All of us choose to recognize significant life events and milestones with celebrations. Marriages, birthdays, pregnancies, anniversaries … these are just a few of the life events many of us celebrate regularly, but they all have one thing in common. They each signify personal growth and progress, which is something to be proud of.
If you are currently enrolled in a drug and alcohol rehab program, transitional housing program, or IOP, your sobriety birthday should be one of those annual milestones that you celebrate. This date carries a powerful meaning and purpose, and it’s important to recognize that as you continue your life in recovery. If you’ve never considered celebrating your sobriety birthday or aren’t even sure what it is, here is an explanation as well as a few ideas on how to celebrate.
What Is a Sobriety Birthday?
Remembering and celebrating sobriety milestones is not a new thing. People in recovery have been celebrating their sobriety milestones for decades, with one of the first references of a personal sobriety memento dating back to the mid-1940s and carried by Clarence H. Snyder.1 Although it was not a formal celebration, this memento was a reminder of the progress and growth that he experienced over time in recovery.
A sobriety birthday (also known as a sobriety anniversary, sober anniversary, recovery anniversary, or sobriety milestone) also serves as a reminder of the progress you’ve made. It can be the last day you used drugs or drank alcohol. It can also be the day after you last used. Or if you prefer, it can be the date that you first entered a drug and alcohol rehab treatment program. Only you can determine what date will serve as your sobriety birthday, but the most important thing is that it carries special significance for you.
As you well know, relapse is also a part of recovery, but it does not signify failure. If you choose to remember more than one sobriety anniversary after relapsing, that’s up to you. For some, doing so may serve as a reminder that recovery is a continuous, lifelong process and it’s worth fighting for.
When Is My Sobriety Anniversary?
Some people in recovery aren’t sure exactly what date they should declare their sober anniversary. The great thing is, this is completely up to you. Your sobriety anniversary could be one of the following:
- The day you started your recovery program
- The day you physically got sober and stopped using drugs and alcohol
- The day after your last relapse
- The day you decided to seek addiction treatment
Some people in recovery may also choose not to have a sobriety date, and that’s fine too!
The Significance of Celebrating Sobriety
If you’ve never considered celebrating your sobriety birthday or sobriety anniversary, here are just a few reasons why you might want to start.
Celebrating a sobriety birthday reminds us to be humble.
All of us have done things we’re not proud of and no one is perfect. Whether you’ve been sober for two months or 12 years, we should all remember that we didn’t get here on our own. Most of us probably had a whole group of people supporting us, cheering us on, and providing encouragement and counsel along the way. When we look back at our sobriety birthdays, we should remember that our success is not a reflection of how great we are, rather it is a reflection of all the care and support that was poured into us by others.
Celebrating a sobriety birthday gives us an opportunity to thank our mentors and peers.
It would be impossible to celebrate our successes without celebrating our mentors and peers because, without them, we wouldn’t be where we are. If you haven’t ever thanked your mentor, sober coach, or peers for their support, your sobriety birthday is the perfect time to do it. Whether you simply say “thank you,” write a letter or treat them to dinner, it’s important to recognize those who have helped you achieve success in sobriety and who continue to do so daily.
Celebrating a sobriety birthday reminds us of what life used to look like and what it looks like now.
Looking back at the days when you were still addicted helps you see how far you’ve come since then. Although recovery is a long and slow process that requires unyielding efforts, you’ve no doubt made some incredible progress spiritually, mentally, and physically. Looking back at those times also reminds us that anything is possible and it’s never too late to change, even if you think there’s no way you can come back from what you’ve done.
Celebrating a sobriety birthday encourages us to reflect.
Sobriety birthdays also give us an opportunity to reflect on how we’ve grown, what we’re feeling, why we continue to fight for sobriety, how our lives have improved, and the goals we’d like to achieve for ourselves. Your sobriety birthday is a great excuse to discuss these things with your counselor, your family, your support group, or your best friend. In doing so, you may also become a role model or a source of encouragement for someone else who is struggling to maintain their own sobriety.
How to Celebrate Sobriety Milestones
If you’ve decided you’d like to celebrate your sobriety birthday but you’re not sure how here are a few great ideas and things you can do.
- Get your one-year chip or token at your next NA or AA meeting. If you are enrolled in a sober living program and attend local NA or AA meetings, make sure to get your one-year chip or token. This is a meaningful yet low-key way to acknowledge your achievement and celebrate it with your support group.
- Go out to dinner with your family or sober living housemates. If you are a part of a transitional living program, celebrate your sobriety birthday by planning a special dinner out at a new restaurant or at your sober living home. You can also plan a dinner for a select group of family members. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy but celebrating with dinner can be a nice way to get everyone together and remember all the progress that has been made.
- Treat yourself. Buy that pair of shoes you’ve been eyeing or splurge on that new video game you’ve been drooling over. If you don’t want to celebrate with a huge event, grab a friend and head to the mall to treat yourself to a small shopping spree.
- Volunteer. If you’d rather celebrate your sobriety birthday by giving back, find a cause or charity you’re passionate about and volunteer for a day or a weekend. Better yet, invite your sober living housemates to volunteer with you and let them know why you’d love for them to join you in celebrating your sobriety birthday.
- Indulge yourself with a special dessert. We all know that nutrition is an important aspect of recovery, but so is balance. Celebrate your sobriety birthday by baking a special cake to share with the other residents of your transitional living home, treat yourself and your sober coach to an ice cream sundae, or bring a dozen donuts to your next IOP meeting. Everyone deserves a treat every once in a while, and your sobriety birthday is the perfect opportunity.
How to Celebrate Someone’s Sobriety (Not Your Own)
If you’re celebrating someone else’s sober anniversary, such as a spouse, a friend, or a sibling, here are a few great ways to make a recovery anniversary extra special:
- Treat them to dinner or a nice night out.
- Give them a gift, like a new journal, a gift card, or a bouquet of flowers.
- Make a homemade sobriety greeting card.
- Write them a heartfelt letter filled with encouragement.
- Bake them a sobriety birthday cake.
- Offer to help them tackle a big project at home, like organizing the kitchen cabinets or cleaning out the garage.
- Provide free childcare so they can spend an afternoon however they wish.
- Make a monetary donation to a nonprofit organization or an addiction recovery foundation of their choice.
What to Say to Someone on Their Sobriety Anniversary
If you have a friend or loved one that is celebrating a recovery anniversary, you may not know how to congratulate, encourage, or affirm them. As a supportive loved one, you don’t have to say anything profound or extraordinary. A simple encouraging statement will probably mean a lot to them.
Here are a few examples of things you could say to someone on their sober anniversary to express your support and excitement:
- “You’re doing great. Keep up the hard work.”
- “Awesome job.”
- “I’m so proud of you.”
- “I’m happy for you.”
- “Look how far you’ve come.”
- “You have done some amazing things with your life in sobriety.”
- “Way to inspire others who are addicted.”
Happy Sobriety Birthday to You!
Regardless of how you choose to celebrate your recovery anniversary or the sobriety milestones of a loved one, it’s important to do so without alcohol or drugs. Recognize and share the achievement with friends, family, or your support group, and be proud of the progress you’ve made thus far.