head is full of AA). I know I need to get back but I must admit it’s really hard. I thought they were healthy people…big mistake. Are any of us really healthy? I followed their suggestions and I’m so scared to return to the rooms. My experience was that my groups were extremely judgmental, almost cruel, and could have learned a thing or two about grace from you. I don’t know if what they did was right or wrong, but I know how it affected me. But the groups that I felt were once my home became dark and unkind. I don’t know if I will make my way back. But I do know I loved your book, enjoy your writing and honesty…and wish you would put together a retreat of some kind. I would love to meet you in person. Heather, you write all of the things in my heart I don’t know how to express In words so I thank you from the bottom of my heart.


    1. I’ve experienced a similar situation. I decided sobriety was a better life than drinking so I went back to meetings. Honestly, I wish there were other ways to stay sober, but AA seems the only game in town right now. I went back and never raised my hand as a newcomer. I felt, for me, like it was public humiliation. I told my sponsor and two trusted AA friends. I decided to stay sober one day at a time and the meetings really help. Something about being in a group of people trying to stay sober in a liquor soaked society gives me confidence and hope. I don’t take tokens at this time although I love celebrating others special moments. Heather, like my sponsor are correct in there is nothing in the BB about this model of taking tokens. Please go back if you haven’t already and hold your head up high. An amazing woman I met has 37 years and does not participate in taking cakes. Wow. That’s courage! She says she only has today just like everyone else in the room. Sally💖


  5. The way I see it. The program is one of vigorous honesty. You didn’t loose those days- the days you had sober were gifts. Sobriety is a gift. You just have to start over. One day at a time means only today counts. I tried for years to get sober but would relapse just short of 90 days. I have two years in now but still never picked up that coin. I picked up my 6 mo and my 1 year but because that 90 and made me struggle I didn’t acknowledge it. One day God willing you will have so many days sober that it won’t matter that you had this set back. Hang tough keep going to meetings, do the next right thing and you will get there!


  6. Hello Anonymous;
    I’m Marc and I’m Alcoholic.
    It is difficult to give an answer when one does not fully understand the question.
    Over the years I’ve attended many different AA Meetings and it’s really not only about the days.
    Sometimes at the beginning of a meeting the chairperson will ask for those people with 90 days or less to raise their hand.
    AA and other FellowShips are sorta’ like a revolving door with people going in and out for a variety of reasons and 90 days or less seems to be where the herd is. If you are looking for a sponsor, find someone with a year or more.
    Congratulations!, You’re in the herd and here is a little something to explain What AA Is and What AA Does.

    The AA Preamble

    Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism.The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking.

    There are no dues or fees for AA membership; we are self-supporting through our own contributions. AA is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization, or institution; does not wish to engage in any controversy, neither endorses nor opposes any other causes. Our Primary Purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety.

    I hope this helps answer your questions.



  7. I think there should be three levels of relapse acknowledged: One sip should mean you scratch your coin on the side, indicating that you know it was a mistake, but it doesn’t undo years of work and change. Drinking enough to get drunk but for less than 24 hours, you get pliers and gouge your coin, but you keep it. Two such slips and you have to mention them when you mention your time, as in, “I have twelve years, give or take a couple of slips”. Three, and you have to count it a relapse. Staying drunk for more than 24 hours counts as a relapse. This is imperfect, but it’s better than the all-or-nothing definition.
    There are recovery programs that don’t take the all-or-nothing approach, as well. MM, SMART or something else might be useful in answering this issue.


  8. First – hugs and hang in there. Thank you for the courage to describe it, and ask about the next steps.

    Second – as I read your question, and all the responses, so many slogans, stories, and wisdom from meetings and the big book swirled around my brain – I had a mini- meeting all in my head, unexpected but refreshing. ☺

    But what made the biggest impact was, “We deal with a disease, cunning, baffling and powerful . . .” and Christians deal with an enemy who prowls like a roaring lion seeking to devour . . . Neither chips or churches can protect us – however comforting, useful, and instructive they are. A powerful greater than ourselves, can and will if he is sought – may you find him now.

    Honesty, openness and willingness are better than chips – and chips should represent bench marks – or “ebenezars” reminding us how far God has in fact brought us, imho. And again – my personal opinion is that the credit is His for my recovery.

