Pulling The Trigger

Trigger - Roy Roger's Horse
Trigger – Roy Roger’s Horse

I don’t believe in triggers.

There.  I said it.

I know that there are many people who swear by them, and that the term “trigger” is found in the recovery lexicon.  It’s somewhat ingrained in the collective psyche of those who suffer from alcoholism and with those who work with them.  I have heard the term in AA meetings, in treatment, on recovery forums (AA based and non-AA based), on blogs, in mainstream media, and in countless talks and seminars.  It’s something that we see taught to see as a part of recovery, as something to be managed or overcome.

But I still don’t believe in triggers.

When I was in treatment, we were mandated to hit several meeting a week, whether it be AA or CA or NA, depending on our “drug-of-choice” (or “drug-of-no-choice” as I like to call it).   At one point, I asked one of the guys there, an addict, if he was going to join me at one particular meeting.  He said that he couldn’t, because the bus going there passes by an area that “triggered” him – it was an area that he used to buy drugs.  I didn’t think much of it at the time, but later thought to myself, “Is he going to avoid that part of town forever?”

So it was from there that I heard of these “triggers” – emotional, physical, and mental.  There were people, places and things that we needed avoiding to ensure we didn’t relapse.   We were so very powerless over these people, places and things.  We wrote out what triggered us, we spoke about triggers, we did everything short of doing role playing to avoid what would trigger us. Everyone, it would seem, was trigger happy.


Now, I do understand of course what they mean by the word “trigger”.  I know that it’s something that reminds us or puts us in a state of mind of how it was when we drank, and would possibly give us the reason to pick up a drink.   It may be an ex, or it could be a particular bar, or it’s perhaps an event like a wedding.  I certainly had associations to places or things that recalled my drinking days.  I certainly knew very early on that it was difficult to do those certain things or be in those states of mind so young in recovery.  The problem is that I couldn’t avoid things forever.  And I think that is where I have a disagreement with the idea of triggers.

For this alcoholic, everything was a trigger in my drinking days.  The fact that I was still me, stuck in my horrible skin in my horrible mind surrounded by horrible people, was enough for me to want to drink.  The fact that I took in air was a trigger.  So would I be holed up in a cave forever when I stopped drinking?  How could I go through life avoiding certain people, certain places and certain events (weddings, funerals, get togethers, celebrations, birthdays, bar mitzvahs, luncheons, picnics, buffets, restaurants, etc?)  How could I pretend that alcohol didn’t exist, or just be, knowing that at anytime, something would jump me by accident and there I am, guzzling vodka?  I couldn’t.

Even vegetables are against me.
Even vegetables are against me.

To place the blame of my eventual relapse on something external, something out of myself, dooms me forever.  I will lose every time.  To go with the mindset that something else is responsible for my alcohol intake is taking the easy way out.  And again, alcoholism wins.  I didn’t drink because I was in a certain club, or because I was with a certain group of guys, or because I was always depressed.  Those may have been circumstances, nothing else, but I drank because I couldn’t stand being in my own skin.  I drank because if you knew how I felt when I didn’t drink, you’d drink too.  I drank because I didn’t know how to be in this world.  I drank because I am an alcoholic.  So to tell me that when I stop drinking, things will be fine is a lie.  I have removed the medicine, and now need to work on the real problem – me.  I need to face life without alcohol.  And that’s the hard part.  That’s the work.  And for me, it was through AA that I did the work, and still do it today.  So you see, it’s by dealing with the underlying causes and conditions that brought me to drink, that I don’t have the urge to drink and hide anymore.

The nightmare, for me, would be thinking that there were these triggers out there, just giving me a reason to relapse.  I would be struggling every single moment of the day, fighting my untreated alcoholism tooth and nail, draining my spirit and mind by fending off urges from all moments of the day and night until I fell into a fitful sleep.  That’s is not living, to me.

Being in that grey zone between the pain of not drinking, and the pain of drinking was a place of abandonment, a place of shaded borders, a place where the Light did not enter nor reflected on the pools of stagnant water that sat there. This was the time for me when suicide suddenly appeared on the menu.  The Ultimate Last Call beckoned me often, and I often wished for a chamber and a trigger.  This is the place where many alcoholics find it easier to die than to live.


