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"Some of my friends track their recovery time carefully, but others think counting days is a fake and damaging way to gauge recovery. How do you know whether to count days or skip it?"

-Tracking Time

Dear Tracking Time,

I am someone who tracks my time. According to the AA 12 Step App, I have abstained from alcohol for 5,730 days, almost sixteen years. When I say that number out loud, I feel relieved, proud, and motivated to continue. But I also experience a low-grade dread. Why?

I still have nightmares about “losing” my time and having to start over. I was a chronic relapser, and the hairs on my neck raise as I think about those crushing moments when I would step up and claim yet another 24-hour chip. It hurt at the time, but did it help me in retrospect? Did those experiences power me forward, or did they slow my journey to lasting recovery?

Although uncomfortable to bear, the feeling of dread keeps me humble and motivated to work on my recovery. I know that if I become complacent, my substance use disorder could easily resurface. I believe it works if you work it; tracking time is my quick-draw reminder.

Ultimately, you will have to experiment and figure out what works best for you. To help you with this, I have put together a quick list of the benefits and drawbacks of tracking time that I’ve noticed in my own recovery.

The Upside of Tracking:

  • Having a reason not to “lose my time” provides an incentive to avoid the first drink, drug, or addictive behavior. Although I still experience physical cravings, every additional reason I can add to my “insurance stockpile” helps, even if it is not intrinsic.
  • Transparency forces me to stay honest and real with the outside world, for better or for worse. When I reached ninety days in recovery, I called my grandmother from a rehab in California and broke the news that I have a substance use disorder. “I always thought that out of my eight grandchildren, you were most likely to become an alcoholic. The way you’d suck down those bottles of milk.”
  • Some jobs require candidates to have a certain number of years in recovery, as stated in the form of “x years in recovery preferred.” I have encountered this requirement when investors ask me, “How long have you been sober?” Invasive and weird, I know, but ultimately my feelings about that question belong in another blog post 🙂.
  • As I mentioned above, my “time” is a quick reminder of the progress I have made.

The Downside of Tracking:

  • Time is an imperfect metaphor for the raw experience of recovery. If I were to drink, I wouldn’t actually lose the insights, personal growth, and recovery community that I’ve gained along this extraordinary journey.
  • The concept of time is highly personal and subject to individual interpretation. Comparing my “time” to yours is impossible—I might define it through abstinence, while you might define it through harm reduction. Ultimately, the definition of time is relative and personal.
  • Along the same line of thinking, collecting years of continuous time can be an unrealistic goal for managing a chronic condition marked by frequent recurrence. Applying this structure to my eating disorder, for example, would result in chaos. Does eating my four-year-old’s graham crackers at 2 AM count as a relapse? In some circles, I might be a “newcomer” again. Defining a naturally moving target is a challenge, and—for some people in recovery—not always worth it.

In summary, this is a hotly debated subject in the recovery world, and I am just one voice in a chorus of opinions. As always, please take what you find useful and disregard the rest.


Robin McIntosh

Co-Founder and Chairperson of the Board

Robin McIntosh is Workit Health’s Co-Founder and Chairperson of the Board of Directors. She is an experienced designer & entrepreneur. She has founded multiple companies, and has worked in health and consumer tech over the past ten years.

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