I left home at seventeen in order to go to college. I couldn’t wait to get out of the house, with all of its drama and negative energy at the time. I was a resentful, angry teen and my parents weren’t equipped to address anything they were going through themselves, never mind me. For years to come, every time that I spoke with my family brought the drama and negative energy right back. The first sign of them treating me as if I was 12, I was rolling a joint. Often, I would gently open a bottle of wine so they wouldn’t hear the cork pop, a move I had been practicing for years.
How could this be? They’re weren’t even in the same continent and they were setting me off. My emotions would start elevating and my anxiety would kick in as my thinking ran with it. Using was my only relief. Whatever was closest won the prize, regardless if it was booze, marijuana or food. Whatever consequences prevailed, I would just bury them in the next indulgence and the cycle progressed.
Fast forward about fifteen years, I was dating someone on and off for over a year and our friends were quite frankly, sick of it. Thing is, we lived in the same neighborhood and would often run into each other. At the time, I was heavy into using cocaine and my subconscious knew that there was a good chance she would either have some or encourage a phone call to be made. Regardless of how much I knew we were doing the wrong thing, we would still end up together. We even hid our rendezvous from our friends due to the shame we had manifested.
It’s safe to say that as my family was one of my greatest triggers, as is true of many, many others. This was an example of an Internal trigger. I let the interactions with my family get the most of me and affect my emotional state, which I had no idea how to deal with.
I begun to learn coping skills in recovery and have a whole other relationship with them today. It’s by no means perfect, but I have found positive ways to not let their issues become my own and not taking their commentary personally. The understanding that they love me no matter what is incredibly instrumental in fostering a healthy relationship with them. Crazy how some of the simplest ideologies often take the longest to “hit home”.
In my second example, my ex-girlfriend was an External trigger. Being that she was someone that I used with, it assisted in producing the urge to use. I knew that I had a problem at that time, but had no plan to do anything about it.
When I began my journey in recovery, I did my best to remove all of the characters that I had drank and used drugs with out of my path. I also avoided places that I used to frequent if I didn’t absolutely need to be there. It took me a while to attend events that could be triggering for me until a few months into early recovery (the first year of recovery). I was playing a lot of shows at the time and made sure to tell someone in whatever band I was playing with that I was not drinking. I would order a pint of seltzer with lime as soon as I got a chance and would watch the bartender pour it to make sure there was no mistake made. (It’s not uncommon for a busy bartender to accidentally allow some booze into your soda.) This can create an explosive chain reaction for someone who has been having difficulty with refraining from drinking in the first place. This would also give me a reason to respectfully turn down drinks from people who were simply appreciating my work when normally I would take full advantage of such situations.
Everyone has their own set of triggers, whether it is the ice cream truck in your neighborhood, your aunt’s amazing cooking, the weekend in general, money, sports, emotions, people, places, events, things, activities and so on. Some of them will be obvious to you and others can blindside you like the Roadrunner did to Wyle Coyote over and over again.
You can download worksheets from SAMHSA Intensive Matrix Curriculum on Internal and External triggers here. You can use these to help you discover what your triggers might be so that you can address them appropriately when they come up. It will be highly advantageous to create a strategy to cope with triggers in a positive fashion. This will have to be done for each trigger individually as they will all have their own specific challenges and solutions. Bringing this to light will be instrumental in empowering you while preventing relapse and strengthening your recovery. Doing this with another person in recovery, therapist, coach or mentor could bring you further insight on some of your own examples. Having an objective point of view can provide great value.
If you have any examples that you would like to share and/or found this to be helpful, feel free to pass it on and leave a comment below. Don’t let those triggers continue to set you off. Love Life Today. THiS ReCoVeRY LiFE.