Hidden in Plain Sight: Dealing with Sneaky Addiction Triggers

liquor store window as an addiction trigger

Note: The language around self-identification in the context of substance use disorder is evolving, and The Wagon respects individual choices in self-identification. While some individuals may prefer not to use the term “alcoholic,” I personally choose to identify as such and will use this term to describe myself in this post.

Everyone in recovery is different, and every trigger — those things that make us crave a drink — is different for every person in recovery.

If you take a big fat Ketel One martini filled with olives and stick it right under my nose, there’s a 99.9% chance that I’ll be triggered to drink it. Or if you force me to smell a chilled, crisp white wine, then yeah, I’m going to want to taste that.

There are also those outdoor cafes that sometimes make me Frogger around the blocks of New York City because when the weather is just right, nothing looks better than sitting with friends and sipping margaritas in the sunshine.

But those are pretty obvious addition triggers, right? They are fairly easy to avoid. Other types are much more dangerous to me — the sly and insidious ones that are so sneaky I sometimes don’t even know that I am experiencing them.

Like this big chair in my apartment — really, the most comfortable chair in the world, which I sat in almost exclusively since I bought it nearly 20 years ago. It was also the chair that I did most of my at-home drinking in. And the first time I sat in it sober, I immediately wanted a drink. I tried many times to slide into that once-comforting spot, but each and every time, I was triggered.

So what did I do? I opted for the couch instead of my martini throne. And I continued to do so for a long time (even though it was far less comfortable). Eventually, I got the chair reupholstered and moved it to a different room. 

Then there was the shower — no joke. I used to drink in secret all the time in the shower; something about that experience stuck. Perhaps it was the feel of the heavenly hot water running down my back while I took shots of vodka that made everything in my life feel heavenly, too. Or the relief/excitement that rushed over me knowing I was finally alone with what had become my deepest love and my biggest obsession.

It’s been hard getting over that one, I won’t lie. And there are many more — some obvious (vintage alcohol ads, for example, which I still love and was so sad to have to take down from our walls), and some less so (delicious pieces of Toro sushi, because I just can’t imagine eating one without sake). I know that for the rest of my life, I’ll be dealing with addiction triggers. They come in all different shapes and sizes and can sneak into your brain whether you’re sober for two years or 20.

And they have taken me down before — relapse is a big part of my story. At first, it was pretty simple: I drank again because I didn’t stay away from the people (drinking buddies), places (bars), and things (drinking buddies and bars) that triggered me. But over time, as my drinking became more secret, my addiction triggers became more insidious. That chair, the shower, my bedroom, the closet — these were all things that I couldn’t really stay away from. And half the time, I didn’t even realize they were triggering me.

Fortunately, today, I have a full box of sober tools that I can use to avoid or withstand these triggers, one day at a time. The best thing I’ve learned is not to shame myself for them — I have a disease, triggers are part of it, and that’s not my fault. If I tell myself that it’s my fault — that I’m a piece of shit because I want to drink — the likelihood that I will drink skyrockets. It’s much better to show myself compassion and remind myself that just because I feel like I want to drink doesn’t mean I have to drink. Cravings and triggers suck, but they always subside. My job is to ride them out, no matter what.

It’s not always easy, but it is always worth it.

What are some of your worst triggers? Please share them with us in the comments!



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