Token Trouble

by Joshua Hoe

Fall in Michigan by Joshua Hoe
Fall in Michigan

I enjoy my sobriety anniversaries, I like eating cake, I like everyone congratulating me, I like feeling special…I am an addict (and therefore also a bit of a narcissist).

Anniversaries can be really positive for people struggling with recovery, and having recognition (or any structure to cling to) every month when you are starting sobriety can be really helpful.

I also feel tokens and token ceremonies show newcomers that sobriety is possible.

All good so far,

However, time and again, I run into people who overly fetishize sobriety…Who imbue tokens with social power…People for whom the motivation for recovery and sobriety becomes almost exclusively getting tokens and recognition.

Incentives Are Not Always Good

At my heart, I am a capitalist, I believe that incentives are key to motivating changes. But, sometimes, in the case of tokens, incentives can create perverse outcomes (no pun intended).

God Bless anyone who can stay sober simply for the love of tokens.

In my experience, however, the love of tokens often becomes a process where people often replace the work necessary to constantly build on a healthy program of recovery with their next anniversary date.

Instead of working with a sponsor on recovery, they spend a ton of time circling the drain while clinging with white knuckles to a populist sobriety ONLY so they do not have to be embarrassed about relapse in front of the group…Or, so they can show off how good they are at recovery.

Or worse, they act out and lie about sobriety rather than be honest about acting out and missing out on the social support that comes from receiving tokens.

Or, even worse yet, people let acting out put them into a shame-spiral of acting out. As in “I can’t even make it a month, I will never be able to do this, so I should just give in and act out.”

In other words, most groups I have participated in approach tokens mostly on auto-pilot…uncritically…maybe un-carefully…which is troubling because tokens troubles do happen (I see them all the time).

I think what I am suggesting is that people approach newcomers and sponsees by putting tokens in context and adding cautionary notes….I am certainly not suggesting anything more radical (as for many people reward structures at the beginning are really critical).

Humility + Accomplishment

As I mentioned before, I love getting my token every year…Mostly because I love cake (sad but true).

However, in reality, I try to only really care about one token….My 24 hour token.

I keep my 24 hour token in my wallet, so that every time I open my wallet I am reminded that it is a 24 hour program and that all that matters is being sober today.

My 24 hour token is the ONLY token I keep with me.

Sobriety Tokens Only Mean That You Can Do It

No matter how much sobriety you accumulate, you are still only minutes away from a relapse.

Staying alive in the humility of knowing that relapse is possible helps stave off the ego that starts to make you believe you have “solved” your addiction problem by staying sober for a long period of time.

Staying humble in the face of addiction is really hard for a raving egomaniac like I am.

The 24 hour token reminder helps me (I also try to make a first step table every week so that I can stay close to the idea that I am powerless over my addiction and that my life can always be unmanageable).

I think if you are discussing tokens with a newcomer or sponsor, this might be a good place to start.

I also know a few old-timers who think it is important to remind people that relapses frequently happen around anniversaries (well, I made it, I deserve a “reward”).

Let’s face it, recovery isn’t easy (especially at the beginning)…By reaching anniversaries you have accomplished something that you should enjoy and celebrate (in a healthy manner)…But my advice to my sponsees is to celebrate genuinely, put it away, and start working on the next 24 hours.

What are your thoughts on Tokens? Have you experienced people struggling with “token trouble?” We would love to hear from you, leave a comment!

As always, we do not identify ourselves with any particular program or organization and we hold no leadership role in any particular program or organization. The purpose of this blog is to share experience, strength, hope across the recovery community.


8 thoughts on “Token Trouble

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    1. Hello,

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    1. Thanks so much Shirley, I am really glad it helped! Thank you for taking the time to let me know, I really appreciate the feedback!



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