What are triggers?
Triggers are the stimuli that make an addict want to use again. They originate from the addict’s memory in active addiction. Triggers can be any sensation: sights, sounds, smells and touch. At an emotional level, triggers could be: anger, sadness, depression, anxiety and fear to name a few. Spiritually, or in essence triggers happen due to a lack of serenity and connection in one’s life.
Early recovery is a very vulnerable time for triggers. This is the reason why recovering addicts need to rely on others and their program of recovery to overcome these hurdles. Urge surfing the triggers is a gruesome and tiresome task, but success in recovery depends on one’s ability to recognize the triggers and overcome their power somehow. To be pulled into a trigger usually means that one is in a relapse cycle and may succumb to the inevitable unless intervened. Thus, it becomes necessary for addicts to learn how to manage and overcome their various triggers in order to succeed in recovery.
Types of Triggers & Solutions for each type:
Triggers come in various forms. To know which method one can use to overcome triggers, it is important to know the type of trigger that appears in one’s life.
1. Environmental Triggers: These are triggers that appear in the world we live in. It could be a former place where one used to use/drink. In early recovery, it is best to stay away from such places until such times recovery has created more stability. If the place is unavoidable, then much support needs to be in place during exposure to those places, for instance, the addict/alcoholic could talk to their loved one or someone in recovery to express their vulnerable feelings as they learn to urge surf the old landscapes of their active addiction.
2. People: Using friends as well as people we met in active addiction could also be a trigger. The way certain people talk and behave could trigger a need to use/drink simply as a coping mechanism within a relationship. For instance, an over-bearing partner or parent could be a cause for many relapses in the past due to the emotions sparked off by this particular individual. Establishing boundaries in relationships or simply avoiding toxic ones (such as being in contact with using friends) are ways to cope with these triggers.
3. Emotions: Extreme or intense feelings such as sadness, depression, anxiety, confusion, anger and even joy can be extremely triggerish in early recovery. The reason for that is because using/drinking was a way to numb feelings and recovery demands that we learn to feel all over again. This is the reason why emotionally overwhelming situations need immediate diffusion and intervention. It is also why the addict/alcoholic needs someone to guide them through the emotions as and when they happen. Familiarizing oneself with the emotion is the key to understanding that it’s okay to not be “okay” from time to time. Noticing these triggers are difficult because addicts/alcoholics in early recovery were not exposed to much of it in active addiction; yet, overcoming its intensity and surfing the emotions is about accepting that one is human and to have compassion for oneself in the process of healing.
4. Memories: Thoughts about the using past may be triggered without any reason except by merely remembering a particular incident in the addictive past. When these memories come up, it is important to urge-surf them as they arise and play the tape to the very end. Ask oneself: Where did all of this using/drinking eventually take me to? Why do I want to stay away from it? How can I get help? (Usually, we can talk to someone when this happens).
5. Behaviors: Certain actions that are considered unspiritual (bad) like being dishonest, inauthentic, acting aloof, isolating, et.al – can trigger certain people towards active addiction. This is because there is dissonance between how we see ourselves intrinsically (the beauty of our own recovery) and what we are doing. The ugly habits of the past do not just go away the moment one gets into recovery. These habits and character defects take time and awareness to be removed. Hence, being aware to avoid acting out in these character defects and living with the sorrowful shortcomings that follow is one sound way to help curb unwanted behaviors, thus removing this trigger. However, should it arise, writing a gratitude list on the things one is grateful for and countering the behavior with a spiritual counter-part (good behavior) is one way to grow and heal from this trigger.
6. Disconnection: The ultimate trigger is to be disconnected from the flow of a life in recovery. One may feel disconnected when one isolates, engage in unwanted behavior, as well as lax on the tools of recovery. Having a solid plan/blueprint for the foundation of one’s recovery ensures that one remains productive and grow in self-esteem. Hence, find something you are passionate about that will help you get connected to recovery. It can be playing some sports with friends in recovery; planting a tree to save the environment, care for sick people, join a religious community; or even getting a steady-paying job. These activities will take one away from a life that is full of misery and depression – a life that leads back to addiction. Keeping connected with life is a sure way to be rid of this trigger.
7. Cross-Addictions: If drugs/alcohol addiction was your problem, there can be many opportunities for cross-addictions into behavioral panaceas – such as sex, food and shopping. These cross-addictions are dangerous because they can trigger one back into the old lifestyle rather subtly and unknowingly. For example, sugar has the same effect on the pleasure system as do alcohol/drugs. If one replaces the drugs/alcohol for food that contain high level of sugar, then one has substituted one addiction for another and may not be in good shape to deal or work on one’s own recovery out of addictions altogether. Ultimately, it feeds the whole agenda of addiction: Avoidance of reality. Before the avoidance was with drugs/alcohol and now, it has morphed into something else; but the real issues have still been unresolved, which can trigger a relapse.
8. The Rest of Life: Basically, all of life is a trigger for an addict in early recovery. Anything from the life of active addiction translated into the present moment can qualify for a trigger. That pretty much means everything life had offered the addict back in active addiction; which are more or less the same as everything life still has to offer the addict today. So, from the sight of a mountain, the sound of a plane taking off, the smell of fresh-cut grass, et.al: all of this can be triggers. The solution for that is to learn to be calm and receptive to life.
Recovery and Triggers
So, the aim and main point to recovery is to find a means to accept life and be alright with oneself. That process takes a lot of time and a lot of work on oneself. Recovery is never easy but it is doable. Everyday there are challenges, but on the flipside; a day won in recovery is an entire lifetime of renewal and a momentous chance for extraordinary growth. Triggers may abound left, right and center; but, that doesn’t mean ones’ recovery has failed when it happens. What it really means is that one is being challenged to evolve in one’s growth in recovery towards becoming a human being who is capable of just about anything. With that in mind, recovering addicts are pretty much on the same journey as the entire human race.