This is the one thing that I struggled with. I didn’t understand what to do once I’d identified a trigger, my initial response was to try to eliminate it. However, you cannot eliminate the presence of social conditioning towards alcohol, you cannot eliminate the advertising of it, nor the constant mentioning of it quite literally everywhere.
You cannot eliminate every stress in your life through getting sober, you can’t prevent the death or illness of loved ones, BUT, you can avoid celebrating the happier times just in order to stay sober. If you tried you would find yourself where I did, alone, sat in your room, growing increasingly bitter about the fact it is everywhere outside of your 4 walls.
Even the wine glasses, once well used, collect dust and are a reminder of the days I drank and let’s face it, they weren’t ALL bad. I reach for a tumbler to pour myself yet another glass of soda and the glass hits the redundant wine glasses, the sound rings in my ears and it is the sound of taunting desire. So I quickly close the cupboard.
”I’ll throw them out, that will solve the issue”
I set to clearing out any alcohol related memorabilia, the whimsical sign bought for Christmas about wine, the cocktail shakers, the shot glasses, champagne flutes... I’ll get rid of the lot. I feel a small sense of relief, my home is now a safe place. Alcohol free and trigger free. Or so I believe.
The truth is, the triggers run deeper than seeing your favourite glass, it’s more than the sign on your wall joking about wine... it’s deeply attached to your memories, the clink of the glass reminds you of the toasts you raised over Sunday lunch, the cocktail shaker reminds you of the awesome house parties you hosted, the sign was given by a loved one who had no idea about your ever growing addiction, everything that relates to alcohol also relates to a memory of something. It wasn’t all bad. But it wasn’t all good either.
I slowly realised that whilst I could reduce my triggers in my home I couldn’t erase my memories that are so deeply connected to alcohol. Almost every one. A programme on the television could easily trigger a craving, a meme on social media makes you question your addiction
“Was I really THAT bad?!”
The sight of people in a beer garden laughing triggers a response similar to grief. You feel you are missing out... and you’re not wrong. But you are misguided. It’s not the alcohol that formed those emotional memories, it was love, it was socialising, connecting with other human beings.... it’s just that alcohol was there, it wasn’t the reason you felt happy, it wasn’t the reason you had a good time. It was just there.
I began to realise that in order to really heal I had to face my ‘triggers’ I had to accept that alcohol is still heavily entrenched in society, that during celebratory seasons such as Christmas, it’s literally everywhere. By hiding in my house and avoiding seeing anyone or going anywhere, yes I was sober, but my god was I lonely. I was sad. I was bored. I craved connection and a kind word, I craved laughter, I craved to socialise. As much as being an addict is no way to live, avoiding every trigger was equally as debilitating.
I accepted others drink, I accepted society has alcohol in pretty much every social setting, I accepted that other people can enjoy a drink, or maybe they can’t ... but it’s none of my business. My business is to stay sober. My business is to learn to enjoy socialising sober without the throat gripping fear of triggers. It’s to learn to allow myself to feel triggered and accept that for those few minutes when the thought comes in that I’ll feel uncomfortable, I’ll fight the words
“A large Shiraz please, in fact you better bring the bottle”
It’s just allowing that feeling of intense irritation to pass through. It’s learning not to feel bitter about the fact you still care that you can’t enjoy a drink. It’s not going to be easy, because you’re an addict. If it was easy to be around your drug of choice then you’d not have gotten addicted in the first place. Alcohol is legal, it’s celebrated, there’s no shame in ordering a bottle of wine, there’s no real chastisement for being drunk.... until you go too far.... and that’s the difference, you always will go too far.
Keeping those triggers in your brain by getting annoyed and angry that they are there is like wanting to not argue with someone but continuing to hold on to them and shout in their face, they are going to shout back and fight you. Your triggers are the same... if you latch on to them and become annoyed - they will persist, they will fight their corner and You’ll become so internalised with your thoughts you can waste a full evening having this battle that no one around you even knows you’re having. Or you’ll cave and drink, just to shut the damn wine witch up. Either way your night is ruined. More than likely a few days after too IF you manage to stop it there.
By accepting there are triggers all around you and leaving them be, you are building up new pathways in your brain that slowly realise you CAN enjoy socialising without drink. By saying to yourself ‘ok I hear and feel this trigger and it’s ok. It’s normal. I’m an addict but I have a choice to not let it ruin my night or drink’ you gain control, you acknowledge the thought and it dissipates. Like magic.
Write your triggers down, explore each one, accept they are there, write down WHY it makes you crave a drink. Is it to numb you? Is it to kill your social anxiety? Is it to relax you? Whatever the trigger is there’s a real reason why you’ve grown to form a belief around this trigger. Explore that. What can you reprogram your brain to believe instead?
So, for example, you suffer with social anxiety... you used to get half cut before going to the party to cope with the amount of people. How can you push through that now sober? Can you change the story you’ve built up about how the night will be without a drink? Can you sit with the anxiety and see that it’s nothing more than a feeling generated by you. It’s not real. It’s just caused by a thought that you are refusing to release. Paint a different picture, plan to talk to just a couple of people who you know and who make you feel safe. Leave early, then when you return home, sober, give yourself praise. Remind yourself nothing terrible happened. Write down how proud of yourself you are and go to bed knowing you survived with all your dignity and memory in tact.
Don’t lock yourself away to avoid triggers. It doesn’t And can’t work. Don’t start a war with your triggers. It’s ok that they are there, it’s ok to feel uncomfortable and it’s ok to allow them to be. Breathe through them. Don’t spend time prior to the event stressing about being triggered, you will set the scene for your trigger to take control. Face your trigger ONLY when it’s present in the situation. Live so much in the present moment that the wine witch has no mental images to play you about how it used to be or how it will be. Neither the past or future is happening right now. But if you spend every present moment worrying about the future and arguing with your past you are missing out on your life.
Being sober gives you the super power of being yourself, of choosing your words and to have a genuine fun feeling that will imprint in your memories slowly rewriting the old patchy ones that were formed with alcohol.
Stay in your own lane. Others drinking is not the problem, alcohol advertising is not why you became addicted. You are the reason you became addicted and the only way to forge healthier and happier memories is by acknowledging that every trigger, every issue, every emotion and thought is all because of you and the way you’ve interacted with your addict brain. Triggers are an opportunity to clear out your self limiting beliefs and grow emotionally.
Took me a long time to realise this.....Im not a victim because I can’t drink, i don’t need sympathy for being an addict... I did that to myself, That shits fully on me. So to expect the world around me to fall in line with my new found sobriety is a fast track to failure and misery, because it’s not going to be Leinster from society any time soon. Alcohol is there, but you are over here living your best sober life. It’s a choice to be sober, and life is always full of choices. Make them good ones.
a Special thank you to my good friend nadia, who encouraged me to write….. see her work surrounding wellness on