Friday, June 28, 2013

Let's Talk About Relapse - Day 8 - Triggers: The Good News!

On the previous blog, we discussed the big myth of relapse - relapse is the result of a lack of willpower or of a half-hearted commitment. Instead, we learnaed that it is the consequence of not attending to our triggers - all kinds!  I shared that triggers are a symptom which send us warning signs that something does not feel right. Triggers lead directly back to our layers of shame, and in many cases, to the inner core of our shame. I explained how what we are feeling in the present (the trigger) is taking us to past painful emotions, feelings, and experiences, and we are reliving them.

Whether the trigger is physical (craving, nausea, nervousness); psychological (painful memories, flashbacks,); emotional (depression, anxiety, anger); behavioral ( old habits or patterns, unhealthy reactions or interactions); environmental (toxic friends, places - people - things that are reminders of unhealthy and/or enticing situations); or cognitive (toxic thinking, negative self-talk, the on-going mental battle between truth and lies) - triggers are relentless.

Unlocking  & Understanding Our Triggers!

I will say this one more time - we  need to identify our triggers; we must address how our triggers are making us feel; then we must be courageous and work hard at understanding why we are feeling that way; and finally we must address and attend to those underlying causes and heal those wounds (seeking professional help or guidance if needed). And once we have worked through our triggers and continue to work on them, we can embrace some good news!

Although triggers can and will catapult us back into previous unhealthy patterns of behaving, thinking, and feeling, they can also serve to teach us more about ourselves and how to move forward in our recovery in healing and healthy ways. 

Let's take a look at a couple of ways in which triggers can really guide us and help us!

1.  If we have worked through a trigger (a craving, a flashback, a toxic thought) but it keeps coming back, we need to stop - go back - and work on it some more! Don't ignore it, minimize it, or push it aside!  Pay attention to what the trigger is telling you and take care of it! For example:

  • Do you need more healing in this area?
  • Do you need to set better or stronger boundaries around this person, place, or thing?
  • Do you need to reassess and readjust your expectations of yourself and others.
  • Could you use some additional support?  Attend a meeting? Call a sponsor or therapist? 

Each and every day, take a reading on your Trigger Thermometer!

2. This next strategy is really important.  I call it the 'trigger thermometer exercise', and there are several steps to this 'trigger teaching tool'.
  •  Imagine that there is a 'trigger thermometer' within your being. Each and every day (or even throughout the day), take a reading on how you are feeling - your levels of sensitivity, or vulnerability, or of strength in your recovering. 
  • After taking an honest inventory, make a mental note of your level. Are you feeling strong -  feeling ok - feeling at risk
  • If you are in a place of strength, you understand that your triggers 'may' have a  minimal impact on you. Of course, it depends on the trigger and its relationship to you.  If you are feeling ok or at risk, you immediately communicate to yourself that your triggers can and will impact you more severely; and in fact, they could redirect you into relapse. 
  • Next, by knowing what is going on with your levels of strength or of sensitivity, you have the knowledge and the power to make healthy choices about what to do, where to go, and when and how to go about your day. You are taking care of you!    

When I have suggested this strategy with clients, sometimes they say, 'Holli,  I feel so silly or weak that I need to do this. I think I'll be fine just knowing and thinking about my triggers".  What I share with them is my truth as I wrote in Mountain Air. I share it with compassion but also as a challenge...

"In recovery, there is no room for complacency - or for the over-reliance on one's current levels of trust and growth.  Outside forces do not rest - neither must the workings of recovery."

It is important to mention that even with this deliberate work on utilizing our triggers and our trigger thermometer as sources of teaching, denial is a nasty companion that is always at play. We will address denial more thoroughly in future blogs; but for now, know that denial will do its best to negate or blur our honest assessment of current levels of growth and strength.

We will continue with more good news about triggers next time.  For now, do your work. Start today. Continue taking care of areas that are easily triggered and that signal unfinished healing. And continue moving forward...

...allowing the awareness and knowledge of your triggers to guide 

and direct you in your recovering.   

Homework: Keep identifying and writing down your triggers - all of them! Continue to connect them to their sources (and work through those injuries if needed). Then, implement the 'trigger thermometer' exercise today! Experience what good news this is!

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