We have all heard this expression numerous times throughout our life. The meaning(s) are self-evident - we learn to reward our hard work with the pleasures of playing hard. It becomes a balancing act and as far as most are concerned, you can play as hard as you want - as long as it does not interfere with the workload you have been assigned, and you show up to school or the office the next morning, on time and ready for business as usual. For students it may mean crunching for an important exam toward getting the all-important grade-point average, obtaining your degree and balancing those intense study periods and schoolwork with even more intense weekend partying. Again, as long as your grades stay up, who is to question the ‘fun’ you decide to have in order to reward yourself for such intense and praise-worthy accomplishments?

A definitive cycle begins to take hold and an accepted way of balancing the grindstone routine with the needed rewards of pleasure and attempts at relaxation and de-stressing. Seems simple enough and innocent enough from an outside perspective, that is, until certain complications emerge on both sides of the pendulum and this life arrangement so commonly accepted and practiced, begins to have a deeper, more destructive side to our characters and our very lives. This holds true especially if the ‘play hard’ cycle involves heavy drinking and using drugs to accentuate the fun and elongate the duration of this time away from work.

So, what happens along the way?  Recent studies examining the life-habits of teenagers and young men and women in school show an alarming increase of binge drinking and excessive partying during the play hard cycle. Interestingly enough, these studies point to an alarming increase of brain stimulant drugs such as Ritalin and Adderall (normally given for those with ADHD) being used by students after the partying to help return their mind’s functioning abilities back to their intense study periods. For some, it seems that the goals of getting good grades and advancing to obtain the college degree and then landing the prize job, along with the expectations placed upon them by family, peers, and the school system, justify the playing-hard mentality.

Other recent studies show the direct correlation between college graduate students moving into the workplace and often being encouraged and enticed by job offers from companies offering the same psychological mindset - let’s work hard, let’s play hard and make money – ‘you’re a success!’ Additionally, young people who are new to the workplace aiming to be accepted are willing to grab onto this very ‘safe’ and familiar pattern of lifestyle that started in school – it’s an easy choice – I’m popular and part of the group. Granted, there are many levels of the work hard, play hard, socially accepted partying-reward cycle. Some do not adhere to it for life - others grow out of the pattern when assuming more responsibilities in life – marriage, children, and so forth.

However, this well-established and accepted social pattern can last long into someone’s career. What happens when the stresses of the daily eight-to-five continue to increase? What occurs to a person, wanting and willing to accept more money, a better job title, and longer hours at the job? The proverbial eight-to-five can easily morph into the seven-to-six or seven-to-eight o’clock with now some weekend work. Where is that fun time – where is that needed period of escaping, forgetting the job for a moment, feeling good – even if it’s ‘just’ the happy-hour? I personally remember meeting up with friends a few times a week -- that ultimately became every night -- at a local bar, following a long and stressful day at the office. Then, I would quickly imbibe a few drinks, feel a bit more relaxed (at least for the moment), and then drive home and easily have another drink or two. I thought nothing of this pattern, except that I eventually began worrying and hoping that I would not get a DWI on my way home from the bar (the initial red-flags that went ignored/denied).

As I see it, there are two distinct problems with cultivating the lifestyle of work hard, play hard. Many of us are being unduly pressured in our school careers, and then being taken advantage of in our work careers. We simply, work too hard and too long each week. Periods for real relaxation and healthy downtime are few and far between. However, many of us are unwittingly compelled into spending longer and longer hours at the workplace with less support as downsizing has become an accustomed way for businesses to reach their desired bottom-lines. Some people, in fact, forego vacation plans because of the fear of what their return to the job may entail – along with the pressure and expectations to “be a success.”

What happens when a person believes that their only means of relaxation and escape from the daily pressures of the workplace can only be found in the play hard mentality? Suffice it to say, people can find themselves completely ill equipped to healthily address the stresses they are facing. They can easily succumb to a destructive pattern of drinking, using drugs, anything in fact to escape what has become a vicious cycle.