For me to believe in triggers means that I can never recover.  That’s because then the reason for drinking never sits in me, when in fact it does.  I know of people six or seven years of sobriety still cannot pass by a liquor store or go down the booze aisle at the grocery store.  I recall a guy at a meeting who couldn’t have pop because the sound of the can opening up reminded him of beer.  I know lots of men and women who can’t go near X or be around Y ever because they feel that they will drink.   That’s not recovery.  That might not even be sobriety.  That’s abstinence.

That’s imprisonment.

I like freedom.  I like the freedom to go where I please, see who I please, dine where I please and not have the siren calls of alcohol drift my way.  I handle alcohol often at work.  I am often surrounded by empties and people socializing and spilling wine and chugging shots.  We have wine in the house for guests, or for the occasional glass my wife takes.  I can be around drunk people, I can watch vodka ads, and I can be in all the situations I used to be in when I drank and not think of drinking.  And not white-knuckling it.  True freedom.

Easier said than done, I know.

I didn’t get like that overnight, and I still need do the work I need to do in my recovery to avoid complacency –  I hit meetings, talk to others, work with and sponsor alcoholic men, read the literature, pray, meditate, etc.  I love recovery because I love living and I love life.  I couldn’t say that two years ago or so.  I love the alcoholics I have met in real life, in the blogosphere (real people too, I know!), on forums, at conventions, online…it’s all been a wonderful thing.  It took me time to get to where I am at, and certainly early on I had to make sure I was in safe places, and sometimes in the safety of others to help me along.  I had thoughts of drinking, certainly, and I had to do what I needed to do to make sure I didn’t drink.  But through the work, connecting to the Creator and helping others, that mental obsession is gone.

goldfish jumping out of the water

That is why I don’t believe in triggers.  It’s an inside job, and there is no thing, no person , no event  that will “trigger” me or “make” me drink.  The only thing that gets a drink in my hand is untreated alcoholism.  Pure and simple.  Anything else is an excuse.

I realize I am rant-y with this, but this is a serious, fatal disease.  I don’t think people realize how much alcoholism kills.

Let’s not just live by breathing, but live by love, light and freedom.

Love to all.



25 Comments Add yours

  1. risingwoman says:

    You know, you’re the first person who thinks the way that I do: that triggers are kinds bullshit. I mean, yeah, things can set off the urge to drink, no question. But it’s how I handle the response to the external thing internally that determines me staying sober.

    There will always ALWAYS be a reason to drink. Every day brings potential reasons/triggers. But inside, I must remain strong and constant and solid. Like a ship at full mast, I need to sail through the crap and storms and turmoil, and not flag. That’s my job, my responsibility. It’s on me.

    I had to learn this, sure. It puts more weight on me, I get that. But it also puts control in my hands – and that’s where it belongs.

    1. Hi Michelle – thanks for the comments. It’s exactly what you said there that I didn’t mention in the post – it’s our *reactions* to the external things that we certainly have control over. Regardless of how we get sober, we all have to push through those storms and turmoil. I know I did, and while drinking isn’t on my mind anymore, I still have to push through things that make me uncomfortable and/or disturbed, or nothing changes.

      Thanks for the insight…loved it!


  2. good2begone says:

    Add me to the list of non trigger believers. If I did believe in them then I would only have one……waking up. If I was awake, I needed a drink. Simple as that. Once I worked the steps and had that not so elusive spiritual experience, I have been able to wake up and not have that need or desire. It has been removed.

    I am 100% on board with this post my friend. Triggers are excuses to keep recovery out of reach. I don’t need excuses any more….I need solution.

    And that is why I follow blogs such as yours and continue to follow the suggestions of my sponsor, and stay involved in the program of recovery that literally saved my life. Alcoholics Anonymous.

    Another spot on post.


    1. Hey g2bg – means a lot to hear from you! I wasn’t sure how the comments (if any) would roll. Seems to be heresy in the rooms if you gun at triggers (no pun intended). They seem to be a
      “part” of recovery (like HALT – don’t get me on that one either!). But glad to have you in the chorus on this one.

      Have a peaceful day, kind sir!


  3. Al K Hall says:

    Very interesting post, Paul! Do i believe in triggers? i guess i do if a trigger is something outside me that tempts me to drink. In the rooms here in Yeaman, they talk about HALT, meaning those of us in recovery should avoid situations where we are Hungry, Angry, Lonely and Tired because they may increase our desire to drink, or trigger us.
    Now, do i believe a trigger is an irrepressible urge to drink and thus an excuse to defend a relapse? Absolutely not. A situation cannot “make” me drink, only i can make me drink. And that’s the heart of the situation right there. If i choose to drink in a specific situation, it means i chose to drink, and if i’m making choices about my drinking it means i took back control from my Higher Power and i’m doomed anyway.

