Triggers happen. Adrenaline kicks in, your blood starts rushing, your body temperature rises for a moment and the time passes on. Then, you experience a restless night, intrusive thoughts, and self-loathing plays out like a broken record. You’ve experienced another trigger, so what’s next?
Often, they serve as annoying reminders that a person in recovery is never fully “recovered”. However, it is an opportunity to grow and overcome old and new triggers.
How Triggers Start
Early recovery can be a tricky and vulnerable time. One moment you might be feeling great, ready to take on the world, and then stress kicks in and you begin to think about taking that next drink or hit. The stress can be so overwhelming that it can serve as a reminder of pain from interactions with people, places, and events of the past.
Triggers can be internal or external. Internal triggers have to do with the way one processes their emotions. Since people remember events that are emotional and meaningful, certain situations can trigger emotions, such as stress, shame, anger, anxiety, depression or guilt. This emotional distress can spark unhelpful thinking and feelings that can trigger adverse behaviors.
External triggers can be any setting that reminds you of the times you were using drugs or alcohol. It can be difficult to go to a place such as a bar, lounge, club, party scene or home environment that reminds you of old friends and situations. However, discussing compromising situations in therapy or group meetings can reduce the fear and anxiety of relapse.
“It only works, if you work it!” Attending group meetings, such as 12-step meetings and/or maintenance therapy is crucial throughout recovery, but especially in early recovery. During this time, you can discuss situations and triggers that you may be aware of and identify new potential triggers that could put you at risk for relapse.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
With individual therapy, you can discuss more personal matters with your therapist and identify helpful ways to deal with triggers. Cognitive behavioral therapy is an evidence-based, therapeutic method that helps you identify why certain triggers exist and how you can minimize those triggers by learning new healthy behaviors to cope with stress and anxiety.
Healthy Lifestyle Changes.
Just because you’re in recovery, doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy yourself. Getting involved with alumni events can help you meet people who can support you. You can create new friendships with others who share your journey and encourage you to achieve your goals.
Having a support system of trusted friends or a sponsor makes all the difference in maintaining long-term recovery. Exercise, balancing your diet, and participating in enjoyable activities can help you focus on having fun in the present moment while reducing stress and anxiety.
What to Do When Triggered
Reach out. You should definitely call your sponsor and ask for guidance or seek help from your therapist. As noted above, ongoing therapy can help you work through those discomforting thoughts and feelings. You and your therapist can then identify healthy coping skills and alternative behaviors as triggers become less and less impactful.
Just like anyone else, life’s stressors can make one feel stuck. It’s helpful to look at what triggers from a certain situation or interaction with someone represents for you presently. In that regard, triggers can be opportunities to help you grow. As you become more mindful and aware of your present emotions, you will learn how to react better to uncomfortable situations.
Recovery is a Lifelong Journey… You Choose
When it comes to life’s ups and downs it’s not what happens to us, it’s how we react. You have probably heard that saying a million times, but it’s often the difference between someone who continues to achieve their goals beyond setbacks and someone who chooses to remain stuck and not live up to their full potential.
Seek help when you need it. Addiction recovery is a lifelong process and there’s plenty of people to help you along the way. Knowing that you can’t control other people, places and events is scary for just about anyone; however, you do have control over your reactions. Whether you grow from triggers or let them completely take hold of you, it’s up to you. You choose.