A few years ago, when I was thinking about thinking about not drinking, I was seeing a psychologist and he told me the best way to deal with my alcohol dependence was to, “Become addicted to good things.” He suggested my children, or exercise as worthy replacements for my three bottle of wine a day habit.
Lack of Empathy?
For some reason that really annoyed me (it still does). It seemed like a supreme lack of empathy, as if he thought I could pick and choose the things I wanted to become addicted to and then moderate my behavior so that, for example, I didn’t lurk at my children’s school all day or insist they wear the hand-macramé scarves and sarapes I had made just for them…
I am telling you this little vignette, because I am now two and a half years sober and although I didn’t overwhelm my children unduly with a kid-addiction, I did like chocolate a bit too much… I am a strong proponent of treating yourself for your recovery awesomeness. I have even come to agree that there are some good substitutions for addiction, but I feel the need to caution about what can happen when a reward morphs into a transfer addiction or when sober, negative behaviors creep up and settle in like a mangy stray…
5 Ways to Reward Your Recovery Awesomeness
- Clean Up Your Act – Get your car detailed. Get a manicure/pedicure at a beautiful spa. Have your hair done. Iron your sheets (or do your laundry for that matter and iron your underwear). You’re smart – you get what I’m talking about. It’s time for you to look after yourself and treat yourself like someone who deserves the best.
- Let Them Eat Cake (But Only One Piece) – Give yourself a break on the diet. Eat and enjoy the pleasure of overindulging in food every once in a while. If you’re like I was, your body is probably starving for nutrients. Buy a cookbook and experiment – use the best china and remember what it feels like to taste again.
- Subscribe Don’t Imbibe – Corny, I know, but one of the things I wasn’t expecting was how much time I would have on my hands when I stopped filling them with wine glasses. Get a Netflix subscription and catch up on documentaries, or sign up for a gym (see “good addictions” above), or audit an after work adult education class. Take up painting or writing. Fill the newfound free time with something you have always wanted to do.
- TRICK Yourself – See how I did that? Sometimes in early recovery, a treat will seem like a bad idea – for example hiring a personal trainer or joining an early morning walking group. In the same way 12 Step meetings can help give structure to your life, forcing yourself to try something that makes you accountable to others is a good idea. You will revel in the community, laughter and shared experiences.
- Happy Recovery to Me – Buy yourself a present. Save up your pennies and give yourself something foolish (calm down – I’m not talking about a Bentley – a new bottle of nail polish or a great book will do). Wrap it up with a tag that says TO: Me CONGRATULATIONS AND LOVE FROM: Me.
Now that we’re all, “I AM INVINCIBLE,” 5 Things to Avoid
- Too Much of a Good Thing – I know I said you should give yourself a break on the diet, but six months into my sobriety I had gained 25 pounds and transferred my affections from chardonnay to processed sugar. A lot of processed sugar. Be careful of coffee, soda-pop, cigarettes, candy, cakes or anything that is sold in a gas station convenience store…
- I VANT to be Alone – Greta Garbo said it first (and best), but isolation is a newly sober person’s worst enemy. Establish a routine and avoid holing up with that good book you bought yourself. Take it to a park bench or join a book club. Johann Hari says, “The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection.” Connect, get a job, go to church, volunteer, find a way to join in.
- Cocky Much? – Now I feel like everything I told you about treating yourself has a caveat. I said to congratulate yourself, and I do not think you should spend a lot of time looking over your shoulder, but remember what got you into this mess in the first place. Pride is said to be the sin from which all others spring. Be happy and proud of your accomplishments, but remember to be grateful…
- Telling Lies and Making Excuses – I don’t know about you, but when I was drinking, if I was talking, I was lying… Where were you? How many did you have? Who was that on the phone? What happened to the case of wine in the basement? Did you see my wallet? Old habits die hard, and what you tell others about why you are not drinking or where you were when you were in treatment is your business, but elaborate, fabricated stories are a no-no. Practice telling the truth.
- Romancing the Bottle – I used to talk about chardonnay as if it were a favorite aunt who had died. I’d call it, “My old friend,” and moon about the places I had been and the “crazy-fun” things I had done when I was in my cups. At some point I realized that reminiscing about wine was like longing for a boyfriend who used to beat me…a foolish, fruitless thing to do. There is no question I had some good times when I was drinking, but now I try to play the scenario out to its natural conclusion – flashing lights in the rearview mirror, a broken nose, a bounced check…
I used to walk around like the world owed me something. Like I deserved my good fortune just for being born under the right sign. I don’t feel that way anymore. I know that everything is not going to be alright all the time, and that to be truly successful a person has to feel like they earned their success. Congratulations on your sobriety. You earned it. I’m going to tell you what my mother still says to me when I’m going out for the evening or taking a long trip, because it is good advice, “Have fun. Treat yourself to something nice. But be careful out there…”