In the history of the recovery world, when the term “trigger” (an event or situation that causes acting out,) was brought into the lexicon, recovery helpers quickly adopted the concept. Everyone was talking about triggers and what to do about them. It got to the point that a recovery conversation didn’t go very far without triggers being brought up. Many thought they now understood addiction because they understood triggers.
Some addicts even learned to use them as an excuse for addictive behavior, “While I didn’t intend to act out, when I saw that picture it just triggered me.”
I don’t talk much about triggers. I didn’t really realize that until an attendee at one of my seminars asked what he should be doing about his triggers. I have to admit that I had a little bit of a problem answering him because I was dealing with the realization that I don’t think in terms of triggers. (My mind was racing on that subject instead of responding with full attention to him.)
But, here is my point: If triggers are affecting us, there’s a whole bunch of recovery work we have not been doing. That “pre-trigger” place is where I choose to place my focus for recovery. Focus on how we conduct ourselves and manage our emotional life when there are no triggers present, when we are just living. It’s how we manage our lives when we we are “out of our addiction” that determines how vulnerable we are to triggers. If we can figure out that part of our lives, we can disarm the triggers. They will misfire. They will have no effect on us.
So here are some examples. Sex addict guy can spend a lot of time sexualizing things. When someone uses a word in a sentence with absolutely no sexual reference intended, SAG (sex addict guy) can turn it into a sexual joke. Someone might say,” I had a hard day at the office today.” SAG will respond with, “Oh, a HARD day, huh? What did you do, look at porn?” Everything in his conversation is twisted to make sexual reference. There are constant running jokes about sexual activity in his conversation. His mind and his conversations are never far from sex.
Contrast SAG with a former addict who has learned to live in the moment and quiet his mind. His normal state of affairs, is to avoid sexual innuendo. He is not thinking about it, he is not reminded of it, is not laughing about it, it is simply not on his radar.
Suppose the 2 of them come upon a provocative scene. A potential “trigger” if you will. Which one will be impacted by the trigger? I guarantee you that SAG guy will be all over it. He will be triggered. Our 2nd fellow, if he has really mastered living in the moment, may not even be aware of it. But certainly he will be far far less affected by the scene.
Beer drinking dude, (BDD) is “triggered” by the sound of lawnmowers. At least that is what he thinks. The triggers work because he maintains some thinking errors. In his heavy drinking days, nothing “tasted better” than a cold beer after mowing his rather large lawn on a hot day. The sound of a lawn mower, makes his mouth water and long for a beer.
Here is the thinking error: “A beer sure would taste good right now!” is not a completely true statement. It ignores some realities that might leave a very bad taste in BDD’s mouth. BDD is on probation for his 3rd DUI. A beer violates his probation and could send him back to jail. One beer for BDD has never been enough, there is always a second, and a third, and on until oblivion is reached. Then BDD makes very bad decisions (like driving) that get him in trouble and usually in jail.
The truth about a beer right now is: “It can send me to jail, I won’t stop at one and I will end up in a lot of trouble. I don’t need that anymore. I don’t want anything to do with a beer right now.” Fixing the thinking error will keep BDD safe even on a hot day when all the lawnmowers in the neighborhood are running.
Triggers are just too late. If we are trying to ward off our addictive behaviors at the trigger stage we are simply too late. And, probably a dollar short too.