What one day at a time means to me

The gracious Nicola published a poem I wrote called “One Day at a Time” on her lovely site.

I saw the slogan at a meeting the next day, hanging beside other slogans like “Live and let live” and “Don’t quit five minutes before the miracle happens.” Reading them gave me a flashback to a host of resentments I used to carry toward these cliches.

Until I live them, reading those slogans are like reading a hallmark card from a distant relative who just doesn’t know me that well.

So this is the first post in a slogan series aimed to bolster those flowery slogans with the hammer-and-nails of experience.

The Hazeldon meditation book 24 Hours a Day was my introduction to one-day-at-a-time living. It is prefaced with a 5th Century Sanksrit Proverb by Kalidasa:


Look to this day,

For it is life,

The very life of life.

In its brief course lie all

The realities and verities of existence,

The bliss of growth,

The splendor of action,

The glory of power —  


For yesterday is but a dream,

And tomorrow is only a vision,

But today, well lived,

Makes every yesterday a dream of happiness

And every tomorrow a vision of hope.


Look well, therefore, to this day.”


I have also heard the Malcolm Gladwell version, the watered down one: “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift which is why we call it the present.” I’ve seen the quote credited to many, from Tony Danza to Bil Keane.

The idea is that we need to stay grounded in the present, and concentrate on staying sober just for today. I can remember an early-in-recovery thought-roll that shows the dangers of living in the future. It went something like this:

She’s cute.

What’s her name?

I should meet her parents.

We’ll get married.

Wedding somewhere in the mountains.

But what about the wedding toast?

What will I raise? Apple juice?

If I’ll sip champagne on my wedding day,

Why worry about staying sober today?


I don’t naturally think

she’s cute. I’ll ask her out.

I think

she’s cute. I’ll have some champagne on my wedding day.


This is before I met my wife, who accepts me for who I am. It’s also before I met Martinelli’s Sparkling Cider, a non-alcoholic champagne equivalent which did the trick for that dreaded wedding toast. I toasted to friends and family with confidence and enjoyed some bubbly-apple goodness.

Trying to stay sober forever is too much for one day. If we focus on the 24 hours ahead, alcoholics like me have a shot at staying sober just for today.

So let’s look well, therefore, to this day to make our tomorrow a vision of hope.

5 Responses to “What one day at a time means to me

  • I know exactly what you mean. I used to see all those sayings and think how stupid they were. They were just sayings to be cute and catchy. Sitting in a meeting one day listening to an old timer share the one day at a time phrase for the first time made sense. How I try to live life today, all of it, not just the drinking. Great job Mark, as always!!

  • I used to think “really?! That’s all you’ve got? Those cheesy sayings? My life is ending and this is what you offer?!” LOL

    I LOVE the slogans today. At my very first Alanon meeting, another mother talked to me afterward and said, “just for today can you put your girl in Gods hands, and give yourself a night of good sleep. If it works for you you can try it again tomorrow too.” Those were the words I exactly needed to hear. I’ve been doing it everyday ever since.

  • I agree with Annette fully—it’s amazing how these sayings get under your skin (in a good way). You’re a true artist, Mark. I’m glad you’re hitting the keyboard as much as you do. I love your writing. All of it.

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