treats don’t work for me

recently sent this out as a daily micro-email; i’m going to post it here on the blog and add in some of the many emails i’ve received in response. 

email from good:

“i’m totally in the ‘treats don’t work for me’ camp. I eat what I want, when I want, within of course healthy parameters that – if i break them (TWO pieces of cheesecake!) – it doesn’t feel like a treat, it induces shame.

I buy what i want, when I want. Sometimes i have tried to convince myself that an expensive piece of jewelry or pair of jeans I’ve been eyeing or something similar will be a reminder piece to stay sober. But I never can “wait 30 days” to put it on.

I don’t have time for a lot of physical treats. I am craving a good 5-mile hike in the woods right now and it’s been a couple weeks and it hasn’t happened. I have two young kids and my husband and I are to the brim with shared responsibilities.

I cringe when I hear people say “make the time” and “get your partner to help!” – my husband cannot magically get his meetings cancelled to get home early so I can take off. I cannot walk out on my kids who are sitting at the table waiting for dinner. I cannot forget to get the straws or pictures or clothes together for school for the next day or my kid will feel left out and it will be my fault, something I can’t live with. When I’m getting dinner together, husband is busy giving them a bath and has to call his cousin in the hospital.  Later I have to clean or shop for guests or a party we’re having. This is the kind of every day stuff that has to get done. Now. Make time my A%$.  I’m lucky to get a shower in every other day (don’t worry I work from home) and I prioritize exercise, even if it’s whatever I can do quickly and not my favorite kind) over things like bubble baths. If I get a chance to go out for a couple hours and hike, or happen by a cute coffee shop and have a chance to stop, or even get an hour to read at the end of a long day between 10 and 11pm, I will take it, whether I ‘deserve’ it, have X days sober, just got through a tough craving, or not. And honestly, if I feel good enough about however many days of sobriety to deserve a treat, just feeling deserving, that’s treat enough.”

from me: do you agree with Good about the treats thing? i’ve done a lot of writing about this and recorded audios, and talked about retraining your brain … but i wonder if you agree with Good that, no matter what i suggest, it’s all ‘airy-fairy’ wishful thinking …

and if you disagree with Good (or you used to think how she did and now you don’t), you can tell me about that too. I’ll share some ideas in a future email.


I want to put this online, to hold myself accountable. I want to document the noise in my head. I'm tired of thinking about drinking. date of last drink: june 30, 2012

  • Pessie has hit the nail on the head, each sober day does help to deal with all the chaos that life brings.
    On the treats front, well cake, cake and cake, and I am have put on weight….

  • The first thing I thought when I read this was “wolfie, please stop tormenting this poor woman!” I recognize her level of frustration, particularly with Belle’s “impossible” notion of taking care of ourselves. I took the idea of treats to the opposite (but probably related) extent. I was buying myself treats all over town and they weren’t the $5 kind. I started to stress and feel guilty about the money I was spending for this “treatment”. (Ah ha – notice the common thread in “treat” -ment? Sorry; got sidetracked) Anyway, my stress level increased to a point where I started entertaining the idea of buying some booze instead. And then it hit me. This was just another way that wolfie was messing with me. And Belle’s reply to the email I sent (and as R. Rose pointed out too) was that it’s not the treat that matters, it’s the meaning behind it. So I rethought my way of treating myself. I bought some cheap rhinestones at the craft store and decorated each day that I have been sober on my calendar (beautiful!) I set my timer for just 5 min after my workout so that I meditate and appreciate my accomplishments. I’m proud of “Good” for reaching out. She wants to do this. She just needs to let go of her old behaviors; allow new, healthy ones to develop, and recognize wolfie’s tricks. And I agree with mrsh. It was alcohol that brought disarray to my life. And as each sober day goes by I am finding that I am increasingly organized and able to deal with chaos that life brings.

  • This sounds exactly like the sort of thinking I used to do. When I kept trying, and failing, to stay sober. Even though I had lots of other sober tools in my toolbox and used them, I didn’t think the sober treat idea was worth trying, actually tbh I rejected it out of hand (because I told myself I could buy stuff when I wanted etc, much like good says she does)
    However, once I embraced the idea of sober treats (lots and lots of sober treats!) I have stayed sober. Because I tried different this time. It wasn’t the treats, as such, that made the big difference (lovely though they are!) it was changing my mindset to one of “I’m worth it, I’m not broken, I deserve treats and self care and self love. And even if other people can stop drinking without sober treats, I can’t and that doesn’t make me broken, either. This works for me so I’ll do it”

    But you do need to actually try the sober treat idea, in the first place, not just reject it out of hand. Tbh I think that was Wolfie talking, telling me it was a crap idea and that what kind of useless person needs treats to get them to stop drinking ffs? A broken one who wouldn’t succeed anyway, that’s who.

