Filtering Out Triggers and Urges in Long Term Sobriety

Filtering Out Triggers and Urges in Long Term Sobriety


How do you go about filtering out those triggers and urges that you get during long term sobriety?

How do you go from being a newcomer in recovery who sometimes will think of using their drug of choice, to someone who is living in long term recovery and who is completely free from the obsession to self medicate all the time?

When you first get into addiction recovery you are probably thinking about using your drug of choice several dozen times per day. Using was our solution for everything. It was how we managed our life and our day to day activity. If we were going out to do something we got high first. If we were going to a family event we would self medicate. If we were happy we would celebrate by getting high. If we were feeling bad or depressed we would want to self medicate. And so on. Everything was an excuse to use our drug of choice. Our entire lives revolved around using drugs.

That’s addiction.

So when you get clean and sober, everything is suddenly very raw. Your emotions are jumping around and they are demanding that you medicate them away. Feeling your emotions is uncomfortable when you are used to self medicating all the time. So suddenly you are overwhelmed with triggers and urges to use drugs.

The best way to get through this early period is to do so in the safety of an addiction treatment center. At least there you are removed from the threat of relapse, at least in the immediate. You cannot just throw up your hands and relapse on the spot, because you are in a controlled environment. So you choose to go to a 28 day program in order to protect yourself from the immediate threat of relapse.

The reality is that if you can make the decision to go to rehab then you can get 28 days of sobriety under your belt without too much trouble. Once you are there, staying clean and sober is easy, at least for the 28 days that you are “on the inside.” Once you step back out into the real world it is a whole new ball game, and relapse is lurking around every corner–at least potentially. Now it is up to you in order to use the tools that you learned about in the rehab program so that you can fight back against the triggers and urges and build this new life for yourself in recovery.

So you go to rehab for 28 days. While you are there it is easy to remain clean. And after you have been clean and sober for say, 18 months or so, staying clean on the outside is actually fairly automatic as well. In other words, after a year or two of living a recovery program, the daily triggers and urges have largely been eliminated. They have subsided almost completely. After 18 months in recovery, you no longer have to think about being clean and working a recovery program every 5 minutes of your day. It becomes more natural, more automatic. This does not mean that you are cured, and it also does not mean that you will never have another urge or trigger to use drugs.

But clearly, the trouble spot is after leaving the 28 day rehab program, and going through about that first 18 months or so of early recovery.

The question is: How do you get through that time period, the first 18 months, without giving in to triggers or urges? And how do you learn to process those triggers so that they subside completely?

The answer to those questions could fill an entire book, and really this is the whole point of recovery programs. So there is a lot of information to be learned in the first 18 months of recovery.

I would start with the basic suggestions: One, go to rehab and do the 28 days. This is critical and in many cases it is necessary. This is the start of the foundation you are building for a new life in recovery. Getting a solid 28 days in a rehab facility is a strong way to start.

Second, follow up with aftercare. The rehab is going to tell you what to do. They are going to recommend certain things such as 90 AA meetings in 90 days, maybe counseling or therapy or IOP, and you should definitely follow through with whatever they suggest to you.

If you fail to follow through with the aftercare suggestions then you will almost certainly not be looking at 18 months clean and sober one day. You will relapse instead.

The key to getting through this first 18 months is to dedicate your entire life to recovery. It has to be your number one priority over everything else.

That means that you go to the meetings, you go to the counseling, you listen to what people are telling you to do and you actually start taking suggestions. You cannot just listen to advice politely and then ignore the advice and go do your own thing.

If you try to “do your own thing” in the first 18 months of recovery, you are going to relapse. Period.

Instead, you have to listen to other people and do what they are telling you to do. I don’t care how smart you are. In fact, the more intelligent you are, the more you need to ignore your own ideas for the next 18 months and simply do what your therapist, counselor, and AA sponsor tell you to do.

This is how you “get out of your own way.” This is, in essence, how you stop “doing your own will” and instead you are start seeking out God’s will for yourself. If it is your own idea then there is huge potential for you to get into trouble as a result.

So what of the triggers and the urges? How do those magically disappear over these first 18 months?

Your life will slowly fill up with meaning and purpose if you are working a recovery program. If you are taking suggestions and doing what you are told to do then your life will start to get better and better. Pretty soon you will reach a day in which you realize that you had not a single trigger or craving to use your drug of choice. That should happen within the first year.

After about 18 months that will become the normal everyday existence for you. You will walk around with a new purpose in life and you will not be thinking of drugs or alcohol all the time. The obsession will have been completely lifted from you. Sure, you may see a beer commercial one day and suddenly remember what the good times were like, but that will be fleeting and it will pass and it will be no big deal any more. And that won’t happen every single day. You will have entire months of your life in which you never once think of using drugs or alcohol. That’s true freedom.

And the price to achieve this state of freedom is that you must do the work in early recovery. That first year or two of recovery has to be intense work on yourself, on personal growth. It will not be comfortable for you to do this because you are going to be vulnerable, you are going to be taking advice, you are going to be humble and in “learning mode.” It is uncomfortable to do this, which is why most people end up relapsing instead.

So if you want to eliminate triggers and urges and cravings then you need to start working on personal growth. Get a therapist, get a sponsor, and start taking advice from those sources. If you don’t have those resources yet then I would suggest that you start with inpatient rehab. Good luck!