Michael J. Formica MS, MA, EdM

Enlightened Living

Understanding What Motivates Your Triggers

Conscious recovery and sustainable sobriety

Posted Jun 19, 2013

One of the keys to recovery is knowing your triggers. Probably the greatest challenge to recovery is the specter of relapse. Crucial to sustainable sobriety is understanding what motivates your unique set of triggers, empowering more effective management of influences that might lead to relapse.

Addiction is complicated. It is one of the most pervasive and least understood of maladies. It's not that we don't understand addiction per se, but our understanding is controversial. Is it biological? Is it inherited? Is it a disease process? Is it psychological, or psycho-social, or cultural? Is it a characterlogical disorder, or just pervasive poor judgment?

Well, the answer is yes and no. Talk to ten different people and you'll get ten different perspectives. One thing is certain: while we may not be able to agree on the genesis or mechanism of addiction, addiction itself—or, more properly, being addicted—is a behavior.

The unique thing about addiction as a behavior is that it’s unlike many—if not most—other behaviors in our lives, which fall into a sort of gray area. If you’ve moved from recreational interest in a substance or activity to compulsive dependence, you can’t really go backward. Addiction is very black and white: you’re either all in, or all out.

So, why is potential relapse such a challenge? On the surface, one would think that it’s simply a matter of choice; “This is self-destructive or non-productive, so I just won’t do it.” Well, it’s a bit more subtle than that, isn’t it?

Could it be that the initial framework of recovery is ineffective? More likely, it’s that this initial framework could be incorporated into and amplified by some deeper mechanism of understanding that can further inform self-understanding and effective decision-making.

‘People, places and things’ is what we hear in the rooms. Assumptions, expectations and ideas about the way the world works is what we hear in our heads. All of these things drive the choices leading to our behavior—good, bad or indifferent. If we understood the genesis and mechanism of our choices, the power of our triggers would be diminished—if not deflected—transporting us out of a white knuckle mentality and into the calm, abiding center of witness consciousness.

We all possess some basic human needs. We need love and acceptance, social status, power, freedom, connection, order, etc. It’s a fairly short list, actually. How we balance and express those needs is descriptive of how we have adapted to the people, places, thing, ideas, assumptions and expectations that populate our lives. When those needs are thwarted or left unmet, it often prompts an internal tension that can lead to us to potential acting out or, in the case of someone challenged by addiction, picking up.

An artist friend of mine is quite the free thinker. She prides herself on the fact that, growing up, she rarely sat in the same place at the dinner table. This kind of choice speaks roundly to her creativity, flexibility and vision. It also says something about her lack of need for organization.

This same friend has been plagued by a fair degree of ambient anxiety most of her life, and never really understood why. An exploration of her underlying needs profile reveals that, while she has a low need for organization, she also prefers to avoid chaos—the kind brought on by things like tardiness, misplaced items, and the envelopes with the little windows that always seem to come in the mail.

For her, this was a revelation. Understanding that she possessed these two clearly opposing needs—one obvious, one not so obvious—gave her insight into her nagging anxiety and, in turn, power over it. Her state of internal calm not only increased, but the maladaptive behaviors often associated with her consistent anxiety diminished.

With this in mind, it stands to reason that if we had a template describing our unique, individual palette of needs, we would be better equipped to rally against the challenge of those needs not being met, whether by us, our circumstances, or another person. In terms of addiction and recovery, this would bring us to a place where we didn’t just know about our triggers, but understood them.

This is how conscious recovery carries sustainable sobriety to the next level. It’s not enough to simply know about and acknowledge our triggers. In developing a deeper level of understanding we are given insight into what could potentially prompt our behavior, moving us from a place of reaction to one of response.

When we are no longer in a place of reaction, we are better able to step away and rebalance our needs, expressing them in a way that continues to support our recovery, rather than challenging its sustainability. Plainly put, we are now equipped to respond to the people, places, things, idea, assumptions and expectations we confront, rather than being thrown off our center and into potential relapse. This ability is the distinction between simply being sober and maintaining sustainable sobriety.

Consistently having the experience of effectively coming up against challenges to our sobriety, while equipped with an understanding of how those challenges are interfering with our interior balance of needs, will eventually cause not only a shift in behavior, but a shift in thinking. So, not only will we develop a new set of responses to our ever-changing circumstances, we will develop new habits of mind to support those responses.

Through an understanding and appreciation of the inner template that informs our self-understanding, we can effectively create a shift in our relationship to the world and those elements that impact our decision-making. In terms of addiction and recovery, this can mean the difference between constant vigilance in hopes of avoiding chaos and calm assurance that we have not only regained, but are actively exercising our personal power.

© 2013 Michael J. Formica, All Rights Reserved

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