when we drink, I think our brain gets fucked up about the idea of REWARDS.
“I deserve this. hard week, difficult spouse, i finished the marathon, i’m on vacation, i’ve worked hard.” All those ideas equaled wine for me. Hard work = reward = wine.
And when I first stopped drinking, i was lost … how else could i signal the end of a long day without wine? Where was the off switch — not just to numb me, but to put a clear demarcation between THIS (work), and THAT (relaxation).
Of course, i had to train my brain that there are other ways to ‘celebrate’. Cuz my fucked up brain had decided that not only were weddings and marathons things to celebrate, but that Tuesday was worth celebrating too. Just getting to 6 pm was in itself a reason to celebrate for me.
what other ways are there to mark celebrations? (OK I know if you’re still drinking, this list will seem absolutely ridiculous): tonic + cranberry right at 6 pm, green tea, a bath, having take out Portuguese food for dinner (of course, in Portugal, they just call it ‘food’). I can celebrate bigger events with new sandals. I celebrated 90 days sober with a big griddle thing to make English Muffins.
Something I learned in my coaching job (job #2), is that the reward system of our brains is sort of like a 4 year old. “You did a good job, here’s a gold sticker.” Do you remember a time when you were motivated by gold stickers? It’s not that long ago. We give ourselves coins, badges, stickers all the time. We get watches and pens and bonuses at work for good performance. But we also get promotions without compensatory pay raises, so in effect we’re rewarded with MORE work and a few kind words.
What i learned from job #2, is that our brains can be retrained when it comes to rewards. (i learned these strategies a long time ago, but until i got sober last July, I never thought to link these ideas to booze; I was originally using these techniques about rewards to reinforce any new behavoir change). And it doesn’t take as long as you think it does to change your brain’s response to rewards.
Here’s an example from job #2, but you’ll see the transparent way it can be about booze (why i didn’t notice this until last July, when i used it to help me stay sober, i have no idea).
Example: you hate to exercise. you think it’s a big gigantic pain in the ass, and even when you feel better after walking on the treadmill, it’s like pulling teeth to get you ON the thing for 15 minutes. So you set up a reward system. You go to the fancy tea store, you buy some mint tea, and you come home, and you say to yourself: Every day when i do 15 minutes on the treadmill, i’ll have a cup of mint tea.
You link a reward to the new action. It has to be immediate, and you have to say “good job” to yourself as you have the tea. You step off the treadmill, you dance around the garage, and you say “i rock, i’m amazing, i’m going to have some tea to celebrate this treadmill event!”
The first two days, three days, you hate the treadmill, you hate the tea. You dance, but you’re not enthusiastic.
Then something changes. On day 4 or 5 or 6 you start to think … “i am looking forward to some mint tea today. better get on the treadmill so i can have my tea!” Really. Mint tea. No, really. I’m serious. i have been motivated by mint tea before.
So when i stopped drinking, i celebrated Day 30 and Day 60 and Day 90 (and Day 100, cuz why not). And sometimes when i’m emailing a sober penpal, and she’s coming up to a milestone, i say “do you have a treat planned?” Oh no, i couldn’t, she’ll say. I’ll wait ’til i’m further along before I celebrate…
Really? What about all the smaller bits in between? They can be celebrated too!
Jenni (to celebrate Day 60): “Per your suggestion, I treated myself to: 7 new books from Amazon, essential rosemary oil, and three new t-shirts plus one pair of comfy PJ pants that match one of the t-shirts, emblazoned with tiny cartoon skulls. Just knowing this little treasure trove is on its way is exciting! These little milestones feel like birthdays used to feel before I got too old to enjoy getting older. If that makes any sense? It truly feels like a special day!! Like a highly anticipated goal that I have worked really hard to reach. And now it’s here and I feel like a giggly kid. Yay for 60 days! I hope you have a delightfully soberlicious day too.” (Jenni is now on day 96!)
Don’t have any ideas for celebration treats? Cake is always good. Don’t have any ideas for how to celebrate your long day? how about a tall glass of tonic water and a bath. I feel now like my life is filled with tea and baths and cake and other small treats.
Just yesterday, i got into the tubbie at 4:30 pm once my catering day was finished, to mark the end of the work day … (and really, there’s nothing better than a daytime bath!). A bath is my go-to reward now. I know, it sounds dumb. Who is rewarded by a tub of hot water? It may sound ridiculous, but you were once rewarded with gold stickers. And you can again 🙂
Thanks to B for sending me this perfect image 🙂