Reassessing my rewards

Club Soda member and writer Matt Chittock shares his internal dialogue at the end of a stressful day, and how he has had to reassess the way he uses alcohol as a reward. But what does he do instead?

Stress, alcohol and rewards

After a tough day at the laptop, or eight hours of childcare, a stiff gin and tonic doesn’t feel like a treat, but a God-given right.

This isn’t surprising, since the connection between alcohol and reward runs deep in our culture. Thousands of years ago our ancestors would drink scratch whiskey to celebrate getting through another cold, damp winter – and today booze ads with straplines like “Earn it” encourage us to see our daily slog in similar terms.

Radically cut back

Fair enough. But I’m currently trying to radically cut back on alcohol – and this booze=reward link is proving a massive sticking point.

There have been several times this week when I’ve been frozen in front of the fridge having the following debate with myself:

Me: You’ve just spent hours playing Disney princesses with your four-year-old: you deserve maximum gin and tonic!

I: But remember, you don’t need alcohol to relax. Have a sparkling water and…

Me: Don’t tell me what to do, a***wipe. Shut the **** up and get out the gin – you’ve earned it.

Is booze a good reward?

For a long-term drinker like me, cutting down on alcohol means challenging assumptions about what role it plays in my life. And this means looking at whether it really makes a good reward.

This is where reality bites. In my head booze is a passport to ‘grown-up’ time which Disney princesses can’t penetrate and where I can watch BBC4 in peace.

Yet, after sucking down three gin and tonics I feel like I’m the toddler, lying banjaxed on the sofa pissier and more unreasonable by the minute. And I’ll still be acting like a grumpy toddler the next day when I’m woken up with a hangover by my real-life child.

Despite all the ‘you’ve earned it’ rhetoric, what I’ve realised is that booze makes a terrible reward. In fact, the poor quality sleep and bad mood that follows a binge can feel more like a punishment.

Once you’ve got that fact into your head it does make the in front-of-fridge dialogue a bit easier.

What to replace alcohol with?

But, if you’re still after a reward – what can you replace alcohol with? Well, it depends what kind of person you are. As a quiet type my alternative rewards mainly revolve around reducing the noise of the world.

They definitely work for me – but if you’re more of an extrovert you might want to try something that takes you closer to people, rather than away from them…

What works for me.

1.  Starting a treat fund

Let’s face it: alcohol is expensive. And if you squirrel away the money you would otherwise have spent on booze you’ll soon have a stash towards a nice top, a good holiday, or that Adventure Time box set that’s been winking at you.

2.  Take to the streets

Will Self loves urban walking and so do I. Fill your phone with podcasts, clear your mind and get healthy at the same time. It’s more relaxing than hitting the gym and great for getting a fresh perspective on life.

3. Curling up with a book

You can do lots of things while drunk: but reading ain’t one of them. For me, having time to curl up with a fantastic book is its own reward – and it’s hangover-free to boot.

Alcohol-free rewards

Everyone needs to reward themselves from time to time: otherwise day-to-day life can feel like one long slog.

But I’m gradually learning that there are other ways to reward yourself apart from booze. And that in the long-term, going alcohol-free might be kinder for both body and soul.

Matt Chittock

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