    And keep coming back – it works if you work it.

    Taking one step at a time, too,


  9. Everything so well said. One of my ‘recoveries’ in life,was from a religous cult. Amazing how life’s experiences ‘intersect’. Ultimately, my biggest accomplishment in leaving and recovering, was the ability to know myself and make decisions, based on my thoughts, alone. Sounds simple…ha! I can imagine the feeling of ‘slipping’…oh what to do. I have issues with eating. When I slip there…I know me. I know the extent of the honesty I have to have. Whether that involves telling others,,,,I think that will be answered in your heart of hearts. Your ‘knower’. Ultimately, being able to quietly hear yourself, and the things you tell yourself in that given time of your life….will probably help a person decide. (whether to share or not). Having come from legalism/bondage,,,,I automatically resist authority in the strangest of ways….but I know see that in such a clearer way…anyways,,,I guess it comes down to that crazy thing called personal decision..what’s right for you/me…it took me a loooong time to believe God could tell me one thing, and tell another something else (about the same thing)…because we’re individuals…in so many ways. Nice post:)


  10. This might be long and I know I’m a few days late, but please bear with me. I was one of those chronic relapsers. I finally got sober and stayed that way when I hit my last bottom. My health was so deteriorated I was dying. I decided to live. I didn’t think I would survive another relapse. After each relapse I reset my sobriety date. I had a long list inside the front cover of my first Big Book because I could not remember what my sobriety date was. I’d had so many. But I needed to do that to do my best to be honest with God, myself, and others. We never lose the experience we gain. Just the days. The experience helped me make different choices. It was important to me to learn HOW to be honest.
    I once had a sponsee who wanted to drink to celebrate his 21st birthday. He asked me if I thought he needed to change his sobriety date if he did. Yes. I did think that. He decided to drink anyway. He was back out there for a few years. He is back now. But we were friends all the way through. Whether or not you change your sobriety date is up to you. Whether or not you even count days is up to you.
    Let me tell you about a woman who was in the Program in New York City in the 40’s, 50s, 60’s, etc. Her name was Marjorie, like mine which is how I heard about her. She never managed to put together any continuous sobriety but she continued to come to
    meetings and share. Everytime she shared she said the same thing, “Don’t drink and go to meetings.” She was accepted and was a part of her group. Tradition Three says a DESIRE to stop drinking. It does not hinge on success or failure. Just desire. Do I think that would work in all groups? No. I know some groups that would not be ok with that. So what! Find a different group! And keep an open mind


  11. Here are my random thoughts about chips.
    I am truly grateful to Jesus for all the days people have in their recovery programs! I count each of those days as pure grace from God. Our programs have 100% success rate on those days.
    My Grandmother and God Daughter’s birthdays are on my recovery date, so I like the reminder “it’s not all about me.” My wife and I even explained away the recovery anniversary cakes to my daughter as her ½ year birthdays. She found out I am in recovery when she was 12, which was about 10 years ago.
    I’m now in long term recovery. (10815 days today. btw I had to look that up). At 10,000 days I bought the big old variety box of single serving size bags of chips to take to my home group. I told my home group “There is not a chip for 10,000 days so, here. I chips are on me.” hehehe Rule 62. I don’t take myself too seriously.
    I find it kind of annoying that my next chip will have three x’s on it, so I’m intending to only carry “A One Day At A Time” chip during that year.


  12. Thank you Heather for attacking a tough topic. When I chose my first sponsor I chose someone who had relapsed at 3 years and was coming up on 3 years again. I thought this would help her see a relapse coming in me. What I did not count on was her relapsing again, even after that it took awhile before I “fired” her and that was at her suggestion. Long story shorter she got sober again but mostly stayed sober through the church. After a good number of years (double digit) she relapsed again, this time for about a year. She is sober once again and we are still very close. I do not think she has ever lost all of the wisdom she had while sober (through program or church) but I do know she is back at the beginning of “counting days”. Humbled but grown. I know this as an honest program and if I can not get honest with myself and others there is a big problem…half measures avail us nothing!! If it were not for the growth of the program we would not come back at all.
    I like the suggestion of not taking chips at all I was thinking of that one as well. But to me that means not taking chips…..period I’ve been sober 22 years, I still like picking up medallions. Something else I don’t like is to see someone come in only on their anniversary week and pick up chips but that is a whole other topic. Bottom line is “to thine own self be true” and it took me a long time to know what that meant…more than 120 days anyway. It is a good topic, perhaps I will bring it up at a meeting tonight.


