Welcome to EMBRACE LIFE: Pawnee Mental Health’s early sobriety and relapse prevention group. As part of our Level 2 treatment program, this group is designed to help you re-learn basic thought processes and skills that may have eroded as your disease progressed, as well as teach you new coping skills. Though you may not realize it, your disease has weakened your mental stamina and made you vulnerable to distorted thinking. To instill structure and build strength in our patients, counselors at Pawnee Mental Health have developed a list of ten core principles. At first, you may find it takes great discipline to follow these principles, but DO NOT WORRY. Your brain is merely in need of a little mental “weight training.” If you choose to engage with the following rules in an honest and rigorous manner, you will find yourself becoming a happier, stronger, more complete you! The staff at Pawnee Mental Health does not intend for these rules to be comprehensive, but rather, valuable tools to aide you in your journey. Good luck, and thanks for choosing Pawnee!

Ten Helpful Rules for Early Recovery[1]


Rule 1) Be open to new opportunities.

Be open to new opportunities and experiences, whether it be making sober friends[2], attending church, or trying new hobbies.


Rule 2) Attend recovery meetings.

Attend all Pawnee sessions assigned to you by your therapist as well as at least two twelve-step[3] meetings per week. These meetings will help you combat the denial that may have plagued past attempts at recovery.


Rule 3) Show respect.

Treat all therapists and fellow group members with respect[4]. Group members on parole who fail to comply with this rule may be removed from group and sent to the Clay County[5] Jail where the only forms of entertainment available are Johnny Depp movies[6] and Grizzly[7].


Rule 4) Manage stress and take responsibility.

In early recovery, you may struggle with high-stress situations. For example: when a co-worker steals all the tips off your table during your weekend shift at Denny’s[8]. As an addict, your first inclination may be to stab your thieving co-worker in the head with a fork. This is wrong and a sign of addictive behavior. Addicts are impulsive and prone to rigid thinking. They rely on “you” statements that fail to take responsibility for their feelings. Such as: “Maria you’re a motherfucking two-faced snake, and you’ve fucked me over for the last time.” Instead, when faced with adversity such as this, consider pausing to take stock of your situation so you may engage in a fresh dialogue, centered on “I” statements. For example: “Maria, I know times are hard for all of us, and I understand that your actions are not a personal attack, but I would appreciate it if you would not take my tips again. I need them for myself and family, and I will cut a bitch if it happens again.


Rule 5) Avoid prison.

While we here at Pawnee sometimes find jail a necessary corrective measure for those that struggle in our program, we do not recommend prison. In prison you can expect gang warfare, an advanced exploration of human sexuality specializing in the sodomitical, and the American government’s own unique brand of genocide. If you have children or a significant other upon entering prison, forget them. They no longer care about you since you cannot exist in two worlds. In fact, they now live with your old buddy Dean[9], who still smokes meth[10] but holds it down at the Pep Boys as weekend manager of the parts department.


Rule 6) Adopt a mantra.

Now that you are in recovery you may find it difficult to deal with the “reputation” that being an addict has given you. Be aware that some people may now view you as sub-microbrial, including, but not limited to: ex-girlfriends, children, parents, siblings, landlords, potential employers, and all police officers. In these trying times, it is important to maintain a core belief in yourself and your abilities and not internalize a sense of worthlessness. As a way to combat negative self-talk, consider adopting a personal mantra that espouses a “new you” sober mentality and radiates positivity. Sample mantras include: “My brain is a sleek machine!” and “I’m Tom Hanks[11], motherfuckers.”


Rule 7) Smoke.

Now that you no longer spend your days binging and masturbating furiously, you may find yourself bored and wondering how to fill the idle time. As an alternative to these negative behaviors, consider smoking. Everyone else in recovery already does it, so why not you? You will find that smoking not only improves your confidence[12], but also makes you more popular with fellow addicts, keeps your hands busy and at a safe remove from unruly genitalia, and functions as a form of meditation[13].



Rule 8) Be humble and seek forgiveness.

As an addict you may have believed that drugs and alcohol enhanced your abilities or personality, and even protected you from potential harm. Distorted self-talk of this nature may have given you an “above the law” mentality that made you feel impervious[14] to police, falls from high places, and cutting witticisms. But these thought distortions were merely lies you told yourself in order to live. As a recovering addict, it’s necessary to humble yourself and seek forgiveness and understanding.


Rule 9) Do not die.

While we recognize your disease has made you more susceptible to overdose, suicide14, cancer, police brutality, stroke, cirrhosis, heart disease, AIDS, etc., dying while seeking treatment at Pawnee Mental Health is strongly discouraged. Since you are an underemployed potential felon with little family and a smattering of sober friends, your life is now your only form of currency and maintaining your status as living is paramount to any future success.




Admitting you need help and choosing the road to recovery is not easy. As a member of the early sobriety and relapse prevention group, you will come to see that recovery is not an event but a process. And this process is all about learning to live life on life’s terms. Only by choosing to engage with and EMBRACE LIFE again may you truly free yourself to seek personal happiness. If this process seems daunting to you now, relax, and remember to make time in your life for Rule 10) Have fun!

[1] What you are in now that you have decided to no longer use drugs or alcohol. A euphemism you will find helpful when trying to describe your situation to non-addicts. Used by some to abdicate themselves from responsibility for past actions and often substituted for less flattering self-descriptors such as “crippling alcoholic” or “sociopath.”

Sample use:

“Are you a felonious drunk who hurts everyone you love?”

“No, I’m in recovery.”

[2] Fellow social outcasts who do not date, go to bars, weddings, concerts, sporting events, or any event where there are drugs or alcohol.

[3] Recovery program for addicts founded by sexual predator and alcoholic Bill Wilson. While the tenets of this program require you to submit yourself to the whims of an imaginary sky-god, the meetings are free and widely available.

[4] e.g. Do not slap your therapist’s ass and call her “honey tits” during group or individual sessions. This behavior will be considered disrespectful and a violation of Pawnee’s personal conduct policy.

[5] Geographic midpoint between New York City and Los Angeles. “The meth capitol of north central Kansas.”

[6] Not the good ones

[7] The Clay County Correctional Facility’s smokeless tobacco of choice: “Sit the fuck down and put in a Grizzly.”

[8] Where you work now that you have been fired from your job as a public school teacher and forced to move in with your parents and start the process of recovery.

[9] Or, as your children call him, “Dad.”

[10] At first, the fountain of youth. Soon after, the worst drug on the face of the planet. On meth, you may beat your children, pawn your grandmother’s motorized scooter for cash, gut yourself with a bowie knife and fry pieces of your own intestines on the skillet while you bleed out, or spend eighteen hours taking apart microwaves you found at the junkyard.

[11] Your mother’s favorite celebrity. A grade “A” cut of All-American beefcake to which you should aspire.

[12] By making you look “trill.”

[13] An attempt to clear your mind of all thoughts and stressors. Time outside of time. Time spent in heaven.

[14] A selfish and potentially messy form of self-authored death. Suicide is best suited for psychopaths, people with terminal illnesses, and meth dealers. A permanent state of non-being, we here at Pawnee do not recommend suicide as it violates our “no death” policy and may get us sued by whatever family you have left.



Paul Vega is a managing editor for Pacifica Literary Review and received his MFA from the University of Washington. His work appears or is forthcoming in The Rumpus, The Pinch, DIAGRAM, CutBank, The Collagist, NANO Fiction, and elsewhere. Find him on Twitter.

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