    1. Hey Al – I think that we on the same page. There are some things that certainly can increase our desire to drink, for sure, but then it goes to say that the desire to drink is already there. And hence it is said that X, Y or Z trigger is on excuse to drink, because I have already had it in my mind that I am going to drink…at some point, whether I know it or not! Relapses are inside jobs, and occur emotionally long before the glass turns up in the hand. Like Michelle mentioned in the comment up front, it’s our reactions to these external things that we have control over. But for this alcoholic, I need my Higher Power on my side. I can’t do it on my own! But I love what you say at the end – about making choices in your drinking means that you’ve taken back control from your HP – very true, sir.

      Awesome comments, again.

      Thank you.

  4. AmyNJ says:

    In my experience…I AM THE TRIGGER! no matter the people, places or things. Love this post, so true.

    1. Hi Amy – so glad you came by to visit this corner of the world!! And yes, I am the trigger too!


  5. zachandclem says:

    This is truly an inspirational thought, I’m changing my understanding of recovery as I fucking read this. Good stuff!!

    1. Ha ha….thanks! Glad I can help in some small way. Nice seeing you over here, as usual 🙂


  6. UnPickled says:

    Last night I was watching a movie at home and absently reached my hand out to the table beside me for a glass of wine that (of course) wasn’t there. I couldn’t believe it! I am over 2 YEARS SOBER and I reached for a phantom glass the way a widow keeps chatting to her husband years after he’s passed. It was a chance to laugh at myself and press on. That’s what a trigger means to me – a moment that you must press through – and you are so right to say that every moment requires effort. The idea of triggers can be helpful for the newly sober in terms of planning ahead – if you are going to a gathering bring your own beverages and bring your own vehicle so you can get the hell out if you need to – but I like your thinking that it’s a mistake to hang onto places and things as an excuse. Thanks for challenging an idea that isn’t questioned enough. Here’s to freedom!

    1. Wow – hilarious and at the same time, how powerful is the mind?? You are right in that we must press through these times. I do believe in watching ourselves as well, especially early on in recovery. Even with my HP, working the steps, etc. I was still not at a place where I could freely pass to a fro like I can now. Too dangerous. So yeah, no need for me to stroll into the liquor store when I have no reason to be there (like a good reason is….?)

      Here’s to freedom indeed!

      Thanks for being here 🙂

      Love and light,

  7. You are clearly someone who walks the walk and talks the talk! And I couldn’t agree with you more about triggers or anything else in recovery that keeps you tied to the addiction.

    The dangers of ‘triggers’ was something that was warned of greatly in my early days of recovery. And it was good advice in that it made me aware of the reasons behind my drinking and to deal with them, not avoid them. Because there is so much truth in what you say here about people who get caught up in the recovery of addiction rather than live a life free from addiction.

    I would still describe myself as an alcoholic, and I don’t go to bars/clubs – not because they are going to overwhelm me but because I have found much better things to do in my sobriety!

    Love your refreshing honesty and openness 🙂

    1. Hi Carolyn,

      I love what you said about not going to bars or clubs – there are so many other things to do in our sober lives. I don’t know about you, but I have probably passed my allotted bar/club/pub number a long time ago. So now and then I will go in, usually to have dinner with someone, but other than that, I don’t need to be there. Just like you – not that I can’t, but I would rather be somewhere else.

      Thank you so much for your generous spirit, and for being here.


  8. Mrs D says:

    “The fact that I took in air was a trigger.” Ha ha, too true. I agree with so much of what you say. Life is a trigger. Stress is a trigger. Sadness is a trigger, so is anger. Are we going to avoid feeling these ways for the rest of our life? No! So we learn to live with emotions and going to places and things and doing it all without alcohol or drugs. That’s living sober. Not avoidance, living. Now – having said that, I am a big believer in not going to a party or event (or removing yourself early) if you just aren’t in the mood to be around drunk people .. for me that’s not about avoiding temptation, it’s about taking care of your own sober state of mind, looking after yourself. Great post xxxx

    1. Mrs D – you bring up a great point. I should have made it clearer that triggers and in protecting your sobriety are two different things, and you make a very important distinction. I 100% agree with what you say about not going to places where alcohol is a main attraction, especially early on in recovery. I did the same thing, and I tell others the same. Check your motives, is what I say. And I have heard a million times over the stories from those who thought they were “OK” and went to a party and then relapsed. And of course, these are often people with little bits and pieces of sobriety.

