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How to Stay Sober: Make Your Bed

Life-hack gurus, Feng Shui experts and especially old hands in AA agree there is only one way to properly start each day: by making your bed.

Why do these experts acclaim this small task? How does pulling some sheets and plumping a few pillows promote abstinence? 

What’s the big deal about making your bed? 

Obviously it’s nice to keep things neat and tidy. But that’s not enough to warrant the endorsement of Admiral William H. McRaven (ret.), former Navy SEAL, who just dropped a friggin’ BOOK, fer cryin’ out loud, entitled “MAKE YOUR BED: Little Things That Can Change Your Life… and Maybe the World.”

McRaven says making your bed allows you to start off your day with a task completed. The satisfaction you derive from this can fuel another completed task… and another. 

The perspective from Sobriety Hill is much the same. It feels good to accomplish something small but achievable first thing in the morning, something that contributes in a small way to the order of your room, your life and the universe. However, there are important contrasts. 

For one, there are great differences between a bed made by a wannabe Navy SEAL and the one made by an addict taking his first halting steps of recovery. The seaman’s bed boasts corners sharp enough to cut a block of Swiss cheese and a pillow centered under the headboard so accurately you could use it to measure blueprints. And if the instructor can’t bounce a quarter off the blanket, you may be in for some close-quarters screaming. The first morning for an addict in a sober living facility may simply see a monitor asking him, “Did you make your bed?” If the addict replies in the affirmative, everyone moves on, although the employee might verify later on. Having made the effort is enough; in fact telling the truth about making your bed is more important than doing a good job of it. 

Other good reasons abound for the recovering sex addict making his bed first thing. Some apply to any member of the human race. Others are of particular value to the victim of compulsive behavior. Here are a few. 

  • Getting out of bed and turning around to look at your unkempt rack gives you an opportunity to see the mess you make when left to your own devices. You’ve most likely injured innocent persons as well as yourself. You’ve hurt those close to you and elbowed countless strangers in your quest for addictive satisfaction (an oxymoron if ever there was one). Your latest mess is very small, harmless and perfectly natural: a screwed-up bed. Now you get the chance to fix it! Right now, before you do anything else. It’s a tiny lesson that you do make messes, some of them are okay, and all of them can be addressed. 
     
  • Making the bed is a ritual, and rituals are of supreme importance to the human being. When you were acting out, it was often the ritual of thinking, fantasizing, and preparing that was as or more important than the sexual act itself. The repetition of a set of actions plows a furrow in the brain and affects our core beliefs. This is one reason the out-of-control addict thinks so little of himself, and the recovering addict who intones an affirmation day after day starts to feel better. To pursue a healthy if small ritual is good for the body, mind and soul. 
     
  • If you are alone, making the bed is probably a silent ceremony. Good. Shut the heck up once in a while. Stop talking yourself into something or out of something. Stop filling the air with a lot of quasi-verbal static. Be mindful of the act of flapping a blanket in the air, of pulling a fitted sheet taut over the corner of a mattress, or of folding a futon. It’s active meditation. And it gets the bed made. 
     
  • Self-care is one of the most important principles of recovery, and one of the most overlooked. The connection between taking care of oneself and remaining abstinent isn't immediately clear to addicts just starting out in recovery (and sometimes even to addicts with a rack of chips on the wall). Self-care is the first step in self-love, and that eludes many an addict. But you spend hours on end in your bed. It's home all night almost every night. Take care of your bed to help take care of yourself. It's essential to your program of recovery. 
     
  • One of the best reasons to make your bed first thing in the morning is almost the most counterintuitive: because you don’t want to. A Navy SEAL does plenty of things he doesn’t want to, but that’s because he’s ordered to. In recovery we approach things from the other end: you aren’t mandated to do anything — you show the willingness  to do anything it takes to achieve sobriety. A SEAL might call that “heart.” Good training for that kind of attitude is to do something small that’s easily accomplished and which you don’t particularly want to do.

After a while, reluctance becomes acceptance and forcing becomes habit. One day you may even feel uncomfortable unless you make your bed. The thought of leaving a place with a mess in your wake may give you the willies. And wouldn’t that be a great attitude to cultivate? 

They say “you’ve made your bed, now lie in it.” So make your bed, and make it as clean, tidy, wholesome and comfortable as you can. 

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