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Being Good to Yourself

When a loved one or a dear friend of ours is recuperating from a serious illness, we generally try to give what good nurses call T.L.C. (Tender Loving Care). We pamper a sick child, providing favorite foods and some fun to help in recovery.

Convalescence from the illness of active alcoholism takes some time, and anyone going through it deserves consideration and a measure of T.L.C.

In times past, people often believed that those recovering from certain ailments just deserved to suffer, since it was thought they had deliberately, selfishly inflicted the sickness on themselves.

Because of the guilt and stigma still laid on alcoholism by people who are ignorant of the nature of the disease (including ourselves before we learned better), many of us were not very kind to ourselves in the throes of a hangover. We just suffered and thought of ourselves as "paying the piper" in necessary penance for our misdeeds.

Now that we know alcoholism is not immoral behavior, we have found it essential to readjust our attitudes. We have learned that one of the persons least likely to treat the alcoholic like a sick person is, somewhat surprisingly, the alcoholic herself (or himself). Once again, our old thinking habits are cropping up.

It's often said that problem drinkers are perfectionists, impatient about any shortcomings, especially our own. Setting impossible goals for ourselves, we nevertheless struggle fiercely to reach these unattainable ideals.

Then, since no human being could possibly maintain the extremely high standards we often demand, we find ourselves falling short, as all people must whose aims are unrealistic. And discouragement and depression set in. We angrily punish ourselves for being less than super-perfect.

That is precisely where we can start being good—at least fair—to ourselves. We would not demand of a child or of any handicapped person more than is reasonable. It seems to us we have no right to expect such miracles of ourselves as recovering alcoholics, either.

Impatient to get completely well by Tuesday, we find ourselves still convalescing on Wednesday, and start blaming ourselves. That's a good time to back off, mentally, and look at ourselves in as detached, objective a way as we can. What would we do if a sick loved one or friend got discouraged about slow recuperation progress, and began to refuse medicine?

It helps to remember that heavy drinking is highly damaging to the body, producing conditions which can take months or years to get over. No one becomes an alcoholic in just a few weeks (well, almost no one). We cannot expect to recover in a magic instant, either.

When feelings of discouragement come, we then need to encourage ourselves. More than one of us have found it good medicine to give ourselves a pat on the back, to salute the progress already made—without being smug or dangerously egotistical about it, of course.

Take stock. Have we refrained from taking a drink this 24 hours? That deserves honest self-commendation. Have we made ourselves eat properly today? Have we tried to fulfill our obligations today? Have we, in short, done about the best we could, and all we could, today? If so, that's all it is fair to expect.

Maybe we can't answer yes to all those questions. Maybe we have fallen short somehow, backslid a bit in our thinking or actions, despite knowing better. So what? We are not perfect creatures. We should settle for small progress, rather than bemoan any lack of perfection.

What can we do right now to cheer ourselves up? We can do something other than take a drink. Every section of this booklet makes suggestions of that sort.

But there is more, perhaps. Have we been enjoying life lately? Or have we been so concerned about getting better, kept our nose so earnestly near the grindstone of self-improvement, that we have failed to enjoy a sunset? A new moon? A good meal? A needed holiday from care? A good joke? Some affection?

Since the body seeks to normalize itself, maybe yours will welcome opportunities for needed rest. Enjoy deliciously drowsy naps, or good, long nights of peaceful slumber. Or perhaps you have left-over energy you can use in pure fun and enjoyment. As much as other aspects of life, these seem necessary for fulfilling our entire human potential.

Now is the time, the only time there is. And if we are not kind to ourselves right now, we certainly cannot rightfully expect respect or consideration from others.

We have found we can enjoy, sober, every good thing we enjoyed while drinking—and many, many more. It takes a little practice, but the rewards more than make up for the effort. To do so is not selfish, but self-protective. Unless we cherish our own recovery, we cannot survive to become unselfish, ethical, and socially responsible people.