By: Mike Shulman, LCSW-C
St. Patrick’s Day is a festive time of year for not just the Irish. There are celebrations all over the world, from the emerald green Chicago River to New York City’s oldest and largest St. Patrick’s Day parade in the world to Boston filled with its Irish pubs – even Tokyo has gotten in on the action with a St. Patrick’s Day parade 30,000 spectators strong.
For some it is a celebration of heritage and for some it is another reason to get a little rowdy with friends. Right now it stands as the third most-popular drinking holiday of the year, right behind New Year’s and the Fourth of July. But that’s also led to the days surrounding the holiday being especially dangerous on the roads – in 2020, more than a third of crash fatalities around the St. Patrick’s Day period involved a drunk driver.
So is it any wonder that for others, St. Patrick’s Day can be a huge trigger? Especially those who are newly sober and working on their recovery?
Triggers come from both within and without, but on St. Patrick’s Day? It can feel more like within, without, over there, in here, upstairs – EVERYWHERE.
Around you, this might look like familiar people, places, or experiences – if you were spending most nights out at your neighborhood bar when you were drinking, that connection to your past addictive behavior can be a huge trigger. Or if you spent last St. Patrick’s Day in a pub crawl coma, seeing partiers out on the street might hit with a pang.
So instead, get in touch with a homegroup and check out some meetings! I guarantee you there are meeting every hour on the hour during St. Paddy’s Day. 12-step programs are shown time and time again to help people manage their sobriety for many of the same reasons addiction and relapse can be so tempting: they’re rooted in social connection.
Stanford University psychiatry and behavior sciences professor Keith Humphreys, Ph.D., says, “If you want to change your behavior, find some other people who are trying to make the same change.” So have your crew on speed dial. When you know some things are triggers – and St. Paddy’s can definitely be one of them – know who to call, like your sponsor or some sober buddies, when you start feeling the urge to pick up.
But if it’s not something like a bar or someone like a drinking buddy you can just walk away from? Emotional, behavioral, and psychological triggers are just as real as anything out in the world – and because they follow you wherever you go, can feel even more threatening.
On St. Patrick’s Day, this might take the form of loneliness as other people drink and enjoy the festivities, or time without any activities if it feels like everything else is devoted to the holiday, or being too hard on yourself for past mistakes when you drank.
The best thing to remember is that sobriety doesn’t mean you still can’t have a good time. The holiday might look differently than it did in years past, but it can sometimes mean having just as much (or even more) fun. Whether you still want to celebrate fully decked out in green, white, and orange or you’re trying to stay as far from the holiday as possible, there are many other ways to spend St. Patrick’s Day weekend besides pub crawls and keg stands.
Try going to the gym or getting outside and doing something physical. St. Patrick’s Day is consumed with a lot of decisions that are unhealthy to your physical self, so do something positive, beneficial, and worthwhile. Exercise definitely doesn’t replace meetings, therapy, medication=assisted treatment, and human connection, but studies have shown it to be a great method of hitting cravings right in the shamrocks!
Some cities (Baltimore included!) even have St. Patrick’s Day marathons and 5Ks if you want to give your workout plans a festive twist.
And why’s it so important? When we look around and start pointing out the things that trigger us, we get a map to help with the path to recovery. Why did I start drinking? What makes me want to start again? When we know the answers, we can call them out and either ask for help in getting through them or just head in the opposite direction.
To stick to your recovery plan? To go to a meeting instead of a pub? To reach out to your sponsor instead of a drinking buddy? And fill your day with things that bring you joy instead of filling your stomach with pints of Guinness and shots of Jameson?
It’s an act of rebellion in the face of what so much of society is telling you to do. This St. Patrick’s Day, do one of the most Irish things you can do: be a rebel.
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