Twenty years ago I was in a crisis. My life was falling apart. I had postpartum depression; I was in a failing marriage, and I had a newborn baby girl I could barely take care of.
Everyday I suffered from major anxiety. I felt overwhelmed with the responsibilities of being a young mom of three children, helping my then husband with his business, and figuring out who I was. I realized I needed help and one of the first things I was told at a support group was, “One day at a time; if need be, one hour at a time, and if you're desperate, one minute at a time.” I remember walking away perplexed with those words going around and around my head. My tired, young mom brain kept wondering, what exactly did that mean?
One day at a time seemed so cliched to me, a cheesy hallmark card saying, and I felt almost insulted to be told this. I remember one day, after a really tough day, going to the beach and listening to an audio tape by Barbara de Angelis, a well known therapist. She was talking about how we go through life on auto pilot. She said she would be stressing, going to work, and how one day she was sitting in traffic at a red light, mad because she was late for work. While waiting, frustrated, she glanced out her car window. She was struck by the sheer beauty of the Pacific Ocean right beside her, and she realized she had never really noticed what a beautiful drive to work she had everyday. Immediately her commute seemed less stressful. She made a decision to get up earlier to enjoy her drive and her stressful drive became one she looked forward to as she was filled with gratitude at the beautiful world she lived in.
She went on to say most of us go through life on autopilot looking for that next big thing and once we reach it we look for the next one until one day we are at the end of our lives and we are on our dying day wishing we had enjoyed the ride. One day at a time began to make more sense to me. Not living on auto pilot anymore, but paying attention to the little things, being mindful of my environment and who I interacted with. Not worrying about a future that did not exist, a past that was gone. All I had was today and today was all that really mattered. It made sense why I loved vacations so much. On vacation, I paid attention to the smallest details, everything was an adventure. Tomorrow was not on my mind, I was focused on today.
Slowly life began to get better and by paying attention, I began to understand why I was stressed. I ended my marriage and began to focus on what was important to me. Fast forward twenty years later. I’ve learned what one day at a time really means. It means being focused on the moment, being present and engaged. Sometimes it’s hard, problems come and go, crisis happens, and pain is inevitable, but if I stay in today it really does get better.