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The Tipping Point – Choosing to Stay Sober Despite the Triggers
After the vehemence with which you pledge to stop drinking on your last day one, you may find your resolve dissolves quickly. It can seem impossible to stop drinking or stay sober beyond a few days. So how do you make sober stick once you’ve made the choice to go alcohol-free? To start gaining some sober momentum, there is a simple solution: don’t underestimate the force of the tipping points, know your triggers, and avoid them when possible. Make staying sober your number one priority for a while, so that you make the right choice each time you hit your tipping point.
There are tipping points that happen every single day when we decide to stop drinking. I remember once after stopping drinking for a week due to medication, I was considering stopping for good. I went to a friends house for dinner and while he was making drinks, I was trying to decide what to do regarding drinking. I told my friend that I hadn’t had a drink for a week, and I that was considering staying stopped. He then handed me a martini; that was my tipping point. I drank and I kept drinking for four long years. I remember so vividly that moment in time, that tipping point. The tipping point and the consequence of the choice I made.
Making other life choices –the tipping points that come along in your life. Do I do this? or that? Once the choice is made, you are in it and floating down that particular river. Career choices–choices to undo career choices–all those choices.
A tipping point for me was when I quit college the first time. It was an excruciating choice–giving up a full-ride sports scholarship that was, at that time, my one and the only route to college. Choosing to give it up meant disappointing my parents-especially my dad who LIVED for my sports and supported me in every way humanly possible. I could quit or I could choose to stay in a program that made me miserable, acutely aware that this wasn’t the path that I wanted to take in life. I chose to quit, upset my parents for a full year, moved far away, and there my new life began.
I think often of that choice and how it really opened the door for a wonderful new life–but that moment in time–the tipping point, was so very difficult.
I remember about six weeks before I finally stopped drinking, feeling absolutely mortified, depressed, hopeless, lost …. under the covers terrified that I COULD NOT STOP and that I could not control how much I drank. I couldn’t control my drinking and alcohol was beginning to control me. I was at my tipping point but couldn’t see a way out. I wanted to make the choice to stop drinking, to open a door to a different future, but I could not imagine how .
I kept telling myself I was done with drinking. I would decide to stop drinking and after a day or two, I would decide that I wasn’t that bad, that maybe I could control alcohol. I had stopped for a few days after all, hadn’t I? I would have a drink and find myself down the rabbit hole again deeper than ever. I was so ashamed. I was confused and I was destabilized by tipping back and forth – to drink or not to drink. I was losing the confidence that I could make the right choice as I kept tipping in the wrong direction.
I remember taking the kids to school one morning, hungover as usual, and then crawling under the covers with my computer and searching How to get sober without AA . I stayed under the covers in my sad hungover state and read everything I could find until I finally dragged my sorry ass out of bed around 4pm to pick up the kids at school …. still feeling miserable, hopeless, and afraid.
For the next six weeks or so I kept tipping back and forth. I watched some documentaries and read some books. I pledged to stop drinking and then I drank, and then stopped drinking for a few days determined to make it stick this time. Then started again, stopped, started, and finally fell down the stairs in a blackout .
This was a major tipping point – and because of the reading that I had been doing, I finally understood what my future might hold if I stopped drinking. I was beginning to learn how to make the right choice the next time.
Two days after that last blackout, two days of saying goodbye to the wine that had become such a huge presence in my life – I finally stopped for good by holding on for dear life and making sobriety priority number one.
It is common to pledge never to drink again and then return to – I’ll have just one drink -… I’m not that bad – within a day or two. It’s hard at first to stay stopped because drinking is what you know
Drinking is what you do
Drinking is what you’re used to
For many of us, on some level, we feel that drinking is about who we are – but it’s not- it’s about what we chose to do at those tipping points. Stopping drinking and staying sober is about the choices we make not only at the big monumental tipping points that some people will call their last rock bottom, but also the little every day tipping points that come up when we’re triggered.
William Porter, author of the books Alcohol Explained and Alcohol Explained 2, wrote an article called “The Tipping Point”. This is an excerpt from that article that really defines how simple identifying and managing tipping points can be
You just need to identify that ‘tipping point’, that key moment, and just tell yourself that you just have to get through that one single moment. So if you go home and drink every evening, what is the tipping point? When you are heading home past the shops? When you get in, drop your bag down, and then think ‘what now?’ When you other half offers you a drink? Whatever it is identify it, isolate it, prepare for it, plan how you will get though it, run through it again and again in your mind, and think that all you have to do is get past that one moment and all the rest will fall into place.
It’s so profound really, in anything big or small- to recognize the tipping point and the choice that you have to make. It’s an interesting analogy for life –you make a choice, that choice has an outcome, then there’s an outcome for that outcome, ad infinitum. It’s interesting to understand the simplicity of staying sober in these terms. We have a choice, always. When alcohol is part of our lives and has become out of our control it is a constant noise. Sometimes painfully loud in our ears (I need it, I hate it, I regret it) but even when it’s not loud, it’s there, constantly in the background like unpleasant white noise we are not aware of until it’s gone.
When you are trying to stop drinking or stay sober and are triggered – when you are at the tipping point – remember that it is a choice. Reach out for inspiration to hold the image firmly in your mind of where you want to be :
When I was in my first weeks sober, every single thing that was part of my routine after about 2:00 pm was a trigger to drink by 5:00 pm. I didn’t really understand why at the time. I thought that it was because my life was full of stress and disappointments but I knew that I could not drink anymore. Commitment to sobriety as my number one priority- no matter what- kept me from tipping the wrong way when triggered.
I was triggered by stress, triggered by boredom, triggered by hunger, triggered by anger, triggered by social obligations, triggered by loneliness, triggered by the advertising kiosks and billboards on the way home from work. I was triggered by the grocery store, triggered by the phone …. etc
Not tipping in the wrong direction when triggered meant cutting out as many triggers as possible at first. Making sobriety priority number one, meant that I had to change my routine pretty dramatically when I stopped drinking. I immersed myself in sobriety- studying the how’s and why’s of sobriety became my hobby, and the other members of my household were in on the theme so they helped. I simplified my family routine in the evening – less stress, no excuse to drink. I ate very early to keep my blood sugar from crashing and my husband and kids ate very easy, quick, repetitive meals for a couple of months. I stopped watching T.V. because there is not much on the tube that doesn’t glorify drinking at some point. Instead of watching T.V. I read and what I read was quit lit. ( Quit Lit Recommended Here – Books to Help you Stop Drinking and Fuel Your Sober Momentum)
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