  13. Thank you, Heather. Your words truly are a blessing. You have beautifully written something I have I struggled to articulate, and have again blessed me with a resource to share.

    THIS –> “But we do ourselves and the program a disservice when we become strident about any of these things and let them take precedence over love and grace and yes, live and let live.” Perfect. This resonated with me on SO many levels.

    We are all unique, and our recoveries are all unique. We can share, in LOVE and with GRACE, what works for us and pray that it provides some help or inspiration for those struggling with us. You do this so well, and I do thank God for your authentic sharing that encourages me to keep moving forward.

    Thank you, and God bless! ❤


  14. Heather the first things I want to say is “thank you” for being authentic…open…tender…real. Even among the tribe of the recovering those qualities are often absent…hidden or polished to the point of not being believable. I have two sponsors. One has been sober forty three years. More than a year ago I told him that I won’t live long enough to get a membership card to his admirable sobriety country club. So we laughed. God isn’t binary. It isn’t a do everything right or go to hell ethic. That is what my Baptist upbringing had as the narrative. And while sometimes severely weight challenged woman (and men) with coiffed hair and colorful dresses pounded down another piece of fried chicken washed in hyper sweetened Kool Aid no one talked about the fact sobriety applies to all of our choices. To your point Heather I don’t see any evidence that shaming was a primary tool of Jesus to influence changes of habits and hearts. And in the end the most intoxicating drink I have ever guzzled is the “one hundred proof” mix of grace and forgiveness. We are all on a rocky road where any given day we need to celebrate progress not pursue perfection. Pax Christi……


      1. Heather I have been traveling but finally will send a promised note to you and your Renaissance husband. I want to coordinate schedules and see what late August looks like for the two of you…and your strong willed dog. I’d like an adventure in the spirit of my Israeli friends who speak of having a “four eyes” meeting. In this case it would be six…eight if canine corneas are included. Peace….


  15. I am almost one year sober. I started on this path about three years ago by taking 30 day respites from drinking, 60 days – as a means of “cleansing” or “losing weight” or because I had future plans to go on vacation someplace I knew I would drink a lot (yes I prepped like an athlete…). Reading the email, and your response got me thinking. What would I do if I relapsed?

    First, I am terrified to take a drink for fear of waking up the ghost – think Mr. Hyde on a very bad day. And I know from experience, one drink leads to many drinks… If you are like me, there is no in between (it is cause for an occasional, wistful sigh). There is no sip, or light beer, or just a little way in. If I relapsed there would be police involved.

    In this new-found world of sobriety and accountability, I say, “Let’s all give ourselves a BREAK.” What happens if you relapse? You start over. And you deal with it the way it makes you feel most comfortable and most successful. Because this is HARD. And this is your journey – no one else’s. In the same way there is no room for alcohol in my life any more, there is no room for shame either.

    Per usual Heather, your kindness and thoughtfulness shines through your words. Thank you for food for thought.


    1. You’re so right that there is no inbetween, and that’s the hardest thing for most alcoholics to grasp. We really, really want to find that THIRD WAY, where we’re not drinking to madness and blackout but we’re not not drink at all–we just want to be the person who can drink and be okay. Looking for that third way for way too long has killed a lot of folks. Thank you for sharing your wisdom here. And yay to giving ourselves a BREAK! We’re all doing so much better than we think and we’re honestly doing the best we can today with what we have and know.


  16. Thank you to both Heather and the person that wrote this to her. After being hospitalized for four days because of a dance with booze and pills in February, I celebrated 40 days of sobriety in late March. Shortly after that, on the first weekend I had some alone time, I drank. I didn’t have a sponsor yet so I told another AA member and he “freaked out” said I had to tell the group start at Day 1 and get a desire chip. At that point, I didn’t even know for sure what the Desire chip meant. I was going to a group that would say at the beginning of the meeting in this routine monotonous nasal way as some sort of just part of the meeting questions… “Duz inyone care for a desour chip?” This was a meeting in a very small town in Texas. Well, I didn’t know what it was and didn’t want to interrupt the flow of the meeting by asking or requesting one. This whole start at Day 1 “desour chip” dilemma sent me into a tailspin. Of course, it is my fault that I have been drinking, not heavily , but headed right back there, since then. However, I desperately needed to read this post and hear what you had to say. This is going to help me a lot get back on track. Thank you so much!!