    Well FU Wolfie, I’m on Day 50 now thanks to Belle and sober treats 🙂
    So bring them on, is all I can say 🙂

    • Yes, I agree with the “treats don’t work for me”. As someone who now has a few years of sobriety, The number one thing I have learned is that, as much as all of us who engage in behavior change have in common, everyone has significant differences in their approach to making that change.

      If it does not work for you, don’t do it. I empathize with the writer’s frustration with “just make time” small children need to eat, be nurtured, and get to school everyday. One also has to earn the money necessary to support them. That is not optional… yes, taking care of oneself also takes time and resources. None of us are experts on someone else’s self care needs. We can suggest, support and learn together… that’s about it, and it is a lot.

      I find it helpful to read this blog, even though one central theme, the concept of a “Wolfie” enemy, is antithetical to my process for maintaining my sobriety. For me, it is critical to remember that the voice that urges me to devalue sobriety or minimize the problem that alcohol was for me is MY voice, me… not some outside enemy.. and I respond best to gentle empathy…

      Further, people have different needs at different moments of sobriety… year 5 is different from year 16 is different from 4 months. Year 7 was much, much harder than year 1 for me. I had such a sense of urgency that first year, at year 7… I had a sick kid and unemployment and day job after day job … the same platitudes, however useful they’d ever been were not right for me.

  • I agree with mrsh…it’s not so much about the treat itself, but the context, the meaning. And. also…willingness to do whatever it takes to stay sober.

    Although I am not a member of a certain 12 step group, I agree with their in-earnest question when they ask, “Are you willing to go to any lengths…?” For me, I have reached a point in my drinking career that calls for a no excuses mentality…even if that means disappointing people, upsetting the status quo, changing my schedule, and even half-assing my life for awhile.

    Treats, blankets, bring ’em on! They help, but they can’t be defined by others…they have to be meaningful to the person using them.

  • I think that the first paragraph says it all. When you do something that you wouldn’t normally let yourself do, “it induces shame”. But here’s the thing – treats are all about breaking some self-imposed barriers to self care and fun as a reward for doing something awesome and hard. Treats absolutely won’t work as long as you feel shame for giving them to yourself. (As an aside, 2 pieces of cheesecake seems like a perfectly reasonable way to celebrate a sobriety milestone! I might even schedule that for my next big one.)

    To me (and I’m honestly not an authority here), as alcohol abusers, many of us felt the same way about treats. We expected ourselves to move mountains just because we had to, and we certainly weren’t going to give ourselves any kudos for just doing what we felt the world expected of us. But you can’t keep up that line of thinking for long without a release valve, so many of us turn to alcohol at that point. I’d come home from work after a tough day, exhausted and totally uninspired to cook dinner. There was no way I was going to declare it a boxed mac and cheese night and give myself a break – I’m a mother, and mothers make their families perfectly balanced and enticing meals every single night. I needed a break so desperately that I’d manufacture a break in my wine glass while doing what I felt I “had” to do. The shame I felt around giving myself a break, celebrating my awesomeness, and rewarding myself just because it was Tuesday was what kept me coming back to wine every night.

    Each of my previous attempts at sobriety failed. The common thread? I was motivated by shame. I thought that I wasn’t supposed to need a release or a reward, and I was disgusted with myself for giving myself my nightly wine “treat”. I refused to celebrate my sobriety milestones because “I shouldn’t have ever gotten myself into this situation in the first place”. Totally a normal line of thinking, but not one that is particularly conducive to long term sobriety. Each time, I’d fail in a moment of feeling like I was juggling so much and working so hard so don’t I deserve some wine? No I didn’t need wine, I needed a damn treat! I needed to acknowledge and celebrate how hard I was working. I needed to lower my expectations, evennjust for one night.

    I so so so recommend Beene Brown’s work on shame. Start by watching her Ted talk, and see if it resonates with you. Maybe you’ll find that treats start working when you start realizing that you actually do deserve them and that you are worth celebrating and nourishing?

    Xoxo, wish you all the best!

  • A few thoughts You are seemingly stretched to the max. If and when it gets to the point where you are in the hospital for some alcohol related illness, then there’s your break. I don’t know your story, but if you are here with “us folks” and Belle, alcohol is surely interfering with all this tight scheduling and efficiency. What would your husband or significant other say? Food or luxury type treats don’t work for everyone, and I get that. So what might be your carrot?

  • I was where Good is a few years ago, when our kids were really little and demanded every second of our time (on top of working). The idea, then, of taking out time for myself or treating myself to something, sounded fabulous, but wasn’t in my reality between lack of time and $. Now our kids are 10 and 12, are much more independent (though still demanding much of our time) & our financial situation has dramatically improved. I like the idea of a little treat to mark my accomplishments, but totally understand Good’s frame of mind.