The Need to Reward

The Need to Reward

As well as drinking to oblivion, a lot of us drink/drank as a reward. We drink/drank because we were happy or sad, bored, had survived an hour/day/week at work, got a promotion or got dumped. Any excuse.
Being rewarded starts very early on in life and therefore is cemented in our brains by adulthood. 

Before Soberdom, I would reward myself with food, alcohol and cigarettes. I remember being a member of the gym in the past and the minute I’d finished, would have a cigarette ‘to celebrate’. Oh the irony!

Friday night has always been treat night for me. After all, I’d worked hard for 5 whole days. I deserved to get smashed. 

Imagine the excitement as a binge drinker, two whole days and nights off work, lots of time to sleep (badly), chill & drink. I would go to the shop on the way home, buy cigarettes, at least two bottles of wine (6 if there was an offer on) and a nice fattening ready meal that I intended to eat to ‘line my stomach’. I would also have gin on standby, just in case.

Once stocked up, and if I was staying in, I’d get home as soon as possible. The first thing I’d do is pour a glass of lukewarm wine (the bottle would then go in the freezer) and have a cigarette whilst hanging out the window of my flat. Beautiful. Then I’d have another cigarette straight away. The weekend had begun. 

Even as I write this, I’m cringing. Drinking lukewarm wine in absolute desperation to get the party (for one) started. And chain smoking! I literally couldn’t get enough. I chose to ‘reward’ myself with two things that were slowly killing me. It seems ridiculous now but at the time it was the best thing ever. Or so I thought.

Once the initial euphoria was over and I settled down in front of the TV, my brain would start. It didn’t really matter if I’d had a good week or bad, alcohol made me feel depressed. Which led me to drink and smoke more. The reward to myself had now transformed into a cycle of misery.

Friday (treat) night subsequently became my trigger night when I stopped drinking. How was I supposed to reward myself now? What was the point in working hard all week when there was nothing to look forward to at the end of it? I’d stopped smoking and stopped drinking. What was left? Oh yeah, food. Oh, and of course Elderflower. 

And so I changed my Friday night. I would still stop at the shop but I would buy food that took me a while to prepare. And I’d buy something nice to drink. I would cook whilst listening to music or a Podcast and I’d take my time. In the first few months, I’d read self help books and go to bed early, just so that I didn’t dwell on what I thought I was missing. 

After several weeks of doing this, the trigger started to lessen. Instead, I would get excited about what I was going to cook or what new drinks I could try. I actually started to look forward to an early night, to recharge my batteries, and to a hangover free Saturday. 

Now, 5 months on, I barely think about having a drink. And I definitely don’t think about smoking. The urge to binge has diminished as I become happier with who I am. The need to ‘fill the void’ is more likely to be with chocolate or ice cream once in a while now, rather than every weekend without fail. My reward is a hangover free weekend, lots of good quality sleep and no sign of the usual Friday night misery.

Have a great sober Friday!

#day153

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‘We become what we repeatedly do’

‘We become what we repeatedly do’

Humans are habitual. Fact. We like repetition and we all have addictions. We especially like doing things that are bad for us and love to indulge in modern day poisons! Why can’t we turn our habits  around and be addicted to the good stuff?! It’s rare to be addicted to vitamins or lettuce or burpees. 

One of the common words used about alcohol is that it is a reward, something to look forward to. We like the ritual of drinking .. buying a beautiful bottle, chilling it, pouring it into a lovely glass, decorating it with fruit and ice, savouring it, feeling ‘normal’ once the ritual has started. But once the ritual becomes more frequent, and the feeling is related to normality, the habit is formed and the love affair starts to dissolve.

Is there anything quite like the first drink of the day? That first sip .. the relief that we made it. I don’t think so. But once we start, we just can’t stop. Realistically, ‘just the one’ should do the trick, to raise the dopamine levels, to bring temporary joy from the day. But not many people that stop at one and more than one is a habit.

Cravings for alcohol are worse in a trigger situation. Trigger situations are caused by habit and need to be broken to survive alcohol free. Mine is, or was, getting home from work on a Friday night after a long week. 3 months on, it’s becoming much easier. I have replaced my wine with Elderflower Presse. I still have it in a lovely glass and I still decorate it with ice and lime and I now look forward to it in the same way I did a Sauvignon. After all, I deserve a treat too! It has just taken time to become the better option over the poison I was rewarding myself with before. 

There is nothing wrong with spoiling yourself with alcohol free products if it makes your sober journey more successful. Changing your habit to something poison free is always going to be a better alternative. Avoiding trigger situations in the early days also helps with recovery. Don’t put yourself in a temptation situation unless you are totally sure you can resist. Habits are not easy to break but they are easy to replace. Transfer your love of the bad things to love of the good. And reward yourself with permenant goodness rather than a temporary high. Remember, what goes up, must come down! And usually that isn’t pretty! 

‘Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going’ Jim Ryun

#day98

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