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The Harm in Avoiding Our Triggers

Our triggers are actually powerful clues about where we need to heal. 

As we’re working towards recovery, and even once we’ve achieved sobriety, we will go to great lengths to avoid anything we consider triggering. Triggers are the things we’re most sensitive to, bothered by, and upset by. They are the things that destabilize us. Triggers vary depending upon the person and they might include specific language, a particular memory, place, or an event. When we feel triggered, we might become so overwhelmed that we have strong emotional reactions. We might cry, yell, break down, lash out at other people, or totally shut down. Many of us isolate ourselves from the people and things we think will trigger us, especially if they’ve been triggering for us in the past. We avoid discussing specific subjects and going to certain places. We resent people for bringing up the things we’re most sensitive to. We want them to avoid our triggers as much as we do, and we might become angry with them if they seem to be insensitive to our particular triggers.

Many of us are avoidant of our triggers because we’re self-protective, and we believe that avoiding the things that upset us is the best way to keep ourselves safe and protect ourselves from pain. We’re afraid of the emotions we feel when we’re triggered, and we’re trying to avoid having to experience any more of them than we already have. We’re tired of the emotional rollercoaster that includes ups, downs, feelings of intense grief and anger, followed by times when of peace and adjustment. During these more peaceful times, we might feel relieved and think we’ve healed enough to be able to function normally and not always be on the defensive, looking out for something or someone that might trigger us. We often find, though, that these times are soon followed by other triggering incidents because we haven’t fully healed from the issues that are triggering us. We have unresolved pain that still needs to be addressed.

When we’re triggered, many of us turn instinctively to our drugs of choice. We find solace and comfort in them. They are our means of distracting ourselves, seeking refuge, and finding an escape. We’re dealing with some acutely painful issues, and the effect we feel from our substance of choice feels familiar and easy. We become dependent upon it. We numb and self-medicate ourselves with it, thinking that being in this altered state will shield us from anything painful. Once the high fades and we’ve come down from it, though, we still have the memories of the triggering events to contend with. While we were given a temporary reprieve from our intense thoughts and emotions, the pain was still continuing to accumulate, and it can hit us full-force once we’re no longer inebriated. Now, when we get triggered again, we might have even stronger reactions. We might become even more defensive and self-protective. Our addictions become our coping mechanisms from the painful issues we have yet to heal, and from the triggers that force us to think about those issues when we’ve been trying so hard to avoid them.

Many of us have been running away from our pain for as long as we can remember. One of the reasons our triggers can feel so excruciating is that they bring our attention to issues we would rather not face. We’re forced to look at feelings of grief, shame and anger that we wish weren’t there. We’re reminded of painful memories that we’ve been working so hard to suppress for so long. As we work to heal, we learn that there is considerable harm in avoiding our triggers. The more we use avoidance to cope, the more our pain goes unhealed, and the more our sensitivity to it grows. Whatever we avoid tends to fester, accumulating complex layers of pain we have to unpack and unravel. We might think that we’re safe within the comfort zone of avoidance, but any time we feel triggered, we’re pushed forcibly out of that false illusion of comfort.

When we’re being triggered, we’re literally being shown what areas of ourselves still need to be healed. Our greatest lessons and spiritual tests are often accompanied by discomfort and pain. These “growing pains” are part of the healing process. When we heed the call and accept the invitation to dig deeper and to embark upon a journey of self-exploration, we initiate the healing process. What are you triggered by? Are there certain things that loved ones say to you that are particularly bothersome? Are there events, places, or memories that bring up unwanted feelings for you? How do your triggers make you feel? What do you usually do to avoid them? What unresolved internal issues are you being called to explore and investigate?

When we look at our triggers head-on, we begin to reclaim our power over the pain that has been overwhelming us. The process of exposing ourselves to our triggers and confronting our pain directly is the road to recovery. It takes the sting out of the triggers and makes them less painful. When triggering thoughts arise, or if similar triggers occur, we’re no longer devastated by them. We’re able to face these demons, remembering that they are indicators of the issues we have yet to heal. They are invitations to look within ourselves and explore our inner selves in more depth. They are actually there to help guide us along our recovery journey. We can take advantage of the help of a therapist, coach, or spiritual guide if we feel we need some support. You don’t have to go through this process alone. 

The caring, compassionate staff of The Guest House is here to support you as you start your journey to recovery and healing. Call 855-483-7800 today for more information.