Avoiding Triggers

Avoiding Triggers

by Mark Laaser

In the opening chapter of my book, Taking Every Thought Captive, I teach one of the strategies that I first learned from my recovery back in 1987. This strategy is meant to help you guard against unwanted thoughts before they happen... Avoiding Triggers.
A trigger is stimulus that causes a thought. If you avoid the trigger, you therefore avoid the thought. The first step to use this strategy is to understand what a trigger is and what particular triggers you struggle with. Basically, a trigger is anything that goes from your five senses to your brain. You hear them, see them, smell them, taste them, or physically feel them. The other day someone told me that one of the local electronic stores was having a sale. I heard this and immediately started thinking about that new computer I "need" to buy, but can't afford. My thought was of the computer. To avoid it would have required not talking to my friend, or, as part of my accountability program, to have asked him to never mention anything to me about electronics sales.
One of the men I am working with told me today that he was watching a football game and an ad for lingerie came on. It triggered a thought of sexuality in his brain, and the temptation was to go and find more explicit pictures of women on the Internet. To avoid this kind of trigger, he would need to not watch the game or, at least, not watch any of the commercials. Many people tell me they can be at the mall and the sight of attractive people triggers sexual longing. To avoid this, they would either have to avoid going to the mall or, while there, look down or look away. One common strategy for avoiding visual triggers is to "bounce" your eyes. That means if you see something that is visually stimulating, you must bounce your head or your eyes away from it. The men I work with who struggle with sexual thoughts may seek to avoid places where people are more provocatively dressed, like a beach or swimming pool. Members of Gamblers Anonymous routinely avoid casinos, get rid of all credit cards and only carry a small amount of cash in their wallets.
Even in Old Testament times the writer of Proverbs warns about avoiding the trigger of the adulteress: "Now then, my sons, listen to me; do not turn aside from what I say. Keep to a path far from her, do not go near the door of her house, lest you give your best strength to others and your years to one who is cruel" (5:7-9).
Some of the most common sexual triggers today comes from TV, magazines, or the Internet. If these kinds of triggers are problems for you, you may need to avoid reading magazines, watching TV, or surfing the Internet.
If thoughts of eating food are your problem, you may be triggered by the sight or taste of food. If I'm in the mall and walk by the cinemas and smell the popcorn, I'm going to want to eat popcorn because the thought of it is in my head. While in the mall, the perfume section of the department store may trigger me into thoughts of an old girlfriend. Driving down the highway I may see the billboard for the lottery jackpot and my thoughts turn to gambling. Are you getting the idea?
Triggers are always based on your life experience. My popcorn trigger is based on years of pleasant times at the movies, all associated with eating popcorn. Food triggers are usually associated with pleasant times in the past, such as times spent with family or connecting with friends. Sexual triggers can be associated with past sexual experiences. Gambling triggers are always associated with that time that you actually won a jackpot. For alcoholics, times of drinking are sometimes associated with fellowship. Remember the TV series Cheers? It was a bar and the place "where everybody knows your name."
Let's be realistic; if we are to avoid all triggers, we would have to lead the life of a monk or a hermit. This is not very practical, and I believe my wife would object to that. So avoidance is not the final solution. In the early stages of learning how to take every thought captive, however, there will be obvious stimuli that we may choose to aggressively avoid. 
You can't avoid all triggers forever. They happen. One of my sayings is, "Triggers are the gift that keeps on giving." So they happen, now what do we do?
Avoiding triggers is only the beginning, and important, in the early weeks and months of recovery.  This approach is not the final or most important strategy.   In future editions of this newsletter I will expand on the deeper ways that we can take our triggers captive, understand them at a soul level, and transform them into understandings of how we can be more obedient to the will of God. 

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