Fight For Your Sobriety

I remember in recovery being told many a time to “avoid triggers.” Which seems like an easy thing to do. Trouble is, there are triggers everywhere and I run into them quite often. Today’s safe coping strategy:

Fight the trigger. Take an active approach to protect yourself.

Just because triggers are coming at you left and right doesn’t mean you can’t do anything about them.

Some of them can be avoided. Don’t go into that corner market where you used to buy your wine. Don’t hang out with friends you used to party with. Ask your spouse not to keep alcohol in the house.

But some you can’t avoid. Like seeing a billboard advertising beer, or watching a show and suddenly someone is pouring themselves a glass of wine. Or the beer and the yogurt are in the same aisle at the grocery store for some reason. Or just having a bad, stressful day. Those kinds of things are going to happen to you.

But, what you have to do is identify the situation as a trigger. Tell yourself, this is a trigger. And then work against it. It wants to bring you down. It wants to burrow into your subconscious and pull you right off track. You need to fight it. See it for what it really is. Remind yourself of the consequences of drinking/using.

A trigger can happen without you even knowing about it. It’s really about getting that itch. Having that feeling that gee, a cold pint of beer would be awfully good right about now. The fleeting thought that you want something you used to have, but can’t have anymore. And maybe that’s all it is: a fleeting thought. But if you don’t hone in on that thought, and label it as a trigger, and an urge or a craving, then it can eat away at you until you cave in.

It’s unfortunate, but as an addict, you always need to be on your toes. You need to watch out for things like this. See the warning signs. Learn your individual triggers and avoid them whenever you can. Having an anxious day and maybe you want to take the edge off? Don’t go down that aisle at the store, no matter how bad you wanted the yogurt. In fact, avoid the store altogether. It can wait, nothing is more important than your sobriety.

Fighting the trigger means fighting for yourself. Fighting for you sobriety, your sanity, your safety. Nothing comes before that.

Grounding Techniqes–Moving Beyond Bad Feelings

I mentioned in an earlier post that using grounding techniques are a good way to manage anxiety and depression, and also any urges or cravings to use that you may encounter. It’s a means to detach yourself from any emotional pain you’re experiencing, and using your external environment to center yourself again.

Grounding is more than just talking yourself out of the craving or distracting yourself. It’s really getting your mind to move away from the feeling and getting out of the bad moment. It’s not the same as just relaxing yourself. It’s a technique to use when relaxation is not enough. When you just can’t seem to pull yourself out of the bad moment.

You first need to practice getting in tune with your emotions and feelings. Really tap into what you’re feeling, and what might have brought it on. It’s impossible to be grounded if you don’t even know you’re having a craving or an overly anxious moment or a depressed day, or suffering PTSD symptoms. Be aware of your surroundings, and get to the core of what you’re feeling, and why you’re feeling it. This takes some practice, but over time you will get to know your mental self much better. Learn to rate your feelings on a scale from 0 to 10. Feelings that are lower on the scale are safer, and can be dealt with using simple relaxation or distraction. But if you find yourself at a 6, 7, or even a full 10, you need to ground yourself.

Grounding is not a way of coping with the bad or negative feelings, but a way of eliminating them completely. So, if you feel like you need to use grounding techniques, don’t use methods that cause you to focus on the negative energy, such as journaling or trying to talk yourself out of it. The best thing about grounding is that you can do it, and no one will know you’re doing it. Most of these techniques you can do silently, in your head, and get through a tough moment in a crowd, in the middle of family dinner, anywhere.

There are a few different methods to grounding, and you can use one or any combination of them that work for you. Try them out, notice what improves your mood and what doesn’t. Some of these may seem silly, or you may think they won’t work, but keep an open mind and give them a try. Anything’s better than feeling miserable, right?

1. Describe your environment in detail. Focus on the details of the room or space around you, the very minute details. What color are the walls, or the furniture. What’s the texture of the item you’re seated on. What is the temperature, what does it feel like. “This chair is green with blue flowers. It is soft to the touch. I feel warm, but not too warm.” The point is to hone in on these details, and think about nothing else. Don’t think about how they make you feel. They just are. You are giving your brain a break from whatever it is that’s bothering you, and occupying it with something else.

2. Play a categories game with yourself. Start listing off all the things you can think of in a particular category. State capitals. TV shows you enjoy. Rock musicians. The players on your favorite sports team. Kinds of dogs. Foods that start with the letter P. This grounding technique forces your brain to concentrate on another subject.

3. Describe the steps of an everyday activity. Such as, how you brush your teeth. How to make pasta. The route you take to work. Take a moment to list each step, in the order you do it. “First, I back out of my driveway. Then, I turn left. Then I drive for two blocks. I stop at the four-way stop.” And so on. Run your mind through the steps slowly, and in as much detail as you can think of.

