How To Cope With Triggers

Even one with a solid 15 years of sobriety under his or her belt may be thrown for a loop when an unfamiliar person, place, or situation unexpectedly produces an urge or temptation to drown feelings in a bottle of Jack or return to the mind-numbing comfort of a handful of prescription pills. While some triggers can catch an individual completely off-guard, they are most often preventable and completely manageable. When handling urges to drink, it is important that you utilize three techniques that have proven extremely successfully in swiftly diminishing cravings.

How To Cope With Triggers in Recovery

Firstly, it is crucial that you recognize and identify the trigger you are experiencing. There are two main types of triggers – internal and external. When the way you feel causes you to want to pick up, this is an internal trigger. A desire to use could be spurned by a negative emotion, a positive emotion, or a physical feeling or discomfort. Internal triggers are less avoidable than external triggers, but with some self-control and coping mechanisms they can easily be remedied. External triggers consist of people, places, times of day, or specific events that offer opportunities to drink or force you to recall past use. These are often more obvious and easy to avoid – simply be cognizant of situations you feel weary about and remember to prioritize your sobriety. And if entering a high-risk situation seems somewhat unavoidable, remember to bring along a sober support or have one on-hand to call if you begin to feel antsy.

Once you recognize your triggers, simply begin by avoiding the things you know will cause you to feel overwhelmingly uncomfortable. If you keep track of what triggers you, you will quickly gain an acute awareness of what it is you should be evading. Socially, at least in early sobriety, it is good to avoid events that you know will involve drinking and drugging. Eventually, when your sobriety is more stable and you have thoroughly learned appropriate and effective coping mechanisms, you may likely be able to socialize with old friends in old situations that were previously too dangerous for you to be involved in.

Remember to Think Things Through

Of course, it is impossible to avoid all potential triggers. Some may be unexpected, and some may just require you to suck it up and tough it out. You are strong, and there is nothing you cannot handle or make it through with a little controlled breathing and the phone numbers of a few close sober supports. If you find yourself in a high-risk situation you cannot leave right away, take a moment to remind yourself why it is you decided to get sober in the first place. Play the tape through – if you pick up now, where will you be in a week? A month? Back in detox, sitting through the same redundant group therapy classes, feeling dopesick and depressed? Is it really worth it? There is no trigger you can not make it through if you practice coping techniques and stay strong.

3 Early Recovery Musts

Early recovery is a time for self-exploration, growth, and discovery – a beautiful and often frightening time when you truly get to figure out who you are and what makes you tick. While beginning the journey towards freedom from the devastation and oppression of drugs and alcohol is exciting and liberating, it can also be extremely difficult. You will be coming into contact with feelings that you have been stifling and suppressing for years, and will undeniably need some solid emotional and mental support during this time. Here is a list of 3 early recovery musts – things that will, without question, be essential to maintainable and meaningful sobriety.

3 Early Recovery Musts

  1. Sober Support Systems

One of the most important aspects in maintaining sobriety is establishing a solid and reliable sober support system early on. The best way to go about doing this is to attend as many meetings as possible, showing up 15 minutes beforehand and staying late in order to introduce yourself to other program members and exchanging as many phone numbers as possible. If you are living in a halfway house or sober living facility, you will have a sober support system at your disposal already – an added bonus. Your sponsor will also be a key player in your support circle, so be sure to get one as quickly as you can.

  1. Knowing and Avoiding Personal Triggers

A trigger is a person, place, or situation that makes you feel like you want to use. Many recovering addicts and alcoholics have similar triggers – the loss of a loved one, a major change, and specific holidays in example. However, it is important that you understand and recognize what triggers you individually, and you avoid your triggers in order to prevent relapse. A specific group of old friends may be a trigger for one individual, while the sight of a martini may greatly trigger another. It is important not to test your own boundaries – if you feel unsure about something, stay away.

  1. Learning to Love Yourself

If you don’t learn to love and appreciate yourself early on, the likelihood that your sobriety will be fulfilled and lasting is relatively slim. It is crucial that you learn to place yourself first – if your own spiritual, mental, and physical wellbeing is not intact, everything else in your life will surely fall part eventually. Reward yourself with personally satisfying activities, explore potential new passions and hobbies, and truly dedicate your time to healing past wounds in order to pave the way for a brighter and happier future.

Saying “No” In Recovery

Setting boundaries and saying “no” is often a very difficult skill for addicts and alcoholics to learn, seeing as codependency to some degree frequently goes hand-in-hand with substance dependency. Unfortunately, unless a recovering addict learns to say “no” he or she will be faced with circumstances that may compromise his or her sobriety. If an addict takes on too much responsibility early on and neglects him or herself in any way, the risk for relapse increases significantly. Here are several negative repercussions of being a “yes man”.

