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 . . . 



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