People who are new in Recovery are warned to avoid these, as getting involved with people, places and things that are connected with our active Addiction, can trigger a flare up of the disease!
As a new-comer, it was easy for me to understand this, because when I tried to quit on my own, I often failed because I choose to spend time with the same people, in the same places, doing the same old things as when I was drinking and drugging! Once I decided to commit to Sobriety, many of my ‘friends’ took bets on how long I would last, the general consensus was less than two weeks! Fortunately, these friends faded out of the picture once it became clear that I was serious, and I stopped tagging along with them to the bars.
In time, I gained new friends as I built new relationships with people both in and out of Recovery, and my life moved forward! With the help of the 12-steps and (just as important) the people who were now in my life, I survived career changes, the deaths of people I loved, completing graduate school, moving from New York City to the wilds of Pennsylvania, divorce, single parenting, illness, injuries, and other ‘life-stuff’ while staying Sober!
Facing these challenges in Recovery has taught me that ‘people, places and things’ can also work in a positive way. For example, if I keep myself close to healthy people, frequent places that are good for me (i.e. not a bar), and do positive things, my life gets better and Sobriety gets stronger!
While I have not always worked a perfect program of Recovery, one of the few things I did well, was to stay away from those people, places and things that could trigger active Addiction. By the time I had 12 years Sober, I figured I was doing okay, as I no longer associated with anyone from my old partying days, and spent most of my time raising my young daughter, going to meetings, church and work!
As it happened, my twelfth Sober anniversary was on September 11, 2001, needless to say, my anniversary was not the main topic of conversation at meetings on that day!
About a week and a half later, I was back in New York City. I had worked in the Wall Street area for years, including at 5 World Trade Center, where I worked when I first got Sober. It was because of my history, that I wanted to see the site for myself. My first shock came when I walked out onto the passenger deck of the Staten Island ferry, as we were heading toward Manhattan. Without the towers, it was difficult to get my bearings, smoke was still rising from the empty place on the sky-line, and I was not alone when I gasped at the sight. Some of the other passengers were overcome with emotion and began to cry as we stood on the front of the boat watching the city come closer.
Once off the boat, I made my way toward Ground Zero. The first thing I noticed was that there was dust everywhere and a terrible odor, and then I got a good look at the shattered remains of the buildings I used to work in! There were crowds of people there, most walking slowly, staring in disbelief. I had seen the site on TV, but in person, it was so much more moving! Many people were crying and visibly shaken. Having had a history in that area, it all became a bit too much for me and I needed a break. So, I decided to make my way down to Nassau Street, one of the places where I used to go out drinking with my friends, curious to see what was going on down there, in the midst of this tragedy.
When I stepped onto the street, I saw it was pretty much business as usual! The bars were open, music poured out onto the street through the open doors, and when I walked up to the entrance of one of my regular bars, I could see people inside, drinking, as if nothing was wrong. As I stood there, I was reminded of the warning about staying away from people, places and things that could trigger my Addiction, because in that moment, I forgot about everything that was going on a few blocks away, and did not consider that I had been Sober for years. The monster woke up and it was like I had stepped back in time, and it was 1987, and I was on my way to meet up with my friends for (many) drinks. Without thinking about it, I was tempted to walk right inside and order a drink! I even imagined that my old bar stool would be waiting for me!
These thoughts both surprised and scared me, so I turned and got out of there, immediately! Within the hour I was back on the ferry and heading home! And I made sure to hit a meeting that evening!
That walk to Nassau Street brought home to me just how strong Addiction is, and that Recovery is not something that is ‘once and done’, but is to be practiced on a daily basis, as we never know when a person, place or thing will wake up the monster of Addiction in us!
Since that day, there have been other times, while at a party, a restaurant with a bar, wedding, etc., when I have felt like I was not in a place where I needed to be; however, due to all I have learned from practicing my Recovery (with a lot of help from those around me) I have gained tools that have helped me to better handle these situations.
Among these tools, was to know when to leave! To not be shy about leaving an event where the booze was flowing freely. It was pointed out that if a party was that so far out of hand that I felt I needed to leave, no one would really notice I was gone, nor would they care. Along with this, it was suggested to me that I always give myself a way out. This meant telling whoever I was with that I may need to leave without notice, and to make sure I am never parked-in by other cars, even if that means taking a long walk back to the car!
I also learned things that should have been obvious to me, like not sitting at a bar (even if just sipping soda), and not putting myself in situations where my drink and drug of choice were right in my face! Another important thing that I learned was to take phone numbers with me, and then to make the Herculean effort of picking up that phone and calling another person in Recovery when I felt I was in deep water!
Even today, after almost three decades of Sobriety, I still practice Recovery every day (even if not perfectly), and still need to be aware of the people, places and things that can send me off track, as well as those that can help me thrive in (or at lease maintain) my Sobriety, this includes both those in Recovery and folks who have never had an issue with Addiction, but have gained their wisdom in other ways!
It has been said that an Addict in Recovery has a ‘built-in forgetter’ that can lead us to believe that we have been cured, or at least are immune to a relapse. When we come across the people, places and things that can trigger thoughts of our Addiction, it can be a fresh reminder that the disease of Addiction is never cured, but that if we follow a program of Recovery, and rely on the people around us for support, we can experience a daily reprieve…and if we can put enough of those days together, we can find ourselves in the midst of a new life, freed from the monster of Addiction!