“This new habit formation is precisely what happens in recovery. Old, using habits are replaced with new habits: healthy habits, life-saving habits, happier habits, all developing due to repetition.”
~ Arlene J. Sherman, The Real Dope on Addiction and Recovery
If you have a long personal history of alcohol or drug abuse, getting sober – AND STAYING THAT WAY – can be a daunting undertaking. But with the proper help and support, you can learn new techniques that can “reprogram” your brain to respond differently and break old self-destructive habits.
One of the first lessons we learn in recovery is how to avoid external triggers – the people, places, and things that we used to associate with drinking and drugging.
But avoiding emotional triggers is a bit trickier – how can you break free from the old bad habits and “go-to” responses that you relied on when you were actively addicted?
What Are Emotional Triggers?
Emotional triggers are the feelings that typically preceded your past substance use. Difficult external experiences caused you to feel negative emotions, such as:
But regardless of the specific uncomfortable emotion, the response was always the same – alcohol and drugs.
Acknowledging Your Own Feelings
The first step towards retraining yourself to respond in healthier ways is to practice awareness of your emotional state. When you are mindful of your feelings, it is easier to recognize precisely which experiences, behaviors, thoughts, and emotions trigger an urge to drink or use.
Consciously Choosing New Responses
Here’s the good news – although the negative emotion will always come before the craving, you don’t have to be held hostage by your emotions. As soon as you recognize that you are feeling too afraid, too angry, too bored, etc., you can proactively take steps to protect yourself.
Some positive actions you might take could include:
- For Anxiety, Fear, or Anger –
- Go for a walk or run
- Practice yoga
- Read recovery literature
- Let go of your negative feelings by journaling, poetry therapy, or art
- Clean your home
- For sadness or loneliness –
- Call or text sober friends and family
- Invite someone over for dinner or coffee
- Interact on social media
- Go to a 12-Step meeting
- Get a pet
- For boredom –
- Practice a new hobby
- Go to a movie
- Take a class
- Learn a new language or skill
- Get a job – or even a second job
The specific positive action you take matters less than the fact that you are taking it – you are purposefully replacing an old self-destructive habit with a new, healthier action. It will take time and a bit of trial-and-error, but eventually, your new responses will become more automatic and second nature.
Of course, anytime you are struggling, it is ALWAYS a good idea to talk it out with someone else – other people in recovery, your sponsor, your therapist, or your addiction specialist.
Lasting Recovery outpatient addiction rehab in San Diego can help you acquire the life and coping skills need to support your long-term sobriety.