Yesterday it was raining like it rains in London in October. So windy I couldn’t use the new umbrella I bought at Walgreens for $11.99. And the rain was one step from ice – thick – and chilling me to the core. Speaking of which, I’ve been working out and my core is sore… I was driving to the UPS store to mail Halloween treats to my kids, and I passed the restaurant I always pass on the way to the highway.
No More Elbow Room at the Bar…
It’s called the Elbow Room, a name I kind of love. The Elbow Room sits in dusty, green splendor along a Grand Rapids feeder street. I have never read the sign’s subheading before. But yesterday I was stuck in traffic and I was bored. The sign says: The Elbow Room: Bar & Grill. I was a captive audience, and when I read the words, an immediate slideshow played in my head. (Remember that exposure therapy scene in A Clockwork Orange?)
I thought: Oh it’s a bar. I always assumed it was a play on words – a family, Italian spaghetti place with elbow macaroni… Then slam, like a fist in the sore core, I thought: Drink. Then a flash of what I imagined the inside to be: warm, wooden booths, a grumpy but lovable bar maid. And me, whiling away the hours with glass after glass of warming, cheap, red wine. A friend across from me, a cozy sweater, rain on the windows….
The light changed. I did not pull in. And let me try to explain this – I didn’t actually want the drink. I wanted something. To fill an emptiness? I felt instantly bereft I want, I want… but the thoughts of going in and drinking didn’t fire. The uneasy feeling stayed with me all the way to the post office, however.
Why Does This Happen???
As T. S. Elliot said so well, I was “Mixing memory and desire…” A trigger, or cue, is anything that brings back thoughts, feelings, and memories that remind you of active using. In my case, a bucket of white wine. Think about Pavlov’s dogs and the ringing of the bell. The bell was the cue, the food was the reward. But after a while, the food did not have to be present for the pooches to salivate.
I hate to say it, but the word “Bar” in the sign was my cue – my bell. My response was no more intellectual than a bunch of hungry hounds drooling over table scraps. The “I want” response was because my brain was seeking the “reward” of a glass of wine. According to an article on “Triggers and Relapse…” in Psychology Today, “The simplest way to break the trigger-response connection is simply repeated exposure without the reward”.
I guess my question is, “Why yesterday?” I had been past the Elbow Room so many times before. Maybe it was the rain, or the fact the restaurant is green. Or maybe my resistance was down, like when you get the flu. The good news is that it was another exposure without a reward. I guess at some point, if Pavlov’s pups hear enough bells ringing without getting steak fat thrown down their gullets, they’ll stop drooling…
Today I’m not drinking because I’m rereading “The Wasteland”…
How come you’re not drinking?