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Memory & Desire – WHY Alcoholics Crave Booze…

Memory & Desire – WHY Alcoholics Crave Booze…

Memory & Desire – WHY Alcoholics Crave Booze…

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.



Ding Ding. Elbow Room BAR and Grill? I want, I WANT…

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”.


Oh great.

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?


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Comments (3)

  1. Avatar
    Oct 27, 2016

    How come you're not drinking?
    Because I want to stop my self destruction.
    I was out in that thick rain myself. The perfect nasty fall day. Fall and days like yesterday make me melancholy anyway. But yes, the dark bar rainy coziness–major trigger. But today no reward. I’m looking forward to accepting no reward but for now it just feels uncomfortable?
    Thanks for this blog.

  2. Avatar
    Oct 27, 2016

    For some reason a flash of warm memory filled me. A cold day in Scotland at the hotel bar. I remember the wood and the worn upholstery of chair fabric, a soft drizzle on the window. We sat , for perhaps hours, in comfortable friendship. Lots of wine and giggles and it does make me sad at times that those days are over .

  3. Avatar
    Oct 27, 2016

    How come you're not drinking?
    I need to take a walk in the rain...
    My guess, in answer to your question is in a word NEON, neon signage not that cheap crappy backlit translucent plastic stuff. Authentic neon glass was first displayed back in 1910 by the inventor Claude Neon, not a glass of gassy water but gas in a glass tube to be precise, and you said it was raining.
    A subconscious magnet, neon = ‘Open’ come on in, buy, drink, spend, burp, drink, lick a cone, gas up not down, EXIT red, I said drink.
    In drizzled conditions neon has a unique magic glow which is the perfect atmospheric combo that triggers a certain bliss as can a well lit fire or wood burning stove, more triggers I suggest … Oh, neon my friend your not named the noble gas for nothing

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