4. Read something aloud to yourself. Pick up a magazine or a newspaper. Or pull your favorite book off the shelf and open to a random page. Choose a passage and read it out loud to yourself, concentrate on each word. On each syllable. When you finish a sentence, really reflect on what that sentence said and meant.

5. Say a safety statement. Bring yourself back to the moment, and remind yourself that you’re safe. “My name is _____. I’m living in the present, not the past. Today is Wednesday, July 8, 2015. I am going to be okay.” Just reassure yourself that you don’t have to live in the past, you don’t have to worry about the future, you are safe in the moment you are in.

6. Use humor. There’s a lot of truth to the old saying, “laughter is the best medicine.” And laughter is also an automatic emotional defense mechanism for a lot of people, and for good reason. Laughter produces endorphins, which decrease physical pain and lessen stress. Laughter is also described as “contagious”, and can bring people together, increasing your own sense of belonging and feeling loved. Picture or recall something funny you have seen or heard before, or watch your favorite sitcom and just have a good laugh. It will have you calmed down in no time.

7. Repeat a saying. Find yourself a mantra. Even something as simple as, “I am okay,” will work. Or try things like, “I am safe.” “I am going to be ok.” “I am happy with my life.” “I can solve this problem.” Keep it positive, and repeat it to yourself several times. Eventually you will believe it, and you will feel much better.

8. Count to 10 or recite the alphabet. This is a good one, because these are really easy to do. Recite one slowly, and really concentrate on each number or letter.

The idea behind all of these is to move your mind from the panicked or sad or angry or dangerous moment into a safe, happy moment, and to do so semi-permanently. And grounding techniques are very effective because, as I mentioned earlier, you can usually do them without anyone around you knowing there’s anything wrong at all, so there’s no need to feel self-conscious.

Remember to stay in the moment. Don’t let your mind wander to the past or present, and also don’t let it digress back to the problem you’re having. Stay focused on neutral details, not on your feelings or emotions. You are distancing yourself from these feelings. Try a grounding technique the next time you find yourself in a low mood, in a panic attack, having a craving or feeling any kind of emotional turmoil. It will greatly improve your day-to-day life and make negative feelings much easier to cope with.

Distract Yourself

The Safe Coping Strategy I have chosen to share with you this week is:

Practice delay. If you feel you cannot prevent a self-destructive act, delay it as long as possible.

As I mentioned in one of my first posts, the “one day at a time” mentality most people recommend for recovery can sometimes be confusing or overwhelming early in recovery. I chose a couple of different ways of accomplishing the same thing.

For one, I follow “The 24 Hour Plan”. It’s basically the same thing as saying one day at a time, but somehow the explanation resonated with me much more. I may have had a drink yesterday, but yesterday is gone and I can’t do anything about it. I may even drink tomorrow, no one really knows what will happen tomorrow, nor why. But today. Today is here, and I have control over it. So if I only commit to not drinking today, it takes some of the pressure off. I’m not going to have a drink today. The rest is up to actions and stimuli and unforeseen events, and a tomorrow that none of us can really plan for.

The other thing I have tried is that I just take the next five minutes. I can handle five minutes. They’ll be gone in no time. As the coping strategy says, you can delay the thoughts of your self-destructive thoughts from becoming actions. I want a drink, but I’ll wait 5 minutes. I’ll wait a half hour. I’ll wait until tomorrow. And when that time comes, you tell yourself, I’ll wait 5 more minutes. One more day.

Eventually, the craving, the urge and the desire will subside, maybe even go away completely. And maybe go away completely for a long time.

If it was a life event or stressful moment that triggered the urge, while you’re waiting out your delayed actions, use the time to tackle the issue in a positive, productive manner. Help out a loved one who is in a tough place. Have a talk with your boss that did something to irritate you. Take a moment for yourself to get out and be alone and just breathe. If a situation is stressful, excuse yourself from it completely if you’re able. For serious life events, seek counseling or confide in a close friend. Allow yourself to recover or grieve. The event may have caused you to want to use, but if you can delay the use, approach your life problem with a positive attitude and the desire to solve the problem, you may just find at the end of the day, you don’t have that desire anymore.

Once in our recovery, we find our triggers and urges and cravings and desires tend to only be momentary. What in the past our addicted brains had tricked us into thinking we needed to use just to get by, our new conscious brain knows the urges will pass, the feelings will ebb, and we can be proud of ourselves for not using when we wanted to, and remaining on our path to sobriety. At the end of the day, the sense of accomplishment you will feel for having another sober date under your belt by far surpass any momentary high you would have had by giving in to the addiction.

You will have weak moments where you have been triggered and you feel like reaching for your drug of choice. But, practice this safe coping strategy. Delay it as long as possible. Talk yourself down, talk yourself out of it, and the feeling will pass.