by Daniel D. Maurer
When I entered inpatient treatment for the third (and final) time, one of the tasks every resident had to complete every day was to make the bed.
I don’t know about you, but such a chore seemed wholly beneath me. I mean, what we’re those guys running there, a gulag?!
It wasn’t as if I couldn’t manage it—it was that no matter how hard I tried, I kept getting checkmarks from our unit’s enforcer, the guy whose assignment was to go around and play snitch to the poor incompetent souls who neglected to pull their sheets high enough on the bed so they didn’t touch the floor.
Very time I got a red checkmark from the enforcer, I had to throw a dollar into a big jug as a penalty. It was surprisingly effective. At least for me, it was—some guys didn’t even try. They just got up, stretched and yawned, walked into the next room and threw a buck in the jug without an ounce of guilt. Many of those guys I saw re-enter treatment a month later. Some died from overdoses after they got out.
Eventually, I made it my life’s purpose to make my bed without getting penalized. I succeeded. Although I often neglect some of the other housework chores today (until I get yelled at), I still manage to this day to make my bed. I suppose it was ground into me when I was in treatment.
It would be easy to dismiss such a simple step as having nothing to do with treating alcoholism or addiction to drugs . However, what I found from personal experience is that the routine of simply making a bed the right way made me feel I had accomplished something. Surprisingly, making a bed was part of the “Minnesota Model,” an early treatment regimen founded in the late 40s and early 50s, and one that has since been adopted by many treatment modalities.
The fact of the matter is that addiction is an exceedingly complex disease and one that doesn’t fit the concept many people have of what constitutes the term “disease” itself. Since addiction has entwined itself—thoroughly and diabolically—in the alcoholic’s or addict’s brain, often the answers to treating the illness are equally complicated. What can people do to become healthy again?
Not to worry! It’s Captain Obvious to the rescue!
“Captain Obvious,” of course, represents all the main tenets of what it takes to stay healthy in general, but whose points often fail simple recognition with people steeped in booze or awash in drugs. These points, albeit obvious, are worth repeating, because they lay the foundation for healthy living. And in the early days (the first six months of sobriety) I discovered the simple steps added up. The little things mattered! The more I endeavored to complete “stupid” little things like making my bed, the better I felt about myself.
So take this list not necessarily as a complete summary, but instead as a launching point from which you or someone you love may begin to regain life once again. To make sure you understand that Captain Obvious is the one announcing these considerations, each one will be accompanied with an exclamation mark—and italicized, to boot.
Eat Healthy Meals!
Well . . . duh.
I know with me, this was the case—I basically had to force feed myself, not only while I was binge drinking, but also after I entered treatment because my body simply wasn’t processing food the right way.
“Healthy meals” at first might seem more complicated than it really is. After all, how many “food pyramids” has the federal government put out? It seems like we have enough different pyramids to rival those in Egypt.
It’s really quite simple—when you’re not guzzling quarts of vodka and grazing solely on microwave pizza rolls, you find that your options for dining grow exponentially larger. Hold back on the carbs, eat veggies, and drink plenty of fluids . . . ones that aren’t ethanol-based, mind you.
Take Time To Sleep!
Ever abuse amphetamines? I did. Methylphenidate (Ritalin®). I had weaseled an ongoing script from a psychiatrist who determined I had “ADHD.” Don’t misunderstand me—some people really do have attention deficits. And for them, perhaps medication is the answer. For me, I just wanted to find a drug that I could keep using that . . . worked!
Well, it worked. Sort of. It added to the problem of not eating. And I got paranoid. And my heart felt like it was going to explode out of my chest, a la Alien-style. And it made my drinking worse. But the worst thing was I couldn’t sleep! I mean, at all.
Captain Obvious wants you to know that sleep is rather important for human beings. The more quality sleep you deprive your body, the less you’ll be able to function normally during the day, which for addicts and alcoholics means that you simply up your use of your favorite chemical to compensate. You can imagine how effective that strategy is. Not.
Alcohol consumption, in its own right, can and will disrupt your sleep patterns. As much as you think the blissful torpor you’re inducing by ushering in a liquid sandman, the fact is you’re hurting your body by drinking yourself to sleep.
What I learned from the professionals in treatment is that the quality of sleep you get is just as important (if not more so) than the amount of sleep you receive. “Sleep hygiene” is simply the promotion of better sleep habits, watching caffeine intake, and keeping to other obvious habits, which sometimes we fail to form in the hopes that we’ll prove everyone wrong about drug abuse or excessive alcohol intake.
Sleep. It’s good. Thanks, Captain Obvious!
Take Time For Regular Exercise!
Thank you, Captain Obvious. Your tips just keep getting better.
Here’s the thing—exercise actually increases the number of happy chemicals in our brains. It’s the stuff we who are more prone to use pills, a drink, or shots want in the first place. The bonus is that exercise won’t create such nasty things drinking or drugging will do, such as acute pancreatitis or a collapsed septum. Nope. Exercise works wonders.
The key to exercising effectively is to keep at it. Like most things in recovery, it requires effort and a regular one at that. At first, this can be difficult. I know that in my first month at a treatment facility, I couldn’t even manage to jog for a quarter mile before my legs started to cramp.
Like most things in life, the incremental changes you make regularly will add up. The secret formula isn’t all that secret; it’s just not as fun or exciting as you want it to be. But Captain Obvious isn’t concerned about that. He only wants to convey the incontrovertible fact of life each one of us has to accept: keep at it, measure success one day at a time, and never forget it’s the small things that add up into big ones.
Such as making your bed.
If you or a loved one are struggling with an addiction and need treatment, we would love to talk with you and see how we can help you. PLEASE CALL 844.310.5975. Our counselors are available to answer your questions.
Daniel D. Maurer is a freelance writer openly living in long-term recovery. He is the author of Sobriety: A Graphic Novel, a Hazelden Publishing, youth and young adult resource. Daniel is currently working on his fourth book, which covers the topic of resiliency. He lives with his family in Saint Paul, Minnesota. For more information on Dan and his work, visit his website and blog at Transformation is Real.