      We do need to look after ourselves, in all ways.

      As usual, love having you here and your insight, Mrs. D!


  9. We’ll I guess I am one of those people! Lol! I am almost 5 years sober and I still stay away from things and places that might trigger me! Why? Because I don’t need to chance it, because I am honest enough with myself to know that I can’t always trust myself! Today I absolutely cherish my sobriety! It took me nearly seven years of trying to get sober to finally stay sober! And I have walked into a store in the past, to grab lunch and walked out with couple of bottles of wine. Struck drunk! yup! Been there too! My only excuse was – I am an alcoholic, I want to drink! – and yes I get it, it is my choice but I also know not to put my sobriety in jeopardy. I can do what I want and go where I want to too, but I do pick and choose based on how comfortable I would feel. I don’t fool around with this thing! It has whooped my butt too many times! Lol! Great post Paul!

    1. Hi NSL – there is absolutely nothing wrong with protecting your sobriety. We all do it. We all do it in our ways. For me it may not be in where I go per se, but it’s in how I might act or feel towards something or someone. For me I have to avoid reacting in certain ways – old ways – to protect my sobriety. So we don’t put our sobriety in jeopardy. I don’t test the waters for the sake of testing them. Some people crash and burn that way. I have been through a ton of “firsts” – first time at a party, first time in alone in the house, first time doing X (whatever X was that I associated with drinking). But I can’t be cocky about it. The big book tells us this in the 10th step promises. So we manage what and where we can.

      Thanks for the wonderful comments 🙂


  10. I absolutely, 100%, totally agree with what you said in this post! Lay it on them!

    1. Ha ha…thanks for the support! Nice to hear from ya 🙂


  11. I also don’t believe in triggers. It’s not as commonly used term here {Australia} But if I was concerned about triggers then I would never have gotten sober. Being awake & conscious was my trigger along with any day ending with “Y”. and any time between midnight and 11.59pm.

  12. Hi Elanor – thanks for the comments! I hear you on the trigger thing – I had those seven triggers as well, As long as I was conscious, drink was on the mind, and there wasn’t anything or anyone that would have gotten me to drink. The obsession was already there. Glad that it’s not used so much there – it’s widely used here, even in AA. Oh well, in the grand scheme of things it’s not a biggie.

    Have a wonderful day, my antipodean friend 🙂


  13. Reblogged this on Dharma Goddess: The Journey to Me and commented:
    What a great perspective!

  14. Georgina19 says:

    I’m in very early recovery; well that’s what I thought until this morning when I was searching through a pile of old paperwork and found over 2 years of notes to self, written on various scraps and pieces of paper, cards, envelopes and even iconic brown paper bags (there were a few poems in there too – not bad either, Ha! ). All of the notes were relentlessly pleading with and begging me to please finally stop drinking forever, telling me I’m alcoholic and cannot drink and it cannot go on like this. I was in that terrifying grey zone of pain you so accurately describe. (Thanks so much for that by the way).

    Anyway, amongst all of those scribblings, I found a list of “Triggers” I’d made. Not a single one of them was a place or person. They were all circumstances which had arisen from me being an alcoholic and from me making making poor personal judgements and decisions. I found the list interesting for the very reasons you have put forth and also because I’d written it when I was in that “Grey Zone”. I think you better copyright that definition Paul, it’s the very best I’ve come across yet.

    So yes, I totally agree with your post, even at this very early stage of my recovery. The only person with a finger on the trigger would be me and that ain’t going to happen this time. Thank you.

    ps: First time I’ve ever referred to “my recovery” btw, despite going to my first AA meeting 18 months ago and on and off thereafter. Previously, I just counted days of sobriety. Wow! 🙂

    1. Paul S says:

      Welcome Georgina!
      thanks for the kind words and for your comments. It’s been a while since I re-read this post, and I still stand by what I said. I think that the Grey Zone was a very difficult one for me to stay in. It was painful. That is also where I was most vulnerable. But I was blessed to move through it and into light. And that is where I plan to stay!

      I am very glad to hear that you are more open to being in “recovery” and feeling like you are being active in it rather than just hoping it will happen through osmosis.

      Glad you’re here and so glad that you’re working at it!

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