Courage Under Fire:Reacting to Triggers

Recovery is a courageous act. It’s a decision to step out of denial, and into the world of feels. That being said, it takes courage to 1) fess up that you messed up and 2) face the consequences. There is no changing the past, no predicting the future. All the person in recovery has is the now.

The now is a place where we previously avoided the feels with a substance, person, behavior, ritual, etc. Choosing to live a sober life means feeling the now, even when it sucks. There’s always a moment of hesitation, even for the soberest of the sober folks when it comes to doing the right thing in the now.  Whether you’ve been sober for 10 minutes or 10 years, the moment is the same.


It’s the moment we just want to say fuck it. I quit. It’s the moment we want to go down that dark, narrow path that led us to death in the past. This moment is a trigger. A test if you will. A trigger is caused by particular action, process, or situation (Google). For more on triggers, check out Triggered: When music takes you back to the dark times or Crack pipes and Carpool Lanes: Balancing Memories and Reality .

Triggers will come….but they will also go just as quickly  if you react to them the right way. Here are a few tricks I learned along the way.

  1. Not every action calls for a reaction! Not every nasty gram requires a response! In the words of Justin Timberlake “the greatest way to say something is to say nothing at all.” Some people aren’t worth your time. Respect yourself enough to take a breather before responding.
  2. Avoiding responding (at least in the beginning) is a team effort! To get out of the codependent rut I had dug with my husband I had to form an accountability team. When the feels got my heart racing with anger, I turned to an accountability partner to share the situation with. Trust me, it is not easy. Being told not to react the way my feels were telling me was hard to hear….until I found the peace I was so desperately seeking. A sponsor can also help with this, hence the team effort.
  3. Recognize that you are having an emotional reaction to something. Identify the emotion. Dissect it. Don’t judge it. Don’t rationalize it. Realize that anger is a secondary emotion to fear or pain. Are you afraid or are you in pain? Now that you’ve identified the feel, you can process it.
  4. Process the feel. Identify the trigger and the feeling associated with it. Chances are there’s an underlying need that was triggered. I.e. the need for safety, love, independence, etc. Needs are not bad! Feels are not bad! It’s just a process.
  5. Choose your outlet. If I’m pissed, I’ll get one hell of a good workout in. If I’m sad, I’ll go to God. Make a list of outlets for your recurring emotions. Keep it handy.
  6. Remember that triggers can be a good thing! We grow from them, we learn from them. Praise yourself when you react responsibly to a trigger. Celebrate your successes with those you love.


Do I still fail at triggers? Of course! Miserably sometimes. The good news though, is that wisdom is an indefinite teacher, and we gain wisdom through failure.



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