Triggers are one of the leading causes of relapse. People, places and events from our past linger deep within our brains in our memories. The brain tends to prefer the good memories rather than the bad. This is called euphoric recall. How often do we recall a vacation when your flight was delayed, they lost your luggage, and the food was awful? We tend to remember the vacation fondly, the lovely sun on the beach, the cute hat you bought, and the funny gentleman from Peoria who told those corny jokes. Right? It’s human nature to remember the fun associated with triggers while we weed out the bad; it’s human nature. That’s why triggers are so dangerous.
Triggers are all around us. Many are obvious like the buddy you got high with or a favorite restaurant where you regularly downed wine. Others are more subtle. Music can ignite all kinds of feelings: loss, excitement, sadness, joy, etc. Certain songs may set your mind racing. It was for this reason that I couldn’t listen to the radio during my first six months in recovery. Smells may also lead to temptation. Skunks have been known to trigger pot smokers, and jasmine might remind you of grandma’s house where you used to get high with a neighbor. The reason triggers are so dangerous is that while seemingly innocent, the feelings they arouse can lead to irrational and impulsive choices.
One of the most powerful triggers is anger. Anger is a byproduct of fear, and left unresolved, it can fester and cause emotional discomfort and stress. Fear may come in many forms. The cause of it might be different for each of us, but end result is the same. Fear is a weapon the disease of addiction wields with skill and precision. It whispers just the right words in my ear when I am at my weakest. The AA Big Book tells us that the best way to stave off fear is with courage. I use a mantra as my defense: “Fear is an illusion, fear is an illusion, fear is an illusion.” With time and practice, I am able to banish fear.
Triggers. I once heard someone say, “if you hang out in a barbershop you’re bound to get a haircut.” That reminded me of triggers. A trigger turns into an urge, morphs into a craving and transforms into a full-blown obsession that can’t be ignored. That’s why it’s vital to cut triggers off at the pass before they generate such power. But how?
We start by making a list. Get a pen and paper, sit down at a desk or table and think. Who was I with when I was getting high? What were the names of the watering holes where I used to get soused? What moods and emotions drove my desire to use? Start writing them down. Your list should be comprehensive; it is your first line of defense. Second, develop a positive mantra. Make it personal. Take some time to figure out what’s most meaningful to you. Ask a trusted friend or sponsor for input. Your mantra may need to change over time, but you’ll figure that out. It’s yours, you own it. Write a journal and make a gratitude list. You know the tools, now use them. Your support group is critical. Phone a friend or sponsor, we are here to build each other up.
So, back to your list, where are you? Maybe you have 30 or 40 triggers, maybe more? Whew! I know what you’re thinking. This list is too darn long. How could I possibly avoid all these things? Recovery is impossible if everything’s a trigger. That’s where choice comes in. You’re clean, you’re sober and you’ve obviously made some great choices. It’s time to build on them with more great choices. Take things one day at a time, avoiding one trigger at a time, and it will all seem less overwhelming. It’s up to you.
Put your list in your pocket, wallet or purse. Take it out every once in a while, to remind yourself of what you’re on the lookout for, what you need to avoid. Staying clean is 90% preparation. Remember, there’s always a solution if you’re willing to look for it.
Memories of pleasure, pain, anger, people, places, things, foods, songs, smells can be powerful relapse triggers as you progress in your recovery.
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