Those of us who have suffered from drug addiction or alcoholism and are now embarked on a new path of recovery and sobriety, will be able to easily understand the above work-hard, play-hard scenario. We certainly learn new ways of managing our stresses without using or drinking. We begin to learn healthy ways to balance our lives. There is nothing at all wrong or inherently destructive about working hard. In fact, a good, honest day of work and effort feels very satisfying. And playing that is healthy and fun can be completely uplifting and fortifying to our entire nature. The key is to see beyond the pretense of the slogan – work hard, play hard – and, understand that life is more about balancing the two poles, not extending each side to a destructive and damaging extreme. There is nothing at all wrong in having positive fun while working. We can laugh and enjoy ourselves while doing an outstanding daily job. Conversely, there is nothing at all misguided about working hard when playing. Climbing a mountain or riding a bike on a vigorous trail may not at all times seem like fun in the way we normally think of as fun. We may be sweating profusely, muscles aching, tired and exhausted, but we chose this because of how good it feels to reach the end of the course and the genuine ‘high’ feeling of accomplishment. The ensuing release-relaxation after such effort can be so very fulfilling and satisfying.

In conclusion, the key is to be wary of certain patterns of living that we accept as a means to an end. It is never a good idea to sell part of our souls to the so-called ‘devil’ in order to achieve an end we desire.  We may need to rethink what our definition of success is. A fulfilling and happy life can only be found through living in a state of healthy balance – recovery, service, unity and a complete awareness of our mind, body and soul. Our heart-felt pledge towards Unconditional Recovery will allow us to emphatically close the door on using and drinking ever again – despite the stresses we may face in life. By doing this, we will open a new passageway towards discovering true contentment and peace through being and knowing who we really are. Feeling good within oneself is a reward in life far beyond the reaches of any ends obtained through simply working hard and playing hard. Caring for ourselves and others through service is one of life’s most enriching experiences.  Until next time . . . work and play in balance . . . stay sober . . . 

Let’s face it – when endeavoring to distance ourselves from any substance addiction we simply do not want to go backwards. Yes, individuals do relapse while in recovery and such an event should never be viewed by anyone as a failure. However, it is a setback and can have painful consequences. I, for one, have never seen nor heard of an individual that had a happy or good relapse experience. How could it be so? The opposite occurs and the ramifications can be costly in so many ways. Usually, when a person starts using or drinking again, they quickly descend back to the level of drug or alcohol abuse they reached prior to attempting recovery. Moreover, one can easily plunge deeper into their addiction, prolonging this critical relapse period and making another attempt at recovery that much more trying than before.  

There is excellent material offered by highly reputable recovery organizations such as AA and Kolmac addressing this critical concern of the ‘relapse.’ Kolmac offers quite an insightful diagram called the ‘Relapse Sequence.’ It begins with how one can set up a rationalization process for using again, followed by behavior that surreptitiously brings one closer, physically and mentally, towards their substance of choice. A simple example of this is picking up some coffee or cigarettes close to a liquor store you once frequented. This is what AA refers to as a “slippery slope” – repeating patterns of behavior through location-triggers. Then the triggers ensue and intensify the cravings. There is a real snowball effect during this phase. 

Unfortunately, many succumb to the addiction’s siren-like calling, and exhibit a sudden inner decision, quite automatic and subconscious, that they must have a drink or use again. Usually, the rationalizing within kicks into high gear and offers many justifications. Familiar examples: I am just going to dabble this one time and then cut myself off immediately and get to that AA meeting. I cannot get through another day without using. Life is just not worth living without a drink or a fix. I know I can get off it again. I can have just a couple of drinks, no one will know. Hey, I just sobered-up this last month or two, didn’t I, that wasn’t so hard – I can do it again, right after I have a beer or two. I do not really have a problem. If I had not gotten that DWI I would be back at a bar this very evening drinking with my buddies. If my parents had not gotten back from dinner so early, I would not have been caught. If my co-worker had not reported me to my supervisor, I would still have a job and everything would be okay. We know the rap very well indeed, don’t we? The sad outcome is we nose-dive further and further into the relapse. 

