As the novelty of living without alcohol fades and signs of summer appear, I am met with a whole buffet of alcohol triggers. Apparently maintaining my sobriety is going to be tougher than I thought.
A couple of weeks ago the weather suddenly went from grey to balmy. It was as if someone had taken the lid off the UK and we all breathed a smiley sigh . I love the sun but it’s always come with a health warning for me. BEWARE – CONTAINS SIGNIFICANT ALCOHOL TRIGGERS.
I noticed that old addictions had started tugging at my sleeve. Never drinking alcohol again seemed like an impossibility and all I could think of was wine. I went from feeling on top of my recovery game to feeling right back under it. Bummer!
Recognising alcohol triggers
In addiction parlance, a trigger is something that stimulates the addict to revert back to old feelings and behaviours. Addictive responses could be triggered by seeing certain people, having an argument, hearing a banging dance tune, revisiting an old neighbourhood or just a sense of finally being over all your problems (yes, addiction is that cruel). I know someone who is triggered every time he sees a blue BMW because that’s the car his dealer used to drive. For me, it’s as simple as the early signs of summer.
Some people over-eat when the weather turns cold. A warm house, Netflix, cake and hot chocolate (or large whiskey for me). As soon as the days get shorter we can be triggered to overindulge. These things are more like habits than addictions but it’s the same, powerful mechanism.
Summer seems to be an assault course of alcohol triggers for me. An afternoon BBQ with giggling kids running hither and thither – pass me a beer! Watching a sunset with my best mates as the volume on the tunes starts rising. Prosecco please! And a cheeky smoke? Mmmm, don’t mind if I do. *vinyl scratch sound effect*
There’s nothing cheeky about relapse
A cheeky glass of anything is not an option for me. It leads to a cheeky demise into daily drinking, self loathing, depression and who knows where from that point? History tells me I would destroy everything I love and then myself. So I have had to find my reasons for quitting again and reacquaint myself with them. They slipped to the bottom of my bag like the car keys I am now desperate to find.
So, I have come to a raw acceptance. Sobriety isn’t all benefits and revelations. Sometimes it’s downers and drawbacks. Sobriety can sometimes suck and to say it doesn’t is dishonest and misleading. Yes, living without alcohol is bloody incredible in so many ways and I wouldn’t go back in time for anything. But some days it’s mile 16 of a marathon and I’m wondering why the hell I signed up for it. Accepting this fact is another mile stone in my journey.
Being really honest with myself
Knowing my flaws, I can be honest with myself about my limitations. Whether it’s abnormal dopamine levels, a weird childhood, or my starsign, it doesn’t matter. I am an addict and I can’t change that intrinsic nature.
My friend Louise and I were chatting about my drinking days. She said that when I was drinking I always wanted to continue drinking long after everyone else saw that the night was over. She’s right. It was never over for me. Life was a void and I had to fill it.
The times I recall sitting watching the sunset thinking,
‘Yes, but what else? This is great but what else can we add to this to enhance it? Let’s party!’
If a vast burning star isn’t enough then you’ve got problems!
Sometimes I fantasise about giving into the alcohol triggers and I follow myself down the relapse rabbit hole. It’s a long fall with a crash landing! Regret doesn’t cover it. Relapse is not an option!
Maintaining sobriety is harder than I thought
Without alcohol I have enjoyed the most stable period of my life. I am not constantly wanting, I am finally satisfied because I have come to accept that life is a journey, not a party. I found my voice of calm. Realising that my personal enjoyment is not actually the most important thing in the world has been liberating but some days the alcohol triggers creep up and bite me on the arse.
When I quit last summer I was in a very different mode – determined and fully aware. I was still counting my sober days in double digits and brimming with achievement. Don’t get me wrong, those early days were really bloody hard but not drinking was all I could think about. The battle plan was clear and I was armed to the teeth with reasons to quit. Maintaining sobriety, it turns out, might be harder than actually quitting.
Overcoming the summer triggers this time round requires a whole new game plan: acceptance of ‘what is’ instead of ‘what used to be.’
The opposite of high doesn’t have to be low
I used to think there were 2 options in life – high or low. Not so! Life can be beige. It can be meh. I can miss out on fun and see no upside. But I won’t die. Realising that I can get through this obstacle course of triggers is going to be another massive step in my sober journey so yes, I accept the challenge, expecting little reward but normal life.
Just because I won’t be drinking alcohol at the next party doesn’t mean that I will have a bad time. In fact socialising without alcohol has proved to be a wonderful thing. As long as the tunes are good I can dance as hard as I always used to and I love the fact that I remember every conversation. Some nights I will be the first to bed and the first one up in the morning and that’s a secret little joy I will never grow tired of.
Mindfulness, as always, will get me through: being aware of the alcohol triggers and then just sending those thoughts on their way.
I have too much to do to be relapsing right now
So, come on summer! Give me all you’ve got. I will watch the sunset with kombucha in hand and see it for all its glory, greeting my dozy dopamine desires and sending them on their way. I’ll dance into the wee small hours on nothing but elderflower presse because my whole life isn’t dependent on that moment being the best it can be. Nice, okay, fine and good are all acceptable states of being. Also, tiredness and time to go are perfectly doable.
I am sure that the summer will be all sorts of lovely but so what if it’s just average? It’s not the end of the world in the way that the loss of my voice of calm would be. I realise that my sobriety means more to me than anything alcohol has to offer. And the reality is that each time I meet one of those pesky triggers I can retreat to my old safety of ‘just today’. I can do anything as long as it’s just for today. Forever will take care of itself.