Saying “No” Is An Important Skill In Early Recovery

  • Your work will more than likely be poorly executed regardless of what it is – work-work, schoolwork, or work on yourself. Putting only half as much effort into what truly matters will inevitably hurt you in the long run.
  • You may begin to take on the work of others rather than delegating properly. Overwhelming yourself with tasks that are not your responsibility to begin with will cause you to form resentments.
  • If you say yes constantly to commitments you may not want to take on, you are likely to begin sacrificing personal goals.
  • You may begin sacrificing sleep, exercise, and free time spent with friends or on personally fulfilling activities.

Fortunately, learning to say “no” in a polite way is not at all difficult, it only takes a little bit of conviction and an ample amount of sincerity. If you truly have too much on your plate and cannot take on any more responsibility, don’t be afraid to say so. There are kind and effective ways in which to reject people without hurting their feelings or causing any tension within the relationship. Here are several examples:

  • “I really appreciate you thinking of me, unfortunately I am swamped and won’t have any real free time for quite awhile.”
  • Unfortunately because of the point I am at in my own life, I don’t feel that would be the best idea for me right now. Possibly sometime down the line.”
  • “I wish I could – I simply don’t have the time.”

Be sure to avoid apologizing excessively – stand firm in your refusal while remaining polite. Don’t make promises you have no intention of keeping. For instance, don’t say, “I can’t now, but next week…” if you truly do not plan on making time, or sincerely don’t want to make any future commitments. Saying “no” takes practice, but it is a practice that will pay off immensely in the long run!

How To Smash Cravings

There is truly no way to prevent a thought from popping into your head – many of our initial thoughts are unwelcome and tend to show up to the party uninvited. Thoughts of using coupled with intense, sudden cravings are potentially the most unwelcome thoughts and feelings a recovering addict or alcoholic will experience. While there is no surefire way to prevent cravings from happening (aside from doing the work on a daily basis, which still may not be foolproof) there are many ways to smash cravings as soon as they materialize. The key is distraction. Distraction will quickly become your best friend where cravings are concerned, seeing as most cravings only last for around 15 minutes or less. Of course, environmental cues also play a huge role in triggering cravings, thus it is important to avoid precarious situations in the first place. If you are a newly sober alcoholic, in example, hanging out at the bar with old drinking friends will probably not help your case. An overall lifestyle change is key in smashing cravings, though even if you are consistently doing the next right thing and avoiding triggering situations the likelihood of the occasional desire may bring you to your knees. Here are several effective tactics you may want to employ the next time you get a hankering for some heroin or a yearning for some yayo.

Eliminate Cravings As Soon As They Start

  • Exercise! 15-30 minutes of intense physical activity has been proven to greatly reduce cravings, in many cases working them right out of the system entirely. If you can’t seem to get the thought out of your head, slip on a pair of running shoes and jog around the block. Exercise is actually a fundamental part of recovery as a whole, seeing as physical and mental fitness undeniably coincide.
  • Call a sober support. This is where the necessity of the fellowship comes into play. It is absolutely crucial that the cell phone of every recovering addict and alcoholic is stockpiled with the phone numbers of likeminded men and women. You will most likely come to find that an acquaintance will save your life more than once. Ask for numbers at meetings, start a collection of phone lists. If you ever feel the urge to pick up, call someone who has been there to talk you out of it.
  • Help someone. The best way to get outside of yourself is to help someone else in need. Take someone without a car to the grocery store, or volunteer at a local homeless shelter or soup kitchen. Even picking up trash on the beach will likely alleviate cravings to some degree. There is always someone worse off than you, and being of service is a surefire way to feel less involved in your own troubles and more important to the collective.

Remember, the root word in distraction is action! Take action and smash your cravings into next Tuesday! And then when next Tuesday rolls around, go ahead and do the same thing.

9 Cliche Tricks to Staying Sober

If you’ve ever been to a 12-step meeting yourself or sought advice from someone who has, you have inevitably heard several well-worn clichés. “One day at a time”, “easy does it”, “stick with the winners”… surely you’ve heard these and many other ancient slogans rattled off by old-timers in meetings, and without question most go over your head with little thought. But when taking a closer look, some of these hackneyed catchphrases can actually prove to be quite helpful. Here are 9 examples of everyday mottos you may stop taking for granted after actually taking them into consideration. Old-timers are old-timers for a reason, after all!

  1. “First Things First”

Well… yeah. Isn’t it always? It seems like a simple message – and that’s really because it is. When AAers remind you that the first things first, they’re really reminding you to stay focused on the day at hand and stop projecting. Stay in the present moment – ground yourself and focus on the task at hand. This slogan also alludes to the fact that sobriety must remain top priority, for, as another saying goes, “everything you put before your sobriety you are going to lose”.

  1. “Easy Does It”

Rome wasn’t built in a day. It isn’t likely that after a week of sobriety you are going to be a happy, healthy, productive member of society. Take it easy – give yourself a break. The slogan also reminds one to avoid trying to force solutions, that sometimes doing nothing is an action in itself. Take a step back and let the universe unfold as it should.

