7 Ways to Be a Rebel...in Sobriety

By Rebecca Rush 09/03/19

Alternate rebellion can help shake up ennui and distress, otherwise known as life. It’s a great act of self-acceptance in a world that wants you to follow their dumb unwritten rules. Guess what, world? I do what I want. 

Woman staring at camera, standing among neon signs
There are many ways to feel like yourself without hurting yourself. Photo by kevin laminto on Unsplash

People who have struggled with addiction and alcoholism are rebels by nature. If you disagree, you’re just proving my point. Getting into recovery and following the rules we need to follow if we’re going to stay sober and have a better life can feel like something’s missing - that old Eff You to the face of the world. But what if there were ways to rebel that didn’t leave a trail of dumpster fires and broken bones in your wake?

Alternate Rebellion, which is taught in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), is the idea that there are healthy, nondestructive ways to rebel, or “act out.” There are many ways to feel like yourself without hurting yourself. It’s also highly effective as a tool for distress tolerance (a term that describes one’s capacity to cope with or withstand negative emotions or stressful conditions).

What follows is a list of several acts of alternate rebellion I have found to be very satisfying, and a link to a more comprehensive (and less aggressive) list. We already know how to get creative under pressure when it comes to self-destruction. Now, that same energy and talent can be used in ways that make you feel good about yourself before, during, and after. After all, everything we do in life is because we’re searching for a certain feeling. There are so many more ways to get there than the limited world of self-harm.

1. Cut off a friend you find boring

I had a friend — I suspect most of us have had this friend — who was sweet and loyal and utterly boring. Half the time I didn’t know, or care, what the hell she was talking about. I think a lot of us feel like we have to take what we can get in terms of human connection because we’re so fundamentally unlovable, but we don’t. Even if, say, that friend was there for you during a really dark period in your life — you realize that was their choice, and of course they got something out of it too. Ignore their calls. Refuse to read the Twilight fan fiction they keep pushing on you. When they reach out to say “What happened? Are you dead?” Refrain from saying, “Bitch, you know I’ve been posting on Insta.” Say you just don’t feel like chatting right now. Because you don’t. To them. Revel in the fact that you just did something kinda bad. It feels good.

2. Disagree with an overly confident person

I cannot recommend this enough. Especially people who can’t handle being disagreed with. Los Angeles is lousy with them. And I hate to state the obvious, but they are usually straight white men. Easy to find. You don’t have to lie; I guarantee you hear things you don’t agree with every day. And just like that: Hey. I don’t agree. Smile. The smiling is the best part. If you want to present your opposing view, have at it, but often the look on their face and their sheer inability to deal with being disagreed with is enough.

3. Get a tattoo 

I went from having zero tattoos because commitment issues to having six in eighteen months because addiction issues. I regret nothing. That’s actually the first tattoo I got: je ne regrette rien. I am not French, but I do identify as a snob. There’s a great story behind it, which I will happily tell anyone hitting on me and also you. It was posted by a friend of mine who was dear to me in only the way someone you’ve followed on Tumblr for many years and only met twice in person can be. She wrote that she spoke French and nobody knew that about her and also that it’s the title of a gorgeous song, so she wanted to get it as a tattoo.

It was one of her last posts. She died suddenly in her bed at the age of 32. So I got the tattoo to honor her, and because all the bullshit got me here. Also, it’s a chance to stick a needle in your arm, but in a good way. I love my tattoos. They make me feel like a badass. Some people say oh no, they are forever, but guess what? The body is so temporary. Also: lasers.

4. Play uncool music with your windows down

I’m partial to Miley Cyrus’s Party in the U.S.A. right now, but you do you, boo. Don’t play it so loud that you scare dogs and upset children, but, you know, a little loud. Just loud enough that you feel like you shouldn’t. And dance. Dance and don’t let anyone looking at you stop you. And don’t stop at a red light next to a Tesla containing an outwardly perfect person. Party. In the U.S.A.

