Dry January | How To Avoid Triggers In Early Sobriety

how to avoid alcohol triggers in early sobriety

As you approach your first weekend of sobriety, it’s important to think about how you can avoid triggers that might tempt you into drinking. For the majority of people, it’s difficult in the early days to engage in your usual weekend activities when alcohol is out of the equation.

Sure, you THINK you’ll be fine just going to the bar with your friends and ordering a ginger ale, but more than likely, you’re going to set yourself up for some serious, real-time FOMO (that’s a fear of missing out).

On the flipside, you don’t want to isolate yourself. Yes, the new Bandersnatch choose-your-own-adventure movie is on Netflix and your fave pizza is just a phone call away, but you don’t have to become a sober hermit if you don’t want to.

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Tackling Your First Sober Weekend 

Did you tell your friends that you’re not drinking this month? That’s the first step. I’ve written about how to get your people on board with your sobriety before, but we will revisit this topic again.

Chances are you will be met with a few responses:

  • Why would you do that?
  • Oh come on, you can cheat on the weekends!
  • That’s awesome! I’d like to try that, too. (wishful thinking?)
  • So what, you’re an alcoholic all of a sudden?
  • Okay, cool.

It all depends on your social circle and alcohol’s role in those relationships.  The most important thing, for now, is to make your intentions known, be clear, and shut down any attempt to get you to cheat.

From there, you’ll need to be proactive.

Plan Something During The Day That Doesn’t Involve Alcohol

Everyone is different, but for me, the nighttime was always the most triggering for me.  During the day, I always found it much easier to abstain from drinking and I believe this is true for a lot of people.

So what are you into?

Do you live near a park where you can meet up with some friends to take a walk or go for a jog? Is there a museum exhibit you’ve been meaning to check out? Or maybe you want to grab lunch at the cute little spot that just opened up around the corner.

You get to wake up tomorrow morning without a hangover, feeling refreshed. What do you want to do with your newly gained daylight hours?

You don’t even need to invite anyone else along. I used to love taking a blanket to the park and reading a book or taking an early morning fitness class.

Let me tell you, NOTHING has ever made me feel quite as powerful as walking down the street in my little slice of Brooklyn at 10 AM having already completed a workout, pumped up on endorphins. On those days, you could not tell me shit. I was a boss.

Get you some of that early morning, weekend sunshine, my friend.

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But What If I Don’t Want To Do Anything Right Now?

For every morning that I wanted to pop out of bed and enjoy a sunny, Sunday stroll, there were ten mornings I couldn’t bring myself to do anything at all.

Sometimes the early days of sobriety are not even remotely inspiring. Your brain is still struggling to right all the wrong you’ve done to it. You might be battling depression and anxiety right now. The last thing you want to do is put a pep in your step and journey out into the world if you don’t have to.

In fact, that last section annoyed you so much, you nearly closed this article.

You don’t have to do anything today if you don’t want to, but at some point, you are going to have to figure out what makes you tick and then go do that.

If you’re feeling especially depressed and struggling to do even basic things like shower or eat, spend some time exploring counseling options. Mental health is critical to sobriety and you need to make sure you are taking care of yourself.

Be gentle with yourself and take your time.

Avoiding Triggers To Drink During Dry January
What you can do to successfully avoid triggers this month

Avoid Alcohol-Centered Activities

If you are part of a particularly boozy social circle, you may want to rethink your evening plans. Call up a friend who is not a big partier and invite them to dinner or go see a movie. If you’ve got a partner, plan an alcohol-free date night at home.

What you do NOT want to do is hang out at your favorite happy hour or brunch spot or any place where the ONLY thing happening is people getting drunk.

You will be bored. You will be annoyed. But more importantly, you will be tempted to drink.

The best way to avoid triggers in early sobriety is to not intentionally subject yourself to them. That seems obvious, but it isn’t. We often overestimate our ability to say NO. You might think you’re killing this Dry January thing right now, but wait until your drunk bestie annoyingly shoves a drink in your face and won’t take “no” for an answer.

Know thyself.

If you can’t watch football without a beer, then do not go watch football with your friends this weekend. You’re not ready.

Maybe you’re saying to yourself right now, “My entire life centers around booze. There is literally nothing to do in this town except get drunk. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t party like a maniac every weekend.”

For now, then, you may want to start with a quiet weekend at home. Watch the most delightfully horrible reality TV programming you can find, go to bed early, and keep working on yourself this weekend. That’s perfectly fine, too.

Be Mindful Of How And Where You Shop

Triggers are everywhere in early sobriety. Even things like going to the grocery can turn into a surprising source of temptation.

There you are, minding your own business, scoping out the tomatoes and out of the corner of your eye, you see it – the booze aisle. A week ago, you would’ve picked up a sixer (or two) or a bottle and tossed them into your cart and there’s an urgency boiling up inside of you to do that again today.

That’s the thing about triggers in early sobriety – they can really sneak up on you.

Take a mental inventory of all the daily tasks and errands you used to do that involved picking up your liquor. Maybe you picked up a bottle of wine from your local winery at the farmer’s market every Saturday or had a tendency to grab a six-pack at the bodega on your walk home from the metro.

You’re going to have to be more cognizant of your routine so you can manage your emotions. This can happen a couple of ways. You could shop at a different store if you feel like the familiarity is what’s killing your resolve. Or you can face the urge head on.

