Note: If you haven’t yet read Part 1, you might want to scroll down and catch it first. Or not…
Recovery isn’t hard, but it requires attention to detail, something at which we addicts aren’t generally skilled. Acting out in our addictions is a learned habit, developed with powerful motivation. Like any habit – – drumming our fingers, biting our nails, etc. – – it can be broken with practice. Likewise, like any other powerful habit, our acting out can be triggered by a range of stimuli that we associate with using.
The best way to break a habit is to replace it with a different, more desirable habit. Sometimes this is relatively easy, but acting out is surrounded by a morass of subconscious associations and powerful urges. As such, it requires our constant attention and a dedicated, sincere effort to change. Over the 75 years of organized recovery programs, the community has found that certain precautions have worked for many.
The first thing, of course, is meetings – – lots of meetings. People rarely act out in meetings, so every hour we’re there is an hour when we can relax and not worry about relapse. Some of us hit two or three meetings a day, early on. We recommend it. (The argument that there’s no time for meetings is totally bogus; we had plenty of time to act out, and we’re not doing that, therefore we have time available for meetings.)
Addiction is a disease of isolation, so the next most important thing is to make acquaintances who are in recovery. I tell newcomers to get as many phone numbers of recovering people as they can (being careful, of course, to choose people who seem actually to be in recovery).
I also suggest that they call a minimum of four recovering people a day, just to say hello. This is particularly important, since the closer we are to acting out the heavier the phone gets. If we haven’t developed our phone muscles, we won’t make the calls when we are in danger.
It’s good to develop a core group of recovering people: three or four people whom we talk to daily, have coffee with before or after meetings, and generally get to know. These are the folks who will “call us on our shit,” and who are most likely to notice when we’re on dangerous ground. We, of course, will provide the same favor for them if needed. I call this my “3 AM gang.” They’re the ones who will answer the phone at zero-dark-thirty and meet me at Dunkin’ if I need it.
Routine is important. First thing in the morning, many of us choose to read recovery literature for a bit and then meditate on when we’ve read. Some journal about it, or about challenges that they expect to face that day. Then at the end of the day they jot down a few notes about how the day went, and what they could have done to handle things better. Along with these routines are things like a decent breakfast (see the PAWS article in the sidebar), exercise, and so forth.
Some fellowships encourage members to make lists of “accessory behaviors” that could get them into trouble and that are to be avoided. Some of those might be…
— Not driving or walking by favorite bars;
— Throwing sale flyers away without reading them;
— Avoiding certain streets, neighborhoods or activities;
— And, most definitely, totally avoiding people with whom we used to act out.
There are many other kinds of accessory behaviors, and each of us will have a different list. They bear thinking about, because the “hit” we get from those behaviors can easily be the push that causes us to fall off the wagon.
There are positive things we can do when we are exposed to triggers:
The one-second rule – – acknowledge the presence of the trigger, look away, don’t look back, and think about something else, say a prayer, whatever it takes. Dwelling on triggers is a choice. Don’t make it.
Ground it! Call one of those supports, or three or four, and tell them we were triggered! There’s no shame in it; it happens to every addict in early recovery. Admitting it robs the trigger of its power.
Do something healthy: hit the gym, go for a walk, go to a meeting, go bowling – – anything that is fun and that takes us away from the temptation to use.
Finally, be alert for substitute addictions like eating, shopping, gambling, and especially relationships. We’ll talk about substitute addictions soon. In the meantime,
Keep on keepin’ on!
Keep on keepin’ on!
Please add your own suggestions for dealing with triggers in the comments!