Let us right now call a spade a spade; we did this to ourselves. We chose to relapse. It is our responsibility, our decision. But, we know this and somehow this realization did not prevent us from returning to our unfortunate state of servitude. Like it or not our reciprocating inner dialogue now chastises us for our relapse. Examples of this: Are we that helpless in life even with assistance all around us? Do we not care at all about our life and others? Am I that stupid, that weak? Is it really possible to live clean and sober? Do we like waking up in the morning chained to a substance, fully knowing how that substance is destroying everything in our life? Do we enjoy the looks and responses we get from our loved ones or coworkers when we relapse and see the mistrust in their eyes? 

People who have never experienced alcohol or drug abuse/addiction will most likely not understand what a person goes through during a relapse - the bleak consequences of a recovery gone awry. But we do. It is indeed a very harsh reality to face. Moreover, for what – a lousy moment with a drink or two or more consumed, or pills swallowed, toxic smoke inhaled, or an injurious and noxious substance shot into a vein. It just does not add up and it never will.

There is little disputing that the pressures of life can become intense. Stress, anxiety, and depression can overwhelm people with or without addiction issues. However, for someone trying to get free of their addiction, the strains and worries of life are more amplified and overwhelming beyond reason and control – so it seems. Challenges in life will appear insurmountable and perplexing. The relapse succession of events resulting in this inner upheaval is not to be underestimated. The unfortunate setback begins and we are using and drinking uncontrollably. Many of us will attest to falling prey to this multifaceted relapse sequence and this is why so much effort is offered by recovery organizations to assist at just such a crossroad.

Please explore the wonderful research that is available to us. Trained and caring professionals have devoted a lot of effort and time over the years to help us understand the very complex mental and physical components that occur beforea relapse. One of the aspects I would like to address here in this blog concerns the thought process itself. For starters, each moment that a person has a thought, there is a correlative and complex inner response to that thought. Often, we do not even notice the reaction to a singular thought because so many thoughts pass through one’s mind at any given time. However, repeated thoughts tend to gather force and momentum forming subconscious units of orb-like energy. For instance, you are having anxious thoughts regarding a project at work – each time attention focuses upon this impending project, these thoughts converge inside and continue to activate the neurological and chemical responses described as anxiousness.

We know that attempting to dismiss such kinds of thoughts is not easy, sometimes ostensibly inconceivable. For example, when we try to ‘stop’ our thinking process about having a drink, we often end up thinking about that drink even moreso. Our desire to negate the thoughts regarding drinking or using can produce the opposite effect. We inadvertently energize that part of the brain that invokes our desire to imbibe our substance of choice. Moreover, usually we remember only the ‘good’ parts of past use.

A gentle and mindful approach to the thinking process has been proven more effective when trying to dissuade undesirable thoughts from having power over one’s mind. Conversely, this more congenial practice to how we think can more easily allow the entry of positive, healthy thoughts. When a thought runs through our mind urging us to have a drink, for instance, instead of giving it more power than it deserves, simply recognize the thought. Take a deep breath or two and allow the urging thought to have its moment of recognition. Then, with attentiveness, let the thought float away. Wait a moment, take another deep breath, and invite in other, healthy thoughts. Think of your gratefulness for being sober or clean. Consider the health and well-being you now have in your recovery. Feel how wonderful it is to wake up and remember last night and to have no remorse for giving in to your addiction. Take a walk or a jog and breathe in that nourishing air. Allow yourself to experience caring and loving thoughts about who you are. Read some inspirational material. Take in some passages from the Big Book. Think about the other people you have met in recovery and how they have given to you and how you wish to give back.  Pick up the phone and call your sponsor.  Get up and go to a meeting.  You know what to do.

This is a simple beginning to mindful thinking. Another excellent way to understand this practice and not get caught into that pretentiousness that sometimes surrounds such exercises is to recall that wonderful quote from Diana Robinson. “Prayer is when you talk to God. Meditation is when you listen to God.” I truly love this quotation. When you allow yourself to ‘listen’ there are so many magnificent and loving thoughts one can draw into their inner being. Mindfulness takes practice. Allowing yourself to gently dismiss those undesired relapse thoughts, and with compassion, calm and patience invite in those healthy thoughts of sobriety and living clean, you will continue to avoid the treachery of the relapse sequence. It is another excellent tool for our Unconditional Recovery. Till next time . . .