I promise you that if you take a couple of deep breaths, remind yourself of your goals, and get your things without stopping down that dreaded aisle, the urge will pass fairly quickly.

If, on the other hand, you can’t stop thinking about that stupid aisle, then a change of scene may be best for you. Try the other market a few blocks down. I’m sure their produce is just as good.

Learn how to avoid triggers to drink during Dry January
learning how to avoid triggers in early sobriety

How To Tackle Unavoidably Boozy Scenes

Occasionally it is the case that an alcohol-centered activity cannot be avoided. Whether it’s a wine and cheese mixer you’re in charge of at work, your cousin’s wedding, or your best friend’s birthday party, some places just can’t be altogether avoided.

A lot of the tips I give for staying sober during holiday parties apply here as well, but I’ll repeat the big ones.

Have A Chat With The Bartender

The bar itself is probably a triggering place, but you might not be able to avoid it. You have to decide which is more triggering: being at the bar or being around people drinking while empty-handed. If it’s the latter, have a chat with the bartender early in the night.

Tell her that you’re not drinking alcohol and ask what mocktail she can mix up for you, and then keep them coming the rest of the night. There’s a good chance nobody will even notice that you’re drinking something non-alcoholic.

Remove Yourself From Overly Triggering People And Situations

Let’s say you’ve successfully made it through the first two hours of Cousin Sydney’s wedding reception, but now things are getting a little loose. The bride is whooping it up on the dance floor and pulls you over to her.

“Come on dance with me, woooooo!”

You oblige her, but then someone walks by with two fresh glasses of wine and hands one to the buzzed bride. She is all too happy to take it, but you politely decline. Despite the chat you all had a couple days ago, Sydney is NOT trying to see you turn down wine on HER wedding from the open bar SHE paid for.

What to do?

Depending on how tipsy Cousin Sydney is and what her temperament can be, there a few ways to handle this.

  1. Brush it off. “Girl, you’re so crazy! Get back out there. I see your husband wants to dance with you.”
  2. Take the drink, walk away, set it down on a table, and then go back to whatever you were doing before.
  3. Ignore Sydney. It’s likely she is “woo girling” somebody else at this point.
  4. Diffuse the situation. “Syd, if I drink that, then who’s going to hold your dress when you have to go pee?” (Trust me, guys. This is a thing at weddings)
  5. Politely tell the person holding the glass that you don’t drink and then shimmy your way off the dance floor before Sydney can say anything else.

If it’s any more aggressive than that, and you don’t have an ally at the reception who can give you some cover, you may need to make an early exit. At the end of the day, your sobriety is what’s most important and it’s not likely anyone will even remember you dipped out early.

Don’t Feel Like You Have To Explain Yourself

You’re at a work function that centers around the consumption of wine and cheese, and you’re not having any. The inevitable question will pop up, “Where’s your glass? The pinot is divine!”

Here’s something I wish I’d have known when I first stopped drinking: You can say, “No, I don’t drink,” and leave it at that.

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It’s wild! I know, but you actually don’t have to explain anything to anyone if you don’t want to. Lord, if I had a dime for every time somebody asked me if I wanted a drink and instead of just saying, no, I made it awkward.

Person: “Alicia, do you want a drink?”

Me: “No, I don’t drink.”

Person stares at me for longer than one second.

Me: “Well you see, I used to have a problem with alcohol…”

Most people are asking you if you want a drink because THEY feel uncomfortable seeing somebody not drinking when they’re drinking. They actually don’t care if you drink. It is 100% about them and their comfort level.

Keep that in mind the next time you feel a need to divulge a little too much. Even if you get hit with a follow-up, “Wow, really?”

The MOST you need to say to that is, “Yeah, really!”

Change the subject or leave the conversation. It doesn’t matter. Just be confident in your NO and keep it moving.

The Importance of Support Systems

Despite your best intentions, there are going to be times when you are triggered by something and it all feels a little too much. This is where you support systems come in.

If you’re REALLY struggling, try an AA meeting. You don’t have to do anything but show up and sit in the back if that’s all you want to do. But go, and have an open mind. You’ll find people there who can help you navigate what you’re going through right now.

Another great option, if possible, is to have a friend or family member you can rely on to call when things are getting to be too much. This should be someone you can confide in, vent to, who cares about your well-being and can talk you out of running to the liquor store late at night because you’re ready to give up.

Of course, you also have our Soberish Facebook Group here to support you. Join if you haven’t already.

The BEST advice I can give around triggers is that the feeling is temporary. In fact, it’s much more temporary than you probably think. You CAN get through it.

Journal Activity For The Day

Here are some writing prompts for today’s journal entry that connect to the article:

  • What are your biggest drinking triggers? Why do you think they trigger you? 
  • What upcoming event or social circumstance are you most concerned about? Why do you think you’ll want to drink? What do you plan to do?
  • What’s the hardest part about not drinking for you? How are handling it? 
  • What are some things you can do that don’t involve alcohol? 
  • Who or what are your support systems this month? How can you use them whenever you feel triggered to drink?
  • What strategies will you use to avoid triggers this month?

Further Inspiration

Lastly, here is a Ted Talk about handling temptation that you may find useful at this stage in the process.

 

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Alicia is an American expat, writer living in the Middle East. She chronicles the highs and lows of early sobriety on her site www.soberish.co. To contact, please e-mail contact@soberish.co.

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