You know what I mean right?
That ‘thing‘ that happens. Something someone says, all the things they didn’t say. The fist of anxiety closing in around your heart and making it hard to breath. A fallout with a friend or loved one. Shit day at work. A breakup. Rejection. Dejection. Grief. Loss. Flashbacks. Nightmares. The “event” you can’t talk about to anyone because it hurts too much. The fact you dropped your super noodles on the floor whilst on your period and its all just a metaphor for how shit life is and the only way to get through this moment – right here, right now; is to get really, drunk. I mean really drunk.
Triggers can be big or small but they still have the same function…
That panicked feeling of “I can’t handle this moment and I need to feel different right NOW“.
Instant gratification, ya know?
So, how do I cope with having “triggering” feelings sober?
I do recall after the initial ‘high’ of deciding to go sober I had a few weeks riding that wave and thinking this was gonna be easy. Peace of cake. I got this. I am a strong sober independent woman and I don’t need alcohol anymore.
Oh – no, no my friend! It’s not that easy. After a while the high will wear off and the hard work will begin.
I was warned about it but I ignored them because I just thought my story would be different. I was wrong.
I have been sober for a few months and been doing really well, yet today I woke up and something was different. I can’t place a finger on the feeling but I just don’t feel right. I am walking into rooms and staring and not knowing why I’m there. I can’t watch TV. I can’t paint. I can’t write songs. I shower and clean myself and look in the mirror and end up placing my head into my hands with a pit inside of me opening up and threatening to overwhelm me.
I feel intensely irritated. I’m having the kinda day where nothing seems to go smoothly. I can’t leave the house without dropping keys, snagging coats on door handles, putting the milk into the sink instead of in the cupboard.
I am restless and I pace.
I can’t concentrate on any conversations.
I really want to drink.
That’s the first time this has happened since deciding to go sober.
I call my partner and tell him I need to go out tonight. I want to be social. That’s what I used to do right? I can be social and not drink. That way the coping is kinda the same. Right?
He comes home and I sit in my bedroom getting ready painfully aware of the missing wine glass from the dressing table and I grit my teeth. Before we leave I open the fridge to find an alcohol free beer and I down it. I throw it down my neck like a long loved habit.
We head to the pub and meet with friends. I’m out of the house and engaging in the conversation whilst all the time getting angrier and angrier that my Becks blue isn’t making me feel any different. I keep taking sips and expecting a different result. That’s because it’s fake. The illusion of alcohol; but NOT alcohol. I’m really angry. I squash it but inside I am furious at myself and the useless fake booze.
I really want a drink.
We go to another pub and are joined by more friends. As the night takes its course I become quieter and quieter. Feeling myself slide into the background. Like a camera shot out of focus.
Everyone is nice and furry and soft from booze. Eyes half open as they have slurring conversations which each other and I feel as though they are all in the same bubble and I am on the outside. Inside of the bubble they can understand each other and are connected with each other, yet from the outside all I hear is mumblings and I am lonely.
I am no longer angry. It makes me feel sad and alone.
I make my excuses and leave. I can’t be here. I don’t know why I insisted on this. This isn’t what I want.
As soon as I am out in the night air I take a deep breath. I am alone and it’s cold but there is relief. I take myself to a Chinese takeaway and order some food to take home with me. I drive home briefly noting to myself that THIS is a perk of sobriety.
I take my chow mein and my dog to bed with me. Don’t judge. Pyjamas, family Guy, chow mein, doggy cuddles and some alone time. Just me and my thoughts.
This is the first time in years I have had to sit with that “feeling” and not drown it out with booze. I hadn’t realised that is what I had been doing but here it was staring me in the face. When the going gets tough, the tough gets drinking.
Sobriety was easy when it was easy. The high can’t last though, eventually old habits rear their ugly heads and you have to deal with them. I no longer knew HOW to cope when I was feeling “triggered”, whilst in a lucid state of being. For so many years I had avoided being alone with my unpleasant thoughts…but if I was going to continue on this path I was going to have to get used to this; and find a new way of coping.
It’s all about re-training the ole brain. Learning new habits. Learning to accept the way you feel and not feel the compulsion to turn to something external to fix it.
Saying, “Ok. This is how I am feeling. What can I do to ride it out until I feel something else? Until I can naturally move on?”
Instead of fighting the feeling, or burying the feeling, or smothering it in alcohol only to have it carry over into hangover the next day. A vicious cycle of ‘not really coping’.
Since then I have been triggered many times. Too many times to count I guess…and each time I rode out the feeling until it passed, the stronger in myself I started to feel. I started to get to know myself in a whole new way. Really sit with my thoughts instead of running from them and I was surprised…I was surprised because there were certain aspects of myself alien to me. All of my reactions and all of my feelings were completely organic and not influenced by substance so occasionally I would say and feel things and afterwards turn it over and over in my mind like a puzzle.
Instead drinking of through triggers, I would decline invites, knowing that I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to enjoy myself and not feel distant. Often I call someone to just share how I feel, or I write them down. Could be poetry. Could be a song or just a random outburst that doesn’t make sense other than to be what it is. Catharsis.
It was freeing, liberating. Sometimes difficult but worth it for the lesson learnt afterwards.
Thats what this journey has been about.
I wasn’t really learning when it was ‘easy’. So, I guess I am all the more grateful for the difficult days, because without them I wouldn’t know the strength and the will within me.
Reaching rock bottom can be a glorious thing because then your feet can touch ground and you can launch yourself back up again. Remake yourself on your own terms.
Thats how I feel now, over sixteen months into sobriety. I feel brand new. Like I get a fresh start. Like finally I get to show the world who I really am.
Theres nothing to hide behind.
Theres nothing to run from.