Dealing With Triggers in Newfound Sobriety
In early sobriety, addicts and alcoholics can find it surprising and often frustrating when they feel a sudden urge to use or drink that feels like it came out of nowhere. When an addiction becomes a part of a person’s everyday life, the stimuli they’re exposed to on a regular basis becomes connected to feelings and memories that are associated with what was happening in the person’s life at the time. Think about a song that always reminds you of a moment or person in your life. Have you ever decided to text or call them after hearing the song because it put them back into your mind? Triggers can be present in the same subtle ways. They’re a normal side effect of the changes in sobriety, but there are ways to deal with them that will help you add to an arsenal of tools that will help you the longer you stay sober.
First and foremost, if you have a sponsor – give them a call to talk it out during any of the other steps below. If they are unavailable, give a fellow newcomer a call to ask how their day is going. Listen to what they say and see if you can help them out in any way. This helps you to “get out of your head” and you may end the conversation feeling less of the trigger’s effects than when you first picked up the phone.
Re-trace your sobriety steps
You can’t hide from every single trigger that will creep up on you in sobriety – but being aware of what they are gives you a choice of how to respond and areas you may need to give special care to. Sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint what exactly those triggers are. Think of this as playing your own detective and recalling what change in your environment led to a desire to drink or use. Maybe you got off the phone with a relative and your conversation was frustrating. You could have smelled a familiar smell, watched a movie or saw an old friend that wanted to reminisce about times you had before sobriety – involving substances and even without them. Maybe there was no change, and it was because you’re bored. Regardless, you will be able to connect basic core feelings like guilt, restlessness, loneliness or nostalgia to why you feel a stronger desire to drink or use.
In sobriety, you’re taking steps to do what’s necessary for your mental, physical and spiritual wellbeing. Think about how you can work around your trigger and continue everyday life without giving that trigger more power than necessary. You can make small changes, one at a time. This can be anything from changing your driving route home from work to making new memories by fellowshipping with others in recovery. For triggers you may not be ready or able to change, like a relationship with a family member or something involving your career, your sponsor can help you put together a plan of action for specific long-term changes.
Communication is key to let those close to you know that you’re trying to make an important change in your life and need their support. Sharing about a trigger at a meeting may help someone else who is going through the same thing or may help you feel less alone through this. Sharing with your family or friends can help them become aware of this so that they can offer more support to you. In other cases, you may find that it’s hard to explain your trigger or that the person you’d like to talk to can’t understand why something seemingly unrelated would give you a desire to drink or use. If you find yourself in that situation, remember that you can find support and understanding with others in recovery and in the rooms of meetings.
It is okay to remove yourself from situations or triggers that compromise your sobriety if there is no way to work around them. If you feel completely out of options, remember that your responsibility lies in staying sober and present. You are not necessarily responsible for explaining to others why you can’t go out to a bar with friends anymore or why you need to remove yourself from a situation that makes you uncomfortable. Staying true to yourself and honest with yourself about your feelings is an important practice that will help you through the twelve steps. The people who will stick by you and support you the most will understand.
Author – Chris Howard
Chris Howard is the Founder and Director of Ethos Recovery. He has a B.A. in Psychology from UCLA and has served as a community advocate/mentor for men and women in recovery since 2010.