  17. Thanks Heather. I appreciate the thought-out response. I went to Celebrate Recovery for 3 years (mostly for codependency issues) and got a lot out of it on a lot of levels. I stopped going, because I needed something more open to my recovery not just being about CR. The workbooks were helpful, but I felt my answers were only allowed to address my CR experience. But God didn’t just work thru CR. I’d been thru therapy at different times. Was in solid discipleship groups which encouraged accountability. I believe “my” recovery started when I said yes to Jesus and continued in a lot of different ways. There were times I grew a lot and times I backslid with a vengeance… Some of God’s most powerful work in me wasn’t wrapped in a “recovery” shell. That doesn’t diminish what CR did do for me, but it did frustrate me when I couldn’t bring in the rest. That said, I do think about joining a CR group again. The honesty and vulnerability and willingness to deal with self in a CR group isn’t easily found in other groups.


    1. Elle, thanks for sharing your experience. I am one of those who doesn’t think any one program is for everyone. I know lots of people who found hope in CR and your reply reminds me that not only do different people need different programs, sometimes we need different programs at different times in our life.


  18. It may have been here that I read (my paraphrase) “a relapse isn’t going back to square one, it’s getting up from where you fell and moving forward again.” I wish I could remember the exact words because I thought those were some of the wisest words ever spoken about recovery. Thanks for your thoughtful answer.


  19. My two cents.
    It really is between you and your God.
    If you feel you must lie, keep your mouth shut.
    Shame and lying fuel relapse.
    But REALLY sit with that FEELING. Don’t run from it.

    I would like folks to consider looking for the date they experienced a spiritual awakening. That is the anniversary of when the clouds parted.


  20. I read the letter, and I thought how in the world is she going to answer this one, but boy, “You nailed it!”

    And as I read your reply I kept thinking about what was written on my first one year chip, so many years ago, and I don’t know if they still say it, but the one in my jewelry box says, “To thine own self be true.”

    I also understood the comment about the whole bottle of wine cause every time my food falls off the wagon, one slice of coconut cake (I know you understand) is not enough. Have to eat the whole thing and a quart of ice cream, too.

    Smiles, Nancy


  21. Thank you for this. I am the 65 year old poster child for relapses. I attended my first AA meeting in November of 1970 after leaving the rails in college. I got my life back and went 31 years without a drink, made a good life for myself, married and raised 2 great happy kids. Then a few years ago I had two bouts of cancer and shortly after, my wife developed breast cancer and then AML leukemia – she passed away last March. Yes, I went back to drinking. And yes, I’m back at AA and it’s working. Do I raise my hand to announce my sub-30 day sobriety? Sure. Do I like it? I hate it. Do I announce at tables that I once had 31 years ? Not on your life. It would only be depressing for the other folks who believe such a thing could never happen to them. Do I hate myself for blowing 31 years of sobriety? No, I don’t. How do I cope now? I keep my mouth shut and listen and it’s wonderful not having to try to explain – really, who cares, and who would benefit from it? Hey, I’m not perfect and I’ll never be perfect. But I am better.


    1. Jim: A few years ago, an elderly gentleman came into my home group for a while. He had once had 35 years, but then went back out. I don’t know if it was the shame of it or what, but after trying to hang onto more than 30 days at a stretch for about a year, he just stopped coming. It truly was tragic and we still pray for him. I value his story more than many people in the program, though, because it reminds me that I can never get cocky about this thing. Even people with 30+ years are not immune to the effects of alcohol or to the vicissitudes of life. Who do I think I am, then, that I can rest on my laurels? We are encouraged by others’ successes, but we are driven to try harder through others’ failures. Thank you for sharing your story here. Regardless of if you do it in the rooms or not, you have encouraged everyone reading here to keep doing what they need to do to stay sober. Age is just a number. It is not our years which help others stay sober, but our experience, strength and hope. Thank you for being a part of my sobriety today.


