Managing Triggers in Recovery

One thing that I find really amazing is how many times clients tell us that they just don’t want to be triggered anymore.

They want to remove all uncomfortable situations from their lives.

The entire focus of people who have a substance abuse problem is – avoidance.

Avoidance of things that you actually can’t avoid, because they’re simply part of life.

Therefore, the ‘running away’ approach to managing triggers in recovery is unproductive. It’s a lot easier to build a muscle, or skill set, to deal with the triggers that are inevitably going to come up in your life.

Let me give you an example of how powerful it is to develop this skill. Many years ago, I was surfing with one of my buds. We hadn’t noticed the tide had come down, and I grabbed this wave and as I ride it I end up crashing on some boulders.

I hit the back of my head and found myself bleeding all down my back and body. As I was realizing what had just happened, I started taking deep breaths.

My buddy, on the other hand, frantically runs over and is in panic mode.

I looked at him and very calmly gave instructions for him to bring the car around and grab me a towel to hold against my head. As he pulled up, I found myself coaching him on what to do.

On our way to the hospital, he begins ranting about how his friend in high school hit his head, and it led to swelling of the brain and, ultimately, the death of his friend.

A very inspirational story for me to hear with blood running down my head!

As my friend was saying all these things, I could feel the fear rising up in my body. But I remained present and positive.

When we arrived at the hospital, my friend is hyperventilating – replaying his high school friend’s accident over and over in his mind. His belief was that I was going to die.

When get to the hospital, I calmly explain to the nurse what happened and asked for a towel to dry off. As they put me on a stretcher, I called my wife and explained what had happened.

All the while, my friend is beside himself, shaking at his terror of what was going to happen to me.

When my wife showed up, she maintained the same calm composure that I was holding. She took one look at my friend and said, “OK, I need you to come outside with me.”

After she had him settled in a nice spot, she came back in and asked how I was doing.

As I was telling her what happened, we couldn’t help but overhear that the man next to us had attempted to commit suicide. From what was being described, it sounded pretty horrific.

My wife looked at me and said, “Would you help me send them good energy?” We put our focus on sending positive energy to this family next to us, breathing deeply, and she told me, “You know, I really love you.”

Here we are, my friend and I, both in the presence of a very traumatic event – but notice the difference in responses.

How do we all get to this point? That’s the question we need to ask ourselves. Not how are we going to avoid difficult situations, but how can you build a muscle to respond to life situations in a good way. And in a way that’s so effective that these traumatic events that happen throughout life won’t be such a big deal in the long run.

You have to master not feeding the story, when you get triggered; not feeding the fear-based, shame-based stories that escalate you to keep drinking and using drugs .


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