If you’ve ever seen the hit comedy series Parks and Recreation, then you might be familiar with the concept of taking a “treat yo’ self” day. Many fans of the series latched onto the idea as a great way of taking a break from life every once in a while to do the things we love, no matter how ridiculous they may seem (one character even purchases a Batman suit with muscular padding). But the recovering addict or alcoholic who is currently struggling to overcome character defects such as selfishness and fiscal irresponsibility may wonder whether or not taking a day to treat yourself is really such a smart idea.
Naturally, there are some pros and cons with this idea. To put it simply, you should treat yourself every once in a while, but you should try to do so within reason. Below, we’ll discuss these pros and cons in a bit more detail before covering the specifics of how you might treat yourself without going too far over the edge. Needless to say, you won’t be treating yourself to a drink. But we do have a few much healthier options to discuss that may pique your interest.
Why You Should Treat Yourself
Life is stressful, and it’s easy for us to get into a funk every once in a while. Many of those who are in recovery for addiction and alcoholism suffer from various co-occurring disorders such as anxiety and depression that make it even easier for this stress to build, often to the point that it becomes unbearable. This is when we are most likely to use, and even those of us who have spent a great deal of time devising a relapse prevention plan may become so far gone that we feel as if we cannot call the people in our support system for help.
This is one of the biggest reasons that you should treat yourself every once in a while. But it goes much deeper than mere stress relief. When things are going wrong in our lives, it’s easy for us to suffer a few blows to our self-esteem. We get down on ourselves, wallowing in a mixture of self-pity and self-loathing that makes us question the validity of our very existence. Of course, if a friend or family member blamed themselves for every little thing that went wrong in their lives, we would accuse them of being irrational. But when we feel that way ourselves, it is all too easy to become convinced that we are on to something.
When you treat yourself well, the way you would treat a loved one, you are reminding yourself of your own worth. You are taking time out of your busy life to remember that you deserve to be on this earth. More importantly, you deserve to live well. For some of us, this can be a scary proposition. Maybe it was a lost job that caused you to hit rock bottom before entering recovery, and you now feel that you can’t spend money on anything but bills and food. But how many times did you spend money on drugs or alcohol when you were already struggling to make rent? Is it really the worst thing in the world to spare a few pennies in pursuit of adding some value to your life?
And that’s precisely what you do when you treat yourself to a nice day on the town. You give your life value. Even if you keep it low-key, going out to a movie and buying a new shirt, you’re still doing something for yourself that you wouldn’t normally do. More importantly, you’re taking some time to separate yourself from your work and from your problems. And in doing so, you allow yourself to discover the truth of who you are.
There’s a reason that our sober living facilities are located in a relatively populated area near the gorgeous Treasure Coast. If the secret to sobriety were simply to remove ourselves from the world and live as hermits, then we would almost certainly build a couple of halfway houses out in the boondocks and call it a day. But sobriety is more than white-knuckled separation from society. The concept of a geographical cure is essentially myth to begin with, so why isolate? Sobriety is contentment, so you must learn to treat yourself to a life with which you are truly content.
This may sound like sheer rationalization for doing whatever you want whenever you want to do it, but the idea is not to treat yourself to an expensive spa day every week. In fact, your particular situation may not allow you to treat yourself to anything particularly expensive at all. There must be something of a balance to the whole thing, and this is largely because you might actually suffer a few consequences if you attempt to excessively treat yourself in luxurious fashion.
Why It Could Be Damaging
The first consequence that will inevitably leap to many people’s minds when they consider the notion of a “treat yourself” day is the accrual of massive credit card debt if they are too reckless in how much they spend. After all, many of us live on a pretty strict budget. There may be some addicts and alcoholics who have found a way to simply fail upwards, but the large majority of us suffered job losses and other economic concerns while in active addiction. And even in recovery, our financial troubles do not always vanish as immediately as we may wish.
To a fair extent, this is absolutely true. You cannot treat yourself to everything you want without putting yourself at risk of financial ruin. And you may run that risk more closely than you think, because the very concept of a “treat yourself” day may involve embracing ideals that will ultimately lead you to an entirely new sort of addiction. You may think that shopping addictions are simply made-up inventions, created by reality show housewives to explain their reckless spending. But they are actually real behavioral disorders, requiring therapy and other means of modification in order to overcome them.
When you think about it, this isn’t too surprising. The disease model of addiction involves the concept of naturalism, the idea that the disease of addiction is largely caused by the damage we have done to our dopamine receptors through the frequent abuse of drugs and alcohol. But substance abuse is not the only potential cause of addiction in this fashion. Any activity from which we derive the bulk of our pleasure may become the culprit of our newfound compulsive behaviors, and this can lead us down the road to develop shopping addictions, eating disorders, gambling addictions, and even addictions to video games.
