We talk about “triggers” a lot, but do we really understand what they are? We say things like, “I walked into Joe’s Bar, and the sounds and smell triggered me!” Is that what happened?
Dr. Pavlov taught us about stimulus and response. He conditioned dogs to salivate when they heard a bell by ringing the bell and then immediately giving them food. The bell was the stimulus, and the salivation was the response. Simple.
We’re a little more complicated, but we too have our conditioned responses. Some of these may be wanting to act out in our addictions when we’re exposed to certain sounds, smells, places, people — even things. We may respond to certain situations, but we have to ask ourselves how we got into those situations.
Did I walk into Joe’s Bar because I was already triggered? Probably. If we get right down to it, most of the “triggering” experiences of which we become aware are the result of something else — responses to stimuli. But why were we exposed to the stimuli? Did my boss give me a hard time at work? Do I have money problems? Have I been falling back into old attitudes and behavior? Did driving past Joe’s and seeing his sign “trigger” me? Did I simply want a drink? All of those circumstances can be triggers, along with myriad others. The big question is, just why was I driving past Joe’s to start with? Why did I go inside? Why was I hanging out in slippery places if I didn’t want to slip?
There are simple triggers. My dog may be hit by a car, and I immediately want a drink because I can’t handle grief. I may have a fight with my wife and immediately want a drink because I don’t know how to deal with conflict. Those are real triggers, but walking into Joe’s wasn’t. Something moved me to do that. Cheating on my wife after looking at porn wasn’t triggered by the porn, it was a response to a stimulus. Why was I looking at porn to begin with? Something triggered my desire to look at porn. And so on….
Why am I making these points, which may seem like potato/potahto to some of you? Because as addicts, we need to be aware of the reasons that we do things. We can’t afford to live our lives willy-nilly and then complain when things don’t go right, or assuage our unfamiliar feelings by acting out. If we don’t become mindful of the real reasons for our behavior, we will spend the rest of our lives blaming other people, places and circumstances for our problems. Those are neither stimuli or responses; they’re just addict thinking. The fact is, whatever the reason(s), relapse always occurs before we act out!
If you didn’t get anything else out of this, please remember that.