Oscar Wilde once wrote that “I can resist anything except for temptation.” When we apply this quote to our recovery, we see how those words take on a unique form. In the realm of recovery (and especially around treatment centers), one often hears the word “trigger” thrown around a lot. It is the topic of several process groups, one on one counseling sessions and is certainly on the mind of every alcoholic in early sobriety.
This is, of course, completely understandable. Almost all of us in our early sobriety practiced an almost extreme sense of mindfulness every waking day. We reminded ourselves that our entire lives are now in the process of being centered on something completely different than what we were used to for a very long time. It is often said in the rooms of AA that the only thing that needs to change is everything. These changes can include people, places, things and especially mindsets.
In my experience with sobriety, I am no stranger to the word triggers. I have found that triggers can come up in my life in almost every aspect. This of course makes sense considering that alcohol was a cornerstone in my life for almost a decade. Everything I did centered on getting to that next drink. I remember processing in a group at Oregon Trail Recovery when I was a client that getting off of a hard day’s work was one of my biggest triggers during my first 90 days of sobriety. I distinctly remember moments clocking out in the breakroom at Safeway in the Woodstock District of South East Portland and hearing that tiny, pestering voice telling me that I’ve earned a beer. A nice, cool, frosty micro-brew straight from the tap of one of the neighboring beer halls in the area. Some days I could almost taste it.
When this happened I quickly employed the tools that were taught to me by the men and women of recoery communities and the staff at OTR. I called my sponsor and then I paused for a little bit to employ some mindfulness. I knew for me, since I whole-heartedly took that first step, that those words I’ve read a thousand times in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous never rang more true: “One is too many, and a thousand is never enough.” I knew that when if I drank that beer it would turn into two, then 5, then a trip to the liquor store and right down the road to pitiful, incomprehensible demoralization which would eventually bring me right back to the streets and if I’m lucky, back to detox.
I employed some of the most basic methods that I learned from combating triggers. One such method was to buy a chocolate donut after work. They sold them at Safeway for $.50 a pop, much cheaper than a 5th of Jack. It has also been proven that sweets, especially chocolate, can activate the same receptors in our brain that alcohol and drugs can activate. I definitely noticed a difference in my mood after simply eating a donut after work. The only draw-back was of course the effect on my gut. Luckily taking public transit keeps you active. A walk up a steep hill or a sprint to the next scheduled Tri-Met stop usually took care of that.
It was around my 120th day of sobriety that I really started to think about the whole concept that we as recovering alcoholics have about triggers. Was I putting too much weight in these triggers? Was I surprised that they were happening? Was I attempting to change something I could not? The answer to all these questions was a hard yes. I am a low-bottom, gutter drunk. That’s how I came to OTR’s door. I drew fellowship, community and inspiration from other low-bottom, gutter drunks and the main thing that they made me realize was the concept of choice.
One of our outstanding counselors, Mr. Danny Turner always will say that he is grateful that he has the choice today not to drink and use, because he didn’t always have that choice. That resonated with me as a client and it got me to view triggers in a whole different way.
I now know today that a trigger is something that is going to happen. It may be less and less frequent with time but it is something that I cannot change. What I CAN change today is my choice to act upon them. A trigger only has power when it is pulled, or rather, when one chooses to pull it. We have to understand that when we enter the arms of recovery we are given a choice today not to drink and use. It is the base foundation for which we can build miracles off of, a life that is happy, joyous and free.
I for one am grateful today that I have a choice to not pick up a drink today. I am mindful that I didn’t always have that choice but I do now. I don’t have the choice to be free of temptation but I can be grateful for the power to resist it and that is worth its weight in gold.
-J. Dalton Williams