  1. “Live and Let Live”

This slogan simply suggests that one should focus on themselves and their own issues rather than the issues of those surrounding them. Live your life and let other live theirs. When an addict or alcoholic tries to run the show, things tend to end up a lot more complicated than they would have been otherwise.

  1. “One Day at a Time”

This slogan is pretty self-explanatory – and it also a universal trademark of Alcoholics Anonymous and many other 12-step programs across the globe. A major key to staying sober is facing every day as an individual feat. Wake up in the morning and tell yourself, “Today, I will not drink. If I still want to drink tomorrow I can.”

  1. “To Thine Own Self Be True”

So, this one was Shakespeare – we must give credit where credit is due. But AA has essentially adopted the quote and made it their own over the years, adding new significance to the famous words. Essentially, this line advises one to avoid engaging in self-deception. Lying to yourself will only hinder potential progress. Be honest and thorough, if not with anyone else, at least with yourself. And your sponsor.

  1. “Meeting Makers Make It”

This is probably the most straightforward of all AA clichés. If you go to meetings, you won’t get drunk. While regular attendance at meetings does undeniably help one stay sober, it is important that one engages in the meeting, pays attention to speakers, and fellowships before and after the convening to truly get the most out of each experience. So while this statement tends to lean towards true, if you sit in the back with your head in your hands, refusing to ask for help, you may not stay as sober as you’d like.

  1. “Wherever You Go, There You Are”

It is not uncommon for addicts and alcoholics to impulsively pick up and move across the country, believing that a geographic change will help them tame their symptoms. Many realize rather quickly that it isn’t so much the surroundings as it is an internal malady, and are forced to heal from the inside out rather than the outside in.

  1. “My Best Thinking Got Me Drunk”

Essentially, this slogan points out the fact that most addicts and alcoholics are so sick in the head that any thought they have is probably wrong. One of the predominant points of Alcoholics Anonymous is helping other alcoholics – especially when it comes to decision-making. If left to their own accord, most of the sober men and women in the rooms would undoubtedly be drunk. Or dead. If you think something is a good idea, ask! It most likely isn’t.

  1. “I Am Powerless But Not Helpless”

It is important to remember that powerlessness is entirely different than helplessness. While you may be powerless over drugs and alcohol, you are never helpless – it is your choice every day whether or not you pick up. Keep these helpful clichés in mind if you ever start to feel overwhelmed, and remember – stick with the winners!

The Process of Relapse

Relapse is not an event – it is a process. Many addicts do not even realize they are in danger of relapse before it is almost too late, and they find themselves face-to-face with a glass of wine or a bag of dope. However, although many recovered addicts are familiar with the pitfalls of picking up after a period of sobriety, relapse does not need to be a part of any journey into recovery – seeing as it is always preventable if caught early enough. The biggest and most crucial aspect of preventing relapse is knowing what personal signs to look for and change your behavior as quickly as possible.

Relapse Happens in Stages

Relapse tends to happen in stages. The first stage is emotional relapse – recognizing emotional relapse and immediately changing behavior is absolutely crucial to staying sober. Emotions that arise and cause discomfort should be looked at thoroughly, and as soon as you recognize a negative shift in the way you feel, be sure to take action towards changing that feeling to the best of your ability. Here are several signs of emotional relapse, and ideas regarding how you can take action to rapidly reverse your potentially dangerous emotional condition.

  • If you catch yourself isolating: Reach out! Formulating a solid system of sober supports is by far one of the most important parts of maintaining sobriety. This is also a major reason why getting a sponsor in early sobriety is so important! Make sure you carry around a list of numbers, people you know and trust and can call whenever you’re feeling lonely.
  • If you start to feel anxious: Practice relaxation techniques! Breathe deeply, count to 10, take a short walk outside and appreciate the fresh air. Practice any grounding techniques you may have learned in treatment. And again – reach out! Tell someone how you are feeling and listen to any advice they may have regarding how to calm yourself down.
  • If you feel exhausted: Give yourself a break! During your first year of sobriety (and every year of sobriety following) the most important job in your life will be staying sober – and it is no small task! Allow yourself to take catnaps when you need them, and make sure you always get your 8 hours at night.
  • You feel underappreciated: Reward yourself! Staying sober on any given day is a huge accomplishment, and you deserve to treat yourself once in awhile. Sign up for a yoga class or a painting lesson. Take a couple hours to simply relax and play your favorite video game, or eat an entire pint of ice cream to yourself.

Relapse Is Never Necessary

In the case of obvious behavior changes such as skipping meetings, simply start going to meetings and let someone know that you haven’t been to one in awhile. Remember – you are not alone. There are many recovered addicts and alcoholics who have either experienced relapse or successfully avoided it, and they would undoubtedly be more than happy to pass down the knowledge and insight they’ve gained.