I was walking my dog this morning around 7:30am as I usually do every day. I always enjoy this walk, and I especially enjoy the mornings ever since I got sober. However, this morning, I got triggered by a really drunk guy walking back from an all-night fiesta.
First, let me explain. I live in a beach town loaded with tourists going back and forth daily. They party a lot, buy souvenirs, and eat at the many cute cafes found along the main strip.
I enjoy the vibe, but 4 years into sobriety means that avoid the parties near the beach at night. I have no problem with others partying so long as I’m not near it. Because I know that excessive drinking still triggers me.
And this morning was an especially big trigger. As we were walking, the drunk guy was bent over in the bushes throwing up. Then he walked over to his buddy to lean on him while hestaggered to get back to his hotel.
Every part of my body lurched. Watching someone throw up from drinking is nauseating enough. But, the worst part is the psychological PTSD that washed over me at the moment.
The first time I saw someone sick from alcohol, I was about eight years old. I woke up one night thirsty and went down to the kitchen to get water. As I came back up the stairs, I heard my father throwing up in the bathroom.
I ascended the stairs slowly, my whole body cramped with fear and anger. My father had left the bathroom door open, so I had a clear view of him bent over and retching. To this day, this memory haunts me, and I’m not sure when it will ever be ok.
My father died from alcoholic cirrhosis three and a half years ago. He was a kind and gentle person but he had a tortured soul. I had forgotten about the memories of his drinking because I, too, began drinking at an early age. I suppose I dealt with the effects of these memories by joining in.
Once I got sober, those memories flooded back with a vengeance, and I can’t yet find peace with them. Usually, I forget about them until, like this morning, I get triggered.
What makes it worse is knowing that I could also be found retching in the bushes during my earlier days of drinking. And anytime I see people hungover or sick, it brings back the worst memories of the mornings after.
It may seem like I’m judging the guy throwing up in the bushes, but I’m not. I’m well aware that what he triggered in me was not about him. It was about my own past, which is why I call it a trigger.
Many of us, who are working on our sobriety, get triggered by excessive drinking. It brings up our past as we used to be those people too. We may have hurt ourselves and others we care about. We may also have a family history of alcoholism that adds more fuel to the fire.
As with any trigger, we have the potential to launch into judgment or harsh reactions. But of course, this doesn’t help. What does help is to go into these uncomfortable feelings, slowly and with awareness. If we can sit with the memories and the feelings they bring up, the discomfort usually passes.
Indeed, one of the hardest parts of getting sober is confronting situations where others are drinking heavily. It can be so painful that many of us have to steer clear from anyone who drinks until we get a better handle on it.
These days, I can handle being with people who drink socially, but I still can’t manage being around really drunk people, and I’m not sure I ever will.
And you know what? I think that’s perfectly fine. We do not have to subject ourselves to excessive drinking just because it’s so accepted in our society. One of the main things we learn in sobriety is how to effectively protect our boundaries.
My boundaries were crossed as a child when I had to watch my father be sick from drinking. They were also crossed by having to endure adults who drank excessively without considering how it impacted the psyches of the children around them.
When you have your boundaries crossed at a young age, you don’t learn how to protect them. In sobriety, we begin to learn. It’s not easy because often we’re told that our boundaries don’t matter. But they do, they matter a lot.
Unfortunately, there will be times when triggers happen because we walk right into them. This is a tough part of sobriety, but it’s what we do about it that matters.
If you’re like me and you get triggered by excessive drinking, the best thing to do is take some deep breaths and go somewhere safe and quiet. Then, resist pushing the feelings away. Instead, go into them and see what memories are brought up.
Next, connect the feelings to the memories. Do you feel angry, highly disturbed, nauseated, or just sad? Whatever the feelings are, let them come and allow any expressions to leave your body.
Sometimes, I need to cry or shake out my hands or jump up and down to release the pain and anger. Do whatever helps, so long as you’re not hurting or causing pain to anyone else around you.
We may always be triggered by excessive drinking, but over time and the more we stay aware, it’ll get easier to manage.