Even if we do not develop true addictions, a focus on hedonism can be incredibly damaging to our characters, as well as our general mindsets. Remember that the addict is someone who often struggles to control their inhibitions. This is definitely no exception. And when you treat yourself as a means of escape from the stresses of daily living, you are potentially wreaking psychological havoc on your own mind. You undermine your own sense of responsibility by telling yourself that these “treat yourself” days are the only thing worth looking forward to, that your daily life is a chore through which you must suffer until you are able to actually enjoy yourself. When you establish this sort of mindset, any personal sense of accomplishment that might have been gained from your own productivity is essentially flushed down the drain.
Basically, the theory here is that we should learn how to be happy with our lives as they are. If we cannot do that, then no amount of treating ourselves will help make up for the empty space inside. Without learning how to be happy with a life that includes necessary responsibilities, we will constantly be seeking outside methods of filling an internal hole. And the more we do that, the likelier it is that we will eventually find ourselves at the bottom of a bottle once again.
There is much truth to this, and that’s why you must learn to strike a balance. You must learn how to treat yourself while still paying attention to your overall spiritual well-being. Because life should be more than a search for escape. Our lives should feel like they have substance, even when we cannot always do precisely what we want. Developing this sense of contentment takes a lot of time and effort, but we’ll discuss below how you might learn to treat yourself without allowing escapism to overtake your entire mindset.
Finding the Right Balance
It can be hard to learn how to treat yourself without overdoing it. There are some who will be hesitant to treat themselves at all, while others might have trouble turning it off once they experience the joy of having a day to themselves. Neither of these extremes is particularly healthy to the addict or alcoholic in recovery, so it is important that we never let the pendulum swing too far in either direction.
One way of doing this is to use your sobriety date as something of a marker. If you have the occasion to treat yourself once a month, then you can use it as an opportunity to celebrate one more month of success in recovery. This may also help ensure that you do not get too carried away and decide to punctuate your outing with any form of substance abuse, as the importance of sobriety will already be on your mind when you start the day. It will also help ensure that you don’t use your day off as an excuse to miss a meeting, since you will want to go somewhere to pick up your chip.
Just because you’re treating yourself does not mean that you should do anything too unhealthy. For instance, you may still want to do your best to maintain proper mental nutrition. An article on Oprah.com suggests one way of showing yourself some love as the enjoyment of a nice meal involving a healthy turkey sandwich and a modest slice of pumpkin pie. The sandwich itself will not set you back too much, but the pie will certainly be a treat for those who tend to be strict about watching their figure. More importantly, the tryptophan in poultry such as turkey can boost your mood through an increase in serotonin levels, especially when complemented with the carbs found in desserts such as pumpkin pie.
You can also do any one of the many things we mentioned in our articles on filling the void of addiction and staying sober over the holidays. Go out and see a movie, watch some classic films that you haven’t seen in a long time, or simply spend time talking to friends and loved ones with whom you may have lost contact over the years. The point is simply to spend some time away from your work and your problems so that you may get to enjoy the person you are when all is right with the world, so any of these options will suit your purpose.
In fact, connecting with people should be at least part of your day. If you truly wish to avoid the exhibition of character defects such as selfishness, then you don’t actually want your “treat yourself” day to be all about you. This isn’t to say that you have to perform any type of hardcore service work, but you might consider bringing a friend along for the ride. Make at least half of the day about them. Not only will you still benefit from doing some things for yourself, but you will also get to experience the joy of seeing someone you care about experience their own happiness.
You might also consider some physical pampering. A massage can be incredibly relaxing, and its ability to clear your mind is practically on par with Zen sitting meditation. Or, if you’re the type who prefers walking meditation, then you might benefit from some physical exercise. In the true spirit of a “treat yourself” day, forgo a day at the gym and find an alternative outing that interests you. Options might include a dance class, paintball, laser tag, or anything else that stimulates your body while increasing your serotonin and giving you a chance to truly enjoy yourself. We have weekly physical outings at Amethyst, and the feedback from our patients has always been extremely positive.
Whatever you do, try to maintain the right attitude. Enjoy a day off, but do not let it affect your enjoyment of day-to-day living. Remember that hard work and responsibility are what make these days off so enjoyable in the first place. Many of us had every day off when we were using, and rarely did we find any true sense of self-fulfillment. Life is something different now, so enjoy the fact that your sobriety has enabled you to experience a new and better way of living. If you can develop this way of thinking, then it doesn’t matter how you choose to treat yourself. Through positivity and right-minded thinking, every second of every day can be spent in living life to its fullest.