    2. Jim, thanks so much for your honesty and for sharing some of your story here. Wow, you have been through it! And I was SO relieved when you said you don’t hate yourself for drinking. And the fact that you came back–that is worth celebrating and it says something huge about who you have become. It makes the difference between what you call a “depressing” story and turns it into a miraculous one. I am so grateful for men like you and I hope you know how much you helped some folks today by giving us all reason to pause, and as Laurie put it, not rest on our laurels. Again, just thank you for being here and being so honest.


  22. Sometimes I think of sin as an addiction. I understand the Gospel message of salvation by faith in Christ and how He can and does forgive and deliver a person (I’ve served as a pastor for 40+ years). Still, I see comparisons between sin and addiction. That said, whenever there’s been a “relapse,” I find it helpful to think of the illustration of a football game. I imagine one receiving the kickoff on the “goal line” and then beginning the process of moving up the field, dodging this temptation and that unhelpful action, only to be hit hard from behind by the opponent and fumbling the ball. Rather than bemoaning the fumble and belittling myself for not being more careful or vigilant; I think I’m called to take action and “recover” the ball via confession or renewed commitment and move ahead. But here’s the analogy I like from football: if I fumbled on the 30 yard line and there recover the ball, that’s where the next play occurs from. I don’t go back to the goal line and start all over again. I don’t know how that relates to the counting of days of sobriety, but I have found this analogy to be helpful and encouraging. I hope this makes sense.

    I have deeply appreciated your book, Heather, and enjoy following your blog. Thank you.

    Paul Hontz


  23. You are right in that it is not about the length of sobriety. It is about changing your thinking, changing your heart, changing your life. There are some who have long term sobriety, who haven’t changed anything about themselves, except they no longer drink. They continue to reek havoc on their lives and the lives of others. They continue to be self-centered to the extreme and the blend into society because lots of people, alcoholic or not, are like that.

    There are others who feel the pain they have caused themselves or others so acutely that once they get a chance to get a true sense of themselves, a true sense of their sprit, they completely abandon that which lead them away from it in the first place. They may have only been away from alcohol a short time, but since they NEVER want to return to that pain or that sense of being lost, they remain sober by default.


  24. Thanks Heather! This is so well written!
    I spent 4 years relapsing before I was able to stay stopped. In that time I got up to 9 months once, but most was about 3 months. In he beginning i picked up day one chips each time. And after each time, although I felt embarrassed, people reached out to me even more, but I was still embarrassed and disappointed, so I eventually I stopped picking them up and I didn’t tell anyone that I drank. It seemed ok, I only drank one night each time. So I did it again, then again and then things got really crazy and after a 3 day blackout, I crawled back to a meeting with my sponsor and spilled my beans, I cried the entire time! It was the first time that I realized how cunning and baffling this disease is. What I believe now, with my whole being, is that if I am not true to myself, the person that I am hurting the most is me! Part of this disease, I believe, is the hiding and sneaking. And that behavior, for me, I truly believe will get me back drunk. To thine own self be true – that’s the key to my sobriety today and for the past 6 years.

    Thank you for sharing this with us. I wish all the best to your friend, and I am sure she will find what is the right thing for her to do. Sending hugs!


  25. I don’t think the years are so important, thus I don’t think resetting my date if I slip would be a bad thing. I find it very helpful to hear people say they had time, but had to change their anniversary–I know a person who only went out for a few hours, too. The people who have had slips and keep working the program give me great hope that I would be able to walk right back in and be honest about my experience after a slip, too. I agree though that it can be very difficult to find my way between what my gut tells me is right for my recovery and spiritual growth, and what others might tell me worked for them. The fact that I am welcome in the program I attend just on the basis of my desire not to drink alcohol — no other rules — is a lifesaver. The wisdom of all the other suggestions for recovery I judge by the results I get. Heather, I think you nailed it when you said that another slip would be evidence against keeping quiet about having a new date. Great post!


