Happy Triggers – And Their Not-So-Happy Effects

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“I landed that promotion! Let’s go out and celebrate!”

Tom could feel his friend’s excitement through the phone. Tom was happy for Ryan, and he absolutely wanted to celebrate with him…but Tom knew what that meant. Hanging out at the bar. Making toasts. Raising a glass of the stuff that nearly ruined his life in honor of his friend’s success in life. He knew it was not a good environment for his recovery, but he didn’t know how to explain that to Ryan. Maybe he should just go and support his friend. He could order something non-alcoholic. Or maybe he could handle just one drink…you know…to celebrate.

Tom landed in treacherous waters – the same place many in recovery find themselves. Warned repeatedly about triggers and how to avoid them, those in recovery often overlook the possibility that happy moments might be among those triggers. Their recovery plan focuses on handling negative emotions, coping with traumatic memories, and learning to manage stress.

Who knew it might be times of joy and celebration that cause a relapse?

How Happy Leads to Hurdles

Like Ryan’s promotion celebration, these events are often tempting and hard to avoid. Family and friend obligations are frequently involved. ‘Come to the birthday party’ – where alcohol will be served. ‘Attend a housewarming’ – where the owner will celebrate with a bottle of champagne. You feel like you can’t say “no” to the event without hurting their feelings. You don’t want to let them down, but you also don’t want to let yourself down by returning to old habits. It’s a tough spot.

Other times, these happy triggers don’t involve family and friends at all. They are moments when you want to celebrate.

Maybe you finish a big project and, in your old life, you would have rewarded yourself with a drink. Maybe you’re just happy to have an entire evening to relax and enjoy your favorite flick. The problem is, you always used to have a glass or two of wine while you watched movies. Or maybe you’re on vacation, and others at the pool are sipping on colorful drinks that look like fun. Oh, those happy triggers.

Being Prepared For the Good Times

Whatever the situation, you’re in the midst of bliss – then suddenly – you’re battling the urge to use. Since these happy moments can hit you even more unexpectedly than sad triggers, it’s important to prepare for them. Try the following simple ABC’s to keep these happy times…happy.

  • Ask a Buddy

    If you’ll be attending a celebratory occasion where you know you’ll be tempted to use, bring a friend. Since these events can cause you to become overconfident and let your guard down, make sure someone is there with you who keeps you accountable. Invite someone who knows your recovery plan and will help you stick to it.

  • Be Honest

    You might be worried about offending your family or friends. You don’t want to “rain on their parade” by either saying no to the celebration or not participating fully. Cut through all the worry and awkward avoidance’s by being honest. Tell them about your concerns. Let them know the situation might prove tempting for you. Let them know you want to celebrate with them, but you don’t want to relapse. If they care about you, they should appreciate your honesty, and they may even offer ideas of how to celebrate with them…without substances.

  • Create New Traditions

    Establish new patterns that provide healthier ways to celebrate. If you used to crack open a beer every time you completed a project, find a new way to reward yourself. Maybe you buy a new tool, or enjoy your favorite dessert. If you used to celebrate work success with the team by attending happy hour, come up with a new plan. Have a “breakfast of success,” or an employee appreciation awards ceremony at the office. If you always drank wine while watching your favorite Oscar-winner, try a different treat. Maybe you can start looking forward to mango smoothies instead of Merlot.

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