Warning: this blog may contain strong language. Reader discretion is advised.
Recently I did that thing I wasn’t supposed to do. That thing I blog about not doing, the thing I speak about constantly and research endlessly. I got white-girl wasted.
If you have been following my blogs you would have read that I have been practicing ‘moderation management’ for the last few months, and that it’s been going really well. You would have also found a bunch of useful tips I prescribed for drinking moderately – including diluting drinks, drinking water between drinks, avoiding shots and not finishing drinks when you can. Great advice – all of which I discarded completely in place for a night of wild wedding debauchery recently.
Looking back I realise how vanilla my approach was, how logical and ‘pragmatic’ it all was. But I forgot to mention something very important in this whole equation, or perhaps I didn’t realise its significance at the time. Something that doesn’t care much for rules, regulations, systems and logic.
The definition of a ‘trigger’ is “anything, as an act or event, that serves as a stimulus and initiates or precipitates a reaction or series of reactions”. (source)
I am not sure at what point I decided I was immune to the trigger to get drunk, or whether I had just assumed I had come so far away from my old ways that this wasn’t something I needed to watch out for.
But boy, was I wrong.
There are many reasons why we may get triggered. Some of these reasons include when we are confronted by certain emotions like anger, sadness or loneliness, when we are faced with ‘uncertainties’ in our environment, when our ‘status’ or autonomy is being challenged, or when feel we may have lost ‘control’ over a situation. This could also be when we are around certain people or groups of friends who remind us of a particular time and place in our lives. So when I look back at the smorgasbord of triggers I found myself surrounded by at this particular event a few weeks back, it is no wonder I reacted the way I did. A highly-anticipated event, filled with plenty of old faces, an ex (nothing screams trigger more than that), very little control over my surroundings, all of the booze, and, in hindsight, zero preparation for all of the above.
To say that at some point I made a decision to go down this rabbit hole carries some truth but also a few caveats. Yes, I made the choice to drink at the wedding when in hindsight I should have abstained instead of thinking I would stick to my ‘moderation guidelines’ at this particular event. But at some point, after a ‘few’ drinks it felt the decision was made for me, or that I had no capacity for decision-making at all. I had been triggered, and sent off on an all-too familiar trajectory.
Understanding the biology behind ‘trigger states’ has helped me understand how this could have happened, and how none of us are really ‘immune’ to this. When we are operating normally and optimally, we are working with both our left and right brains (reasoning and emotional sides), and are engaging with our pre-frontal cortex – the seat of cognitive functioning, decision making and moderation of social behavior. When we are triggered, brain activity reduces in our pre-frontal cortex and lights up like a Christmas tree in our limbic system. The limbic system includes our amygdala – the emotional center of our brain as well as our hippocampus – our seat of memory. So, to put it simply, when we are triggered most of our reasoning, logic and intelligent decision-making goes out of the window in place of raw emotions and often we revert back to a set default habits and behaviours. Now, considering I spent around 14 years binge drinking, and a mere 9 months abstaining and 6 months drinking moderately, it’s really not rocket science to understand how my ‘sober’ neural pathways were not the ones to kick into gear at this time.
This does not mean to say that during these times we are rendered helpless, or hopeless, or that we have no agency or responsibility for our actions. We do. But it does mean that we need to be acutely aware of our environment and emotional state, and exert various coping mechanisms to ground ourselves during these times. Some of these techniques include identifying the emotions we are feeling at the time and the reasons we are feeling triggered, practicing breathing exercises, bringing ourselves back into our physical bodies and engaging with physical touch, sights, senses, and sights to try and shift ourselves back into our pre-frontal cortex.
It’s taken me some time to gather myself after this WTF moment, not to mentioned the plenty of time it has taken to get over the brutal hangover and the healthy dose of shame and self-loathing that has accompanied it, but I can now look back on this with a sense of humility and gratuity for the learnings it has given me.
What slipping up has taught me:
- I’m so fucking human. I am flawed, imperfect, and sometimes I lose my shit. I’ve managed to hold myself together pretty damn well for 15 months, and so one night of losing my marbles doesn’t sound that unfounded.
- I am no different to that girl or guy wasted in the bar. I have caught myself judging these people at various points in my sober journey and so this was a bit of a wake-up call in that, at any point, I could very easily be that person. I am just a few drinks away.
- I was not ‘prepared’ for triggers, and had no idea about how they work and what you are supposed to do when they happened. I still don’t know enough, and I have started to work on my understanding of this.
- I like to control my environment, when I am in unfamiliar territory and feel unsure about my surroundings I feel unsafe and tend to either get a massive urge to shove cake in my face, or drink, or both.
- Hangovers are the fucking worst. Seriously. I can’t believe I tolerated feeling like a dehydrated and partially brain-damaged mollusk for so many years. What a harsh reminder.
- I am unsure where I stand on drinking in moderation. I guess I saw first-hand how this can be a slippery slope. This has made me start to rethink my approach and that I need to make some changes going forward either in my moderation practice or to remove alcohol again completely. It really might be a safer bet to not have the option on the table at all.
- Blogging about this is not easy. It’s challenging to have a public platform where I put myself out there, and run the risk of ‘failure’ or not meeting up to my own expectations or perhaps those of others. I feel very vulnerable at times, and exposed. But I’ve tried to go about this as openly and honestly as possible, and I hope that my story is one many people can relate to.
- Hell, I am glad I have been doing what I have been doing these last few months! Not only for the amount of precious life energy I have saved from not drinking, the health I have afforded my body or the money I have saved, but also for the impact it seems to be making in others lives. Over the last few months I have been approached by many people who have told me my story has inspired them to make a change. Isn’t that crazy? 🙂 This is what keeps me going.
A few months back I started an exciting new journey into the world of Recovery Coaching. As I further my training, I learn more and more about my own journey and those of others’, and how we are so addicted in our lives. Be it to sex, drugs, alcohol, technology. We are hooked.
Nevermore have I felt more drive and passion to be on this path, to be challenging myself as well as others, to be learning from my mistakes, and importantly, to be prepared for more mistakes and learnings as I go.
The path to wellness is not linear. There are steps forward, and then there are steps back.
Right now, I’m moving my feet, and that’s good enough for me.