Lately I’ve had several conversations with guys in recovery who look at eliminating triggers as an integral part of their recovery plan. Unfortunately, this is an incomplete and, possibly even detrimental, way to go about recovery.
Triggers are a very real part of life. And when we talk about triggers, we’re talking about sexual and non-sexual types. Of course sexual things can be triggering; from billboards to TV, internet sites to euphoric recall of our own experiences we can’t escape them. Beyond these overt, sexual triggers are the emotional triggers; fear, failure and loneliness to name a few for me.
For those of us who have misused our sexuality and struggled with sexual integrity issues, we want these triggers to go away so as to not struggle anymore. I can say for myself, there are times when I feel bombarded by temptation and triggers, and I just want to find a cave and hide. So how do we deal with these things?
Eliminating triggers is a good part of the recovery plan as it pertains to overt, sexual triggers. Don’t visit the websites with sketchy ads or blog teasers, take a different on-ramp where there’s no billboard, stop watching prime-time TV, sit somewhere else in church, etc. We cannot entirely escape our culture, and we needn’t do that anyway. Where we can’t eliminate these triggers, we can pray for God to help us see them through his eyes and from his perspective.
As it pertains to emotional triggers, elimination isn’t always the best option. In fact, these can become the cues we use to engage our hearts and connect with God and others. It is imperative to identify the emotions that propel you towards entering the addictive cycle, along with the situation where those emotions manifest. A few examples:
- Feeling belittled because your kids ignore you
- Feeling shamed by your boss
- Feeling disappointed with yourself
- Feeling overwhelmed with financial issues
- Feeling frustrated with traffic
- Feeling sad about someone forgetting your name
You can see why elimination isn’t an option; we can’t control other people or the situations we’re put into. Instead, a better way is to be aware of these, how they affect us, and how we want to handle them.
Early in my recovery it was difficult for me to even identify what a trigger was. It helped to realize there are particular (unhealthy) thought patterns that are associated with them. A telltale sign of something being emotionally triggering is a serious of thought patterns that specifically attempt to offset or eliminate those feelings. Continuing with the previous examples, here’s how those thought patterns might go:
- Feeling belittled by your kids-
- “These kids never listen. They have it better than I ever did. I slave away so they can have it so good and this is what I get in return. We’re too slack with discipline.”
- Feeling shamed by your boss-
- “He’s so critical. He’s always picking my work apart. Doesn’t he have anything better to do? I’m the only one he does this to. What’s his issue? If he weren’t friends with so-and-so he wouldn’t have this job”
The thought patterns are aimed at making the pain go away. Rather than simply acknowledging that it hurts, and the emotions are what they are, these mental gymnastics become a distraction. Recognizing and acknowledging them can be a sign to yourself that there is something to engage. Here’s where we can do life in recovery different than in our addictions- practicing intimacy.
Connecting with someone and sharing the frustrations, feelings of shame and being ignored can be healing itself. Especially when you talk about it with folks that get it, that can relate and know what its like to be in your shoes.
This can also be a good time to connect with God. Take that stuff to him, in prayer and petition. Perhaps go to scripture and see where the folks in the bible can commiserate. In some cases, this can even be the prompt to engage intimacy with the very people who are hurting you. It may be time to try a different approach to connect with your kids on their level. Or time for a new conversation with your boss.
Where you can eliminate triggers, do it. Where you can’t, engage it. See what kind of character change and relational mileage you can get out of working through it.