This photo brings up a painful memory. A night out that turned into another day without sleep, drugs and alcohol to keep me awake. On my Facebook page this week I asked my followers to give me topic ideas for my blog that they might want to read about. I always like answering questions that my readers ask, or writing about a topic they really want to hear about. One follower suggested a post about triggers. Triggers. I had never really thought much about triggers or considered writing a post about them. I'm not really sure why. So when faced with thinking about triggers, a few thoughts came to mind.
What is a trigger?
When thinking about it in the framework of sobriety, a trigger is an event, person, place, situation, smell, or any other thing that may cause you to think of your old self, a traumatizing event, or in this case your drug of choice. Triggers can be paralyzing. They can transport us back to a time and place that we never want to be reminded of. They can also cause us to want to pick up a drink or a drug. For some, this might be a flashback, or a certain bar or restaurant, or a certain group of friends. For those who have experienced sexual trauma it may be reading about a similar situation or hearing about it on the news.
Triggers on triggers
For me, I always feel like triggers come up in the most random situations. During my first year sober I was still living in Cancun and I still attended a lot of birthday parties and club nights out where alcohol was present. I know this isn't the recommended path on how to get sober or what to do in your first year, but I was determined not to miss out on anything. I sure wasn't going to let FOMO get the best of me. Each time I did go out sober, I realized I really wasn't missing anything so the desire to go out dwindled with time. I remember one night specifically, a girlfriend and I went to Carlos and Charlie's Cancun for their anniversary party. We sat at the bar and I just remember being blown away by the smell of liquor. It was like someone made a perfume out of it and were spraying it in the air everywhere. That wasn't the case, not even close. There were a few tequila shots being poured here and there, but not anywhere especially close to me, and the bar was pretty empty. Yet the smell just about knocked me out. I felt like it was suffocating me. It was a weird feeling and I've had a few times similar to this happen after that. Smells have always been a trigger for me.
Another trigger I had, but isn't too common for me now: Sprite. For the last few years of my drinking I drank a lot of vodka Sprites or flavored vodka (grape, bubble gum) and Sprite. The smell and taste of Sprite would play tricks on me, making me think it had alcohol in it when it didn't.
Pictures of cocaine rituals really get to me. The other day I saw an article with a picture of a guy with a little baggy of coke in his hand, opening it up, and the rocks coming out. That really brought me back. My mouth starting watering and my hands got clammy. It was a weird feeling.
Hearing stories about girls who are blacked out and don't remember sexual encounters really shakes me up. On the new show that just started this week called Recovery Road, we watch a girl named Maddy, who starts to get sober at a young age in a sober living facility. Of course the first episodes show flashbacks to her partying days. She also confides in her roommate that she found a used condom in her car, but doesn't remember having sex with anyone. To her knowledge she was a virgin and has a boyfriend who she has never been intimate with. I can totally relate with how devastated and scared she feels. Although I didn't lose my virginity in that manner, I have been in those situations more times than I can count. Waking up incredibly hungover, not knowing where you are, who you are with, or what happened, and knowing that you have been violated sexually is not something I would wish on my worst enemy. Being robbed of your memory and searching for clues has to what happened, but being too terrified to ask anyone who might know, was a reality for me back then.
Places. There are certain places in Cancun that just give me a sick feeling. The three after-hours nightclubs I spent the most time in blacked out and doing drugs and other shenanigans: Ultra, Nectar, and Red, have all gone out of business and have literally been knocked down. I wonder if that's a sign. Another place I was scared to go back to was my college, Millersville. The last time I was there was in 2010 for homecoming and it was one of the worst nights of my life. I blacked out and was picked up by the cops and ended up escaping from their car in a blackout. Embarrassment kept me from returning there for a long time. In October 2015 I finally faced my fears and went to Millersville again to visit with Fer. I showed him all the places I live and where I used to party, and we even ate Ho Pie pizza (the classic drunk food on campus). I'm really happy I was able to go there and get that closure.
Even certain songs bring me back to the craziest, most drug and drink fueled times of my life like Erick Morillo "Live your life" and Bob Sinclair "World hold on." This song - Tracy Thorn "Grand Canyon (Dirty South remix)" literally transports me back to the time when I was rolling on ecstasy to it in Cancun and I think my brain chemicals recognize this.
Triggers won't go away
What can we take away from all of these disturbing moments in our sober lives? Well, unfortunately there are a lot of triggers that won't ever go away. Some are avoidable like people, places, things - you can change them, but you can't be on the run forever. I never know when a song will be played or a scent will fly by nose that might make me think of a specific blackout, a regrettable sexual encounter, or a hangover that took me out for days. Triggers are part of the healing process. I know I can't control when they will come my way, but I can be emotionally and mentally prepared. I know although they might bring up painful reminders of my past life, today I am a different person who no longer has to live that way. With each passing day of my sobriety the triggers become fewer and the pain becomes less.