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Recovery and Making Peace with the Trite phrases that have become part of the Program…


January 2017

I read an interesting post the other day in which the author complained about some of the trite sayings we hear quite often in recovery.

One that really had him fired up was, “Now the real work starts”.  Where I grew up, they actually preceded that gem with “The first year is a gift”…

This is typically said at a person’s one year sobriety anniversary.  The person who wrote the rant to which I am referring was irate at the notion someone would say this in the first place.  He assumed whomever would say such a thing would be negating or diminishing the work that was done to get there in the first place.  In fact, that’s how I felt when it was said to me after I gave my first Open Talk on my One Year Anniversary.  Let’s just say I wasn’t happy at hearing that little comment myself.

I remember that night vividly.  “A gift?!  That first year was f***ing hard.  There was no ‘gift’ about it!”

There’s one problem:  It was absolutely spot on.  That’s when the real work did start, and it was a good deal harder than actually getting sober in the first place.  The first year was a gift.

I didn’t freak out though.  I didn’t get upset, I didn’t get all indignant about it and I sure as $#!+ didn’t stop going to four or five meetings a week.

Here’s another trite line:  “I took it one day at a time” and muscled through it.  The hard part of that second year was that I’d figured out how to not drink (a miracle on its own).  I’d begun a new life and things were getting much better.  Something was missing though.  Something was off, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it at first.  After talking at length with my sponsor, he let me in on what I was going through;  I’d fixed the drinking part but the rest of my life was still a bit of a wreck.  Getting drunk was a symptom of a bigger, underlying issue and now it was time to fix the big problems.  I had to learn to apply what I’d learned about quitting drinking to the other aspects of my life…

It was vastly more difficult to nail down and change the underlying issues.  The first year, by comparison, was a gift and the real work was just beginning.

The key to dealing with that trite bullshit, at least for me, is to take a deep breath, relax, and not add any of my extra thoughts and fears to what is being said.  There is nothing presumptuous about that saying.  It isn’t cruel to say to a person who gets their first year.  It isn’t spiteful, mean or ignorant to say it.

It’s the honest to God truth and I’d rather know what I’m in for than rip myself apart trying to figure out what’s wrong with me later on, wondering why everything seems off, on my own.

That initial anger was really just my ego messing with me.  Of course, everyone who has more than a year knows how hard that first year is.  And everyone who has more than two knows how much harder the second is.

Humorously, I didn’t tell him the next in that line of trite thoughts:  The clouds really don’t even part till you hit 10 years… And while we’re at it; The sun really doesn’t start shining till you hit 20.

If you think those are bullshit, stick around and prove me wrong.  I’ll still be here and I’m always okay with being wrong.  Either way, you end up with 20 years and as with day one, you’re welcome to go back out and have your misery refunded in full.



  1. damien says:

    I’m smiling. That’s all I’ll add to this.

  2. rebecak says:

    Love this. I’ve tried to explain this stuff to clients over the years but it is something that each individual has to figure out for themselves. This person you are talking about will understand it one day too and then you’ll be reading that blog post they write. Lol.

  3. saoirsek says:

    Ahh, thanks for that,tthere are some real nuggets of wisdom in that post. The funniest thing I was ever told after I’d had a particularly vivid drinking dream in early recovery was ” that was a freebie”!!! That was my first sponsor who also offered the very good advice when I was being quite intense “You just need to lighten the f$$k up”! Actually, she was right😊

    • bgddyjim says:

      Chuckle… My favorite was KISS… and my sponsor EMPHASIZED the “Stupid”. Gotta love ’em!

      Thanks for bringing back the memory. Thankfully my ego can actually take it after 20 more years.

  4. Paul S says:

    I have had a love / hate relationship with the trite expressions. In the past I would have written something railing against them! But now I just live and let live (oooh…did you see what I just did there?) and just worry about my own recovery. In the end, if the twee phrase saves your ass for the day, then who am I to say anything about it? It works if you work it (oops).

    I agree about 1st year being hard as hell, 2nd year being harder (in some ways) and so on…but things also get a whole lot better.

    Great post!

  5. I hope one day I can see recovery that starts with a year of sobriety. I am terrified to think that the second year is harder as he hasn’t yet made it to anything past 30 days. I truly hope I am still around to see it.

    • bgddyjim says:

      We can harden the target just a little bit on the difficulties… It would be fairer to say the work is “trickier” and it kinda sucks that you don’t hit an end zone or something, that the effort continues down a different Avenue. The truth is, if you make it to the first year, 85% make it to five.

      Good luck and if there’s anything I can do to help, I’m here.

      • Is there anything I can do at all to help support him? He doesn’t go to meetings anymore. He says he doesn’t like them. I tried to point out that when he was going to meetings 4 to 5 days a week he was staying sober. Then he stopped admitting to the slip ups in meetings and eventually stopped going all together. Now the swan dives off the wagon are much more frequent.

      • bgddyjim says:

        Go to Alanon Meetings. Period, end of story. I wouldn’t be shy about dropping this line when he asks where you’re going, “If you continue to refuse to get better, I will”. He’ll get the message.

      • I go every week but lately have allowed life to distract from the actual work of it. My focus has not been what it needs to be. I guess this was the reminder I needed to realize that. Thank you.

      • bgddyjim says:

        My pleasure. It sure isn’t easy, I know. Good luck!

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