Milestone. The Oxford dictionary defines milestone as ‘a stone set up beside a road to mark the distance in miles to a particular place’ or ‘a significant stage or event in the development of something’.
People use them all the time, drug addicts (ahem), alcoholics, basically people trying to quit things. They are used as a benchmark. Marking that point in time where you’ve said enough is enough. This stops here. And we usually look upon them as some sort of positive thing. But are they really something to remember or just an unneccesary weight around your neck? Even the word itself sounds heavy.
Of course they are also used in remembrance of something good like how long you’ve been married, or that first time you met a loved one, or a birthday. But as this journey is about being better, which obviously implies letting go of bad habits, bad attitudes, I am going to focus on the former.
You see, given the week that it was, I have unfortunately been pondering a certain milestone that is arriving next month. The 1 year anniversary of the day my wife left. The day when all this really began.
The thing is I actually don’t know what date it was. Of course I could figure it out if I wanted to. It was a couple of weeks before our 10th anniversary, near my father’s birthday. But I don’t want to. I don’t want that milestone to remember. It’s bad enough knowing what month it happened in. I don’t need it to be anymore concrete than that. I don’t want to be going to bed the night before worrying about the day that was coming or waking up that morning to that depressive thought.
That set me thinking. When anyone is trying to quit something, be it drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, they like to mark their journey and when they hit a certain milestone it gives them cause for celebration. I understand that. It’s the celebration of a goal. A badge of honour.
At the same time however if they falter, if they fail, even once, that clock, that measurement, has been reset. Now how hard would that be to deal with? Especially if it was after one week, one month, one year. In fact, the longer and greater the milestone the greater the fall.
So what if the answer was to not have any milestones at all? People in recovery are often told to ‘live one day at a time’. It’s a saying attributed to the Alcoholics Anonymous and their ‘Big Book’. Often told to help a person through a specifically bad day. To be present in that moment and not worry about yesterday or tomorrow. Some would argue that true recovery takes much more than that and you must look ahead also.
For example. Similar to not knowing what specific date my ‘wife’ left on, I do not know what date I stopped smoking marijuana. After 20 odd years, I just stopped. I didn’t want to turn it into a big event. I don’t even want to remember when it was. It’s good enough for me to know I just don’t need that in my life anymore.
If I think about smoking again, I will just let that thought go. But if I did slip, and that is a massive if, I wouldn’t beat myself up too much about it. I wouldn’t be worried about the fact I was ‘clean’ for so long. I wouldn’t worry about whatever milestone I had achieved. It would only be one day, almost the same as any other day, with its challenges, trials and tribulations. A day that would pass and be followed by me setting out to try my best again.
It’s not just the negative things I have taken this approach to. I haven’t made a record of when I started exercising regularly either, when I started on this journey of being better. I don’t even want to. The reason being I actually think it’s pointless. I don’t need to know when I started to improve. I’m just glad I did and will continue to do so.
The way I see it is, yes, one day at a time is the way to go. But it’s not one day more where you muddle through, just get by. It’s one day where you try that little bit harder, be a little bit better, improve on who you were the day before. It’s not an extra day of stagnation or backward movement. It’s a day of forward movement, of progression.
And if you have setback, or lose your way slightly, then it’s only one day. No big event, no big disaster, no big letdown. It’s just one day that will be followed by another. Another fresh new day at that.
So if you are happy with your milestones, good for you. It’s whatever works after all and that’s the most important thing. If that goal, that measurement, keeps you going, keeps you pushing forward. Great. Hold onto that.
But for me, I don’t need them. I don’t need these reminders (Unlike others. See: A Reminder). They are just a heavy burden to bear. It’s enough for me to know I’m still travelling, still moving, on this path to being better.
And if I have a set back, so be it, it’s no big deal. I just make sure I’ll try that bit harder the next day and not worry about an extra weight around my neck, a greater sense of failure, just for having some notion over a date in time.