As amateur night (New Year’s Eve) is fast approaching, I’m reminded of some very sound advice that is given to people in early recovery: Stay away from people, places and things that may push our buttons aka ‘triggers’. That was easier said than done for me because when I was a new in sobriety, it felt as though EVERYTHING was a trigger. Waking up in the morning – trigger, Monday through Sunday – trigger, ex-husband – trigger, having a good day – trigger, having a bad day – trigger, well you get the idea…
I’ve since realized that everything seemed like it was a trigger to me because in early sobriety, all of my feelings and life experiences reminded me of drinking – because up until then, that is all I had ever done. I drank when I was sad, glad, happy or mad, I drank in the mornings, in the evenings, alone and in bars – drinking was my life so everything reminded me of it and in my mind, steered me right back to it. All that being said, this time I was serious about my sobriety, so I decided that I would listen to the people who told me that I should avoid people, places and things that might be a trigger to me.
People – It turns out that people are hard to stay away from (unless you live in a cave). Like most people, I had an ex who had the knack of sending me into a tailspin by simply uttering the right (or wrong) words. These well placed comments had the effect of altering my mood from already precarious to ‘fuck you’ and before I know it I’m on the way to the liquor store. Avoiding speaking to my ex was not feasible because we have a son together. At the time, I had my son on the weekends and I called him on the phone every night when I didn’t have him so I had to talk to my ex on a daily basis. I handled this by keeping the conversation to a minimum and always directing it towards the arrangements with our son and his well being. If I got upset (which invariably happened) I would get off the phone, go to a recovery meeting and share about what was going on or call my Sponsor. What I tried to avoid was getting drawn into a fight that I knew my ex could easily walk away from but would leave me seething and looking for a drink to ‘calm me down’.
I also avoided talking to certain family members that had the tendency to wind me up. Like most people, I didn’t want to completely cut myself off from my family so when I did speak to them, I kept the conversation simple and direct and in the here and now. My life was all about what I was doing TODAY in my recovery– not how I had screwed up in the past or making more promises for the future. Some of us still have friends and family that we drank with – at this stage in my drinking career, I had lost most of my friends and there was no one in my life that would actively participate in drinking with me; my reputation definitely preceded me, so I didn’t have this problem. If you do have drinking buddies and family that drinks, keep your distance as much as you can – you can’t afford to be in an environment where people are actively drinking around you – (more on this below.)
Places – In early sobriety I avoided bars, clubs, pool halls and some restaurants that I had drank in and also most parties. Sure, there might come a time where I could go to these places to eat or to a get-together with friends, but in early sobriety, I really had no business being in a place where I was so easily within reach of my fix. Staring at the liquor bottles lined up behind the bar, watching people sip on cocktails was akin to torture in my mind and I had no place being there. As the old timers in recovery say, ‘hanging out in bars is like hanging out in a barber shop – sooner or later you are going to get a haircut whether you went in there for one or not. ‘
Things – Some ‘things’ that were triggers for me were things like concerts, certain movies that I may have seen while drinking, looking at old photos, reading old letters and cards and generally holding onto the past and my former life as a drinker. I was no longer a drinker and with that came a sense of relief that I no longer had to wake up feeling deathly ill, unable to recall what I had done, unable to face family and friends and avoid looking at myself in the mirror. Sobriety is a new beginning, a time to forge new memories that are crystal clear, not fuzzy or fragmented and filled with self-loathing and when I looked at it that way, it definitely seemed more doable. And what helped me to stay on track in the beginning of sobriety was to stay away from people, places and things that had the ability to put my sobriety in jeopardy.