‘Triggers’ was the general theme of the alcoholic recovery meeting this week, prompted by a rather harrowing account of a fellow recoverer’s recent descent back into the pit of excessive alcohol consumption. Exactly what triggers this and many other types of behaviour or response is an interesting, albeit difficult, question to answer.
In normal daily life we all encounter triggers in some form. TV advertising is devoted to creating and exploiting them and we all have triggers that spring to mind. A cup of tea may trigger the desire for a biscuit. A coffee or finishing a meal often triggers the desire for a cigarette in those who smoke. Certain music or smells can trigger powerful emotions or memories.
These triggers reflect a strong connection between two separate elements where the presence of one stimulates a need for or a memory of the other. The result may be a positive or a negative experience. For those with an alcohol addiction, the obvious concern is what triggers may initiate the desire for a drink and what to do about them to prevent the recovering alcoholic from reaching for the bottle.
Certain times of the day or week, familiar places and activities associated with drinking alcohol can be powerful triggers for any alcoholic, so our first step must be to recognise those which are especially dangerous to us. An alcoholic may need to avoid pubs or bars altogether, while others can happily use these places from time to time to socialise, while drinking nothing more harmful than a coffee or fruit juice.
We need to work out the traps we are most likely to fall into and avoid those, especially in the early days of our recovery. Substituting old routines for new, healthier ones is a vital first step. Just not doing something is not enough. The last thing we want is a void. Think about all those countless hours spent buying, consuming and recovering from drinking. Those hours are now freed up and provide opportunities to develop new habits and new routines to keep us positive and our recovery on track.
Recognizing Alcoholic Triggers
My triggers were Friday evenings or as soon as the end of my working week was nigh. In the past I used to look forward to the social aspect of the weekend. Sports, parties, gigs, fun. All with alcohol as the social lubricant. Later on, as my social life contracted and shrank and I became increasingly isolated. My Friday night trigger remained but only in connection with booze. I thought, in my distorted way at the time, that drinking booze would bring back the good times. It doesn’t work like that.
Alcohol-related triggers also affect the nearest and dearest of the sufferer. Spouses, partners, family and close friends develop triggers of their own as early warning signs, coping mechanisms and for sheer survival. Such is the ripple effect the alcoholic has on those around him/her.
There are many ways we can begin to challenge these triggers and dismantle them. This diary does not attempt to name and list them. My path began by disconnecting the trigger between my ego and my problem. I saw the problem, which triggered my ego to think it could solve the problem alone. Despite numerous failures, my ego was too proud to accept the obvious. I could not do it on my own.
My advice to one in similar circumstances would be, ditch your pride, it is not helping you in any way and incidentally, it is surprisingly easy and actually refreshing when you do it. Nothing to lose – and your life to regain. But you must want out. It all starts from there. The best time to start is twenty years ago. The second best time is now.
I believe that the key elements to success in defeating alcoholism are simply a willingness to want change. Motivation to be open-minded about where we might turn to get the assistance we need. Above all, to recognise the fact which is, in my view, absolutely fundamental; we cannot do this alone and vitally, we don’t have to or need to.
Good news for all concerned.