  26. Very thoughtful initial letter and equally thoughtful response. There is a book in a popular recovery program called _As Bill Sees It_. Somewhere around page 12 or 14, the entry is entitled “What About This Slip Business?” The writer says that our experience is our experience … and if we slip, it is part of our path. So, I agree with the original writer; the 120+ days of experience are valuable. The slip will be (probably already is) a valuable part of her/his story. The group/fellowship of which she is a member, though, seems to honor continuous days of sobriety. Receiving those tokens reinforces that tradition. In the long run, it probably won’t make much difference (if the writer stays sober for a long time, 4 months will be a drop in the bucket.). The fact of the matter is … the person drank and interrupted continuous days of sobriety and that seems to be important to that particular program of recovery.

    When I was coming up on what I thought was one year of continuous sobriety, I was sharing with my sponsor how excited I was to be getting my one year chip. He said “I’ve heard your story. You smoked pot for two more months. You weren’t sober.” I argued that August 17 changed my life and I had been without alcohol since that day. But the truth was that I was not clean and sober since August 17. Yes, the transformation had begun. So I celebrate my sober date of Feb 2 with my fellowship and I celebrate privately on August 17 the beginning of my transformation. So, it is a bit of a different story, but not all that much different. We could have all kinds of shades of grey of when our recovery transformation began.

    I guess the bottom line for me would be to ask what option is likely to foster and contribute to my current and on-going sobriety? If I tell others, will that relieve my mind, bring me peace and serenity, work toward a healthy sobriety? If I don’t share, will that foster my sobriety?


    1. Vince, thanks for all the great wisdom here and for sharing your experience. I think a lot of us have these heart transformation days that we celebrate in private. And I think that’s a good thing. I sure admire and respect your recovery, friend. So great to see you here.


  27. An Old Timer in my group once told this story: When he was a newcomer, he asked one of the Old Timers, “Just how honest do I have to be?” The Old Timer told him, “Just honest enough to keep you sober today.” As the years have gone by, he has found that he has to be increasingly honest in order to keep the same level of peace of mind.

    It is a “we” program, but at the end of the day, the only one that matters is you and how you feel about yourself. Can you live with yourself without resetting your date or is that secret going to eat you alive? When I came in, there was a woman who had two years. It wasn’t until years later that I found out she had had twenty years and then took a swig from a bottle of vanilla extract. She didn’t get drunk and didn’t even drink “real” alcohol, but she knew what her intent had been, so she reset her date. (And much later, still, I sponsored a girl who kept going out on vanilla and I realized just how insidious that really was). Another guy I know technically has 6 years sober, but 4 of them were prison time, so he doesn’t count them. The sobriety date he claims is the day he was released – the first day he lived sober on the outside.

    There is no sober police. No one is going to arrest you if you don’t pick up a new chip. If you are okay with it, then keep on keeping on. Your sobriety date is your business. If you’re asking, though, then you’re probably doubting yourself and that secret is going to eat you alive.


  28. My best thinking got me to AA. “Let me see, I just picked up the gun and put it to my head and pulled the trigger. The bullet in the chamber didn’t fire. OMG! Should I call my sponsor? Naw, I know, I’ll just forgive myself into believing it didn’t really happen. Afterall, I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. Besides, it’s nobody’s business. I can run my own program if I want … it’s my program! Here, I’ll just put the gun back in my drawer where I know it will be safe.”


  29. Shame fuels the engine of addiction and shame on AA for making you feel like a failure. How many of us learn from our success? We learn from our imperfections. If we allow it, adversity makes us even better, like a muscle that is strengthened from exercise. Empower yourself starting today!


    1. Aw, thanks for this. But of course AA itself didn’t make me feel like a failure. And I try to avoid talking about particular programs like AA by name and to talk in general about recovery groups. Whether it’s AA or Celebrate Recovery or Women for Sobriety, or what have you… they all have people in them, so they’re all imperfect and just trying to help. I like you’re point about adversity and muscles. Thanks for commenting.


  30. Heather, I love your gracious and moderate attitude about recovery. Over 31 yrs ago I began the recovery journey from eating disorders. Your words about relapses in the early stages brought back memories. It always helped me to remember that God forgives our sins and does not remember them. We need to be kinder to ourselves and continue to move forward. Recovery is so worth the journey to get there. I admire and respect those who choose this path.

    Blessings ~ Wendy ❀


I'd love to hear your thoughts. . .

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s