Anticipating Unexpected Triggers

Seemingly Irrelevant Decisions STEP

As we’re building our skillset in this alcohol-free life, it’s important to identify the triggers you know will increase your likelihood of entering a craving state. Many of these are obvious, like going to a bar, spending time with your friends who drink a lot, or opening the pantry and seeing a bottle staring at you. But oftentimes, we can experience something seemingly innocuous that reminds our brains of our past drinking life, catching us by surprise. It’s important to consider unexpected triggers, so that you’re better equipped to handle them when they arise.

While this data can be collected in real time, of course, it’s better to think about these situations before they happen. A helpful exercise to identify these unexpected triggers is to script out (journal) a typical day, start to finish. List every step of your day, from the moment your alarm goes off, to the moment you close your eyes at the end of the day. What do you do? What people and things are around you? What do you see, smell, touch, taste, hear? What is the weather like? What businesses do you walk by, what ads do you see on social media, what do others around you do? How are you feeling at different times of day? By doing this, we can start to identify little bits of our day that might trip us up.

For example, perhap you’ve realized that your daily commute to and from work passes your old liquor store. When you go to work in the morning, your brain makes a mental note of it as you drive by. By the end of the day, when your energy has waned significantly, your brain is anticipating this commute and you might even end up pulling into the parking lot before you realize what’s happening.

Or perhaps you’ve noticed that in the springtime, you associate the warm breeze with boozy brunch on a patio somewhere. Without being aware of this association, you might walk outside to an especially sunny day and suddenly experience a craving. But equipped with this knowledge, you can go into the season knowing how you’ve associated the weather in the past, and begin rewriting that association with beautiful things like an outdoor yoga class, a walk with a friend, or a fresh bouquet of flowers.

We can also script out special events before they occur, so that we’re mentally and emotionally prepared for a variety of scenarios. This is extremely helpful for events like weddings, birthday parties, and other celebrations where many people are drinking. Anticipate how you’ll answer when someone offers you a drink, script out the delicious alcohol-free beverage you’ll order at the open bar, notice if you’ve created a weird association with the bridal march song and champagne.

By mentally walking through our day-to-day, we can sharpen our alcohol-free skills by noticing all of the things that our brains unwittingly associate with alcohol use. The more we notice these associations, the more capable we are of heading them off and creating new, positive associations. Eventually, we’ll no longer experience cravings in association with these unexpected triggers.