Ticking off each day that I don’t take a drug requires too much focus on an aspect of my life that I am trying to leave behind.

Do you know your sobriety date? If you’re doing the 12 steps, you probably have a collection of chips ticking off the years and months since your last use. You probably have a “birthday.”

Even outside of the 12 steps, many people track their sobriety dates. It’s supposed to be a way to quantify and celebrate how long someone has been in recovery, and to recognize our accomplishments. But I don’t agree with that thinking. I don’t keep a sobriety date, even though I’m in recovery from heroin addiction. If you’re anything like me, maybe you shouldn’t keep a sobriety date either.

“Relapse is part of recovery.”

Heard that one before? It’s repeated all the time. I’ve lost count of how many counselors, peer support specialists, doctors, and random people have told me that “relapse is a part of recovery.” I get it. It’s true. Just look at how the National Institute on Drug Abuse defines opioid addiction: “a chronic, relapsing brain disease.” That means addiction to opioids causes long-term changes to the brain, which may manifest as behavioral recurrences throughout the life of the disease. Relapse is normal. In fact, 70-90% normal, according to several independent studies.

Despite the mantra, however, many people in addiction recovery are taught that relapse is the ultimate definition of failure. When we come down from that relapse, we feel gutted. We feel ashamed, like we’ve lost (or thrown away) something sacred. It leads a lot of people to continue using. But it doesn’t have to.

I’ve been that person who relapsed and hated myself for it so much that I kept using to escape from the shame. Once upon a time, a single relapse meant a minimum of a three-month bender. A big part of the reason was my sobriety date. I looked at that brand new zero like it was the end of the world. All of my recovery was erased by one shot of heroin. So I’d go out and use more, until I became exhausted with the lifestyle once again.

Then I stopped keeping a sobriety date…

Learn more about why Elizabeth Brico doesn’t believe in sobriety dates — and why she thinks maybe you shouldn’t either — in the original article Why I Don’t Have a Sobriety Date at The Fix.