Every alcoholic is different, and every trigger — those things that make us crave a drink — is different for every alcoholic.
If you take a big fat Ketel One martini filled with olives and stick it right under my nose, there’s a 99.9% chance that I’ll be triggered to drink. Or if you force me to smell a woodsy-yet-slightly fruity merlot, then yeah, I’m going to want to taste that.
And as I’ve mentioned before, there are also those outdoor cafes that used to make me Frogger around the blocks of New York City. The mere view of those lovely people enjoying lovely drinks in the sun while discussing their lovely lives was enough to make me want to say to hell with this whole sober thing.
But those are pretty obvious triggers, right?
Then there are those other types of triggers — the sly and insidious ones that are so sneaky I sometimes don’t even know that I am experiencing them.
Like this chair in my apartment — really, the most comfortable chair in the world, which I sat in almost exclusively since I bought it nearly 10 years ago. It was also the chair that I did most of my at-home drinking in. And the first time I sat in it sober, I immediately wanted a drink. I tried many times to slide into that once comforting spot, but each and every time, I was triggered.
So what did I do? I opted for the couch instead of my former martini throne. And I continued to do so for a long time (even though it’s far less comfortable).
Happily, I can report that after about nine months the urges subsided, and I’ve been reunited with my Archie-Bunker-esque spot.
Then there was the shower — no joke. Thankfully, for the sake of my own hygiene and those around me, I got over that trigger pretty quickly. But for the first few weeks home from rehab I thought about drinking like mad while I shampooed and scrubbed. I used to drink in secret all the time in the shower; something about that experience stuck. Perhaps it was the feel of the heavenly hot water running down my back while I took shots of vodka that made everything in my life feel heavenly, too.
But as I said, that one subsided fairly fast, perhaps simply because a shower is a shower and since I take them so often, I was swiftly able to re-associate the experience with getting clean (pun intended) rather than getting drunk.
And there are many more — some obvious (vintage alcohol ads, for example, which I still love and was so sad to have to take down from our walls), and some less so (delicious pieces of Toro sushi, because I just can’t imagine eating one without sake.) I know that for the rest of my life I’ll be dealing with these triggers. They are part of the disease, and they come in all different shapes and sizes and can sneak into your brain whether you’re sober two years or 20.
Therapy is helping me to identify these subtle suckers, sooner rather than later, because at the end of the day, they have potential to truly take me down. The major ones I’m dealing with now are emotional — grief over my dad’s death (which I didn’t deal with when he died in 2011 because Svedka was so much easier), guilt over past behaviors, work stress, money stress; essentially, life.
I’d be pissed off if someone shoved a glass of scotch or wine in front of my face, but at this point, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t drink it. I have a better understanding and awareness of the consequences.
But if I don’t know that I’m being triggered, if some subtle something is playing with that alcoholic part of my mind (the crazy committee, I often call it) then how do I know how to help myself?
All I can do is watch for the signs — am I suddenly acting irritably? Have I put on a pair of cranky pants without a reasonable reason? When I get annoyed and have no good explanation as to why, alcohol, in some form or another, is usually the culprit — my brain just hasn’t realized it yet.
So I just keep forging ahead, feeling so grateful that I’m not where I was two and a half years ago. I also know that I’ll learn to identify more and more of these triggers as time goes on, and as I do, it will continue to become easier to curb them.
The bottom line is simple — if I’m vigilant about using my sober tools, hopefully I’ll prevent that deadly trigger from ever being pulled.