By April Wilson Smith, MPH
“Isn’t this [place] too nice for you?” asked the husband of one of the women I went to rehab with. The inpatient rehab he was referring to was set in the pretty rolling hills of Pennsylvania. The woman whose husband criticized the pleasant scenery had spent the first three days there crying. I can vouch for the fact that she was not having an easy time and certainly not enjoying her surroundings.
Why do people feel like treatment should be miserable? Maybe they have seen too many documentaries on the “beat you down to build you up” philosophy, an ideology that makes people worse, not better. Too often, family and friends, who should be helping, seem to think that a person in treatment should suffer. Yet nothing could be further from ensuring success.
Think about it this way, if you were on a diet, would you only eat foods you found completely disgusting and couldn’t even get down? If yes, you would be setting yourself up to starve, which often results in running to the nearest store for ice cream, cookies, and chips. When changing your relationship with alcohol you do not want to set yourself up for a binge cycle: exercising extreme restraint, followed by a binge that could have serious, even life-threatening consequences.
So, what’s the secret to making life sweet with less or no alcohol? As with everything at North-Star Care, that’s up to you.
Take a moment to think about what you enjoy. No, not what you think you’re supposed to enjoy. Not what your spouse, children, parents, or co-workers enjoy. What do you like? What felt good before you started drinking? What was fun when you were a kid?
Do you like being in nature, playing with animals, playing video games, gardening, walking, doing crosswords/sudoku/puzzles, going to movies, watching videos/TV, playing sports, doing crafts, knitting, collecting tropical fish, fishing, hunting, bird watching, baking, cooking, reading, writing, home improvement, or anything else? Don’t try to do something “good;” this is supposed to be fun. You may love a day of meditation, yoga, and hiking, but you may also love an evening watching reruns on the Disney Channel. You are not trying to impress anyone other than yourself with your list of things to do.
Self-care is very individual and has become a cliche. I happen to enjoy getting manicures and pedicures, but you may consider such things torture. Think about what you like to do when no one is judging. This can be hard when we are first trying to change our relationship with alcohol because many of us feel like we owe it to the people in our lives to do only what they want us to do. In fact, some of us have spent so many years doing what others want, we don’t even know what we like.
Once you have created your list, make time every week doing something genuinely fun. I always like to take Friday nights “off.” No work, no housework, no calls to people I don’t really want to talk to, just sitting with my cat and watching movies on my computer. I look forward to that time and enjoy resting and relaxing. If for some reason I don’t get my Friday nights off, I feel stressed and annoyed for a few days. I’ve learned to honor that commitment to myself.
How do we explain to family members that we need to make some time for ourselves? Don’t they deserve all our time once we are not spending so many hours drinking or dealing with its consequences? In short, no.
If we don’t make time for ourselves, we will lose the momentum it takes to make changes, and the strength required to maintain those changes. At North-Star Care, we offer to meet with family and friends to educate them about how important self-care is.
So once a week you are now committing to do something for yourself. But what about every day?
Some advice I got early in my journey still resonates with me; “please your senses.” I was told to get scented candles, nice shower gels, anything that would please my senses daily. I keep fresh flowers on my table, nice shower gel in the bathroom, and clean, soft sheets on the bed. By loading your environment with things that make you feel soothed and happy, you’re sending your brain the message that you deserve good things. This will help you maintain motivation and a positive mood.
Life happens, and things can be chaotic when you’re first trying to change your relationship with alcohol. Things may not always be easy, but if you keep in mind that you deserve to feel good, you’ll be well on your way to feeling better!