5. Travel somewhere you’ve always wanted to. Alone. Even if you don’t have “enough money.”

Traveling alone is my jam. I always wanted to go to Italy, and in rehab I moaned over the fact that it wasn’t fair that I couldn’t drink wine in Italy. Guess what? Nobody was taking drunk me to Italy. Traveling alone is the best because you don’t ever have to compromise on what to do or where to go or what to eat - every rebel’s dream.

In the past two years I’ve been to Costa Rica, Thailand, and Bali alone as well as a dozen states in the continental U.S. I frequently bring my dog, who flies and stays everywhere free because I have a letter from my therapist, another fantastic act of alternate rebellion. I love whenever someone tries to tell me I can’t have my pet somewhere. I quietly offer to show them paperwork, while in my head I’m screaming “EXCUSE ME HE'S AN EMOTIONAL SUPPORT ANIMAL HE KEEPS ME CALM.” I’ve been nervous about how I’m going to pay for my upcoming Italy/Greece trip, but writing this helped me remember that I had no idea how I was going to pull off any of the other international trips either. Financial insecurity is lame, so I cured it with another act of alternate rebellion. 

6. Take a bath in the middle of the day

I actually did this in the middle of writing this article and it felt fantastic. I was sitting here feeling resistant about doing one of my favorite things on earth, writing, and contemplating shutting the computer down and taking a nap, eating even though I’m not hungry, turning on the TV, or a host of other things that are mildly self-destructive and won’t help me feel good about myself in the long run. So I lit my best candles, threw some crystals in there, added a few handfuls of epsom salts and a liberal amount of lavender bubbles, and in went my Juul and I. Right before I did it, I thought: I’m totally not supposed to do this, but it isn’t hurting me or anyone, so YAY. That is pretty much the definition of an act of alternate rebellion. 

7. Wear your jammies out in public

A lot of people have strong opinions about people wearing sweatpants in public and I think it’s so outdated. It’s nice to be comfy, especially when you’re in distress. When I was drinking and using, sure, I’d look a mess and probably have unbrushed teeth and hair as I went in search of an open liquor store on any morning of the week, but it’s so lovely to put a little makeup on, brush my hair and teeth, and put on my most stylish and comfortable loungewear, and go out…anywhere. The grocery store? Oh yeah. The movies? Even better. Something about wearing sweatpants in public tickles me. Always has, ever since my college roommate said when we were hungover one Sunday, “You’re going to wear THAT to the dining hall?” Yes, bitch, I certainly am.

My intention with this piece is not to convince others to do exactly what I have done, but to inspire your wheels to turn toward what feels good to you. Alternate rebellion can help shake up ennui and distress, otherwise known as life. It feels like a secret even though it’s often the opposite. It’s the individuation so many of us missed out on in our lost adolescences. More than anything, it’s saying yes to yourself, to your inner child, to exactly who you are exactly at this moment. It’s a great act of self-acceptance in a world that wants you to follow their dumb unwritten rules. Guess what, world? I do what I want. 

A list of tiny alternate rebellions can be found here: https://www.dbtselfhelp.com/html/alternate_rebellion.html

And more information on DBT here: https://behavioraltech.org/resources/faqs/dialectical-behavior-therapy-dbt/

How do you rebel in recovery? Tell us in the comments.

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix

Rebecca Rush is a stand up comic, writer, and constantly evolving human. Former horse girl. Witch. Bylines include Fodor’s Travel, MiamiBeach411.com, The New Haven Advocate, Big City, Lit, and the Miami New Times. She was on the Viceland show Slutever 03/17/2019. Her podcast is called Comic’s Book Club, and features a comic or author talking about a different book every week (also available on iTunes and Spotify). She has performed at clubs, colleges, and dive bars across the country. Upcoming dates can be found on her website, http://rebeccarushcomedy.com. You’re also welcome to follow her on Twitter and Insta. She lives in West Hollywood with her little dog. Friend of Bill W.