Triggers and associations are strong reminders of the past. For people in early recovery, a trigger or association can be the influencing factor which leads to a relapse. A few triggers are easier to see than others, for example the bar you used to drink at is a blatant reminder of your drinking. Most triggers are a lot smaller but just as powerful. For example, that playlist that always played in your car while you were using or drinking might have a strong enough association to make you crave. Something as simple as getting home after a treatment and your house smells a certain way could bring back memories, causing a substantial craving.
Furthermore, there are also internal triggers which are harder to prepare for. Certain emotions can trigger a desire to use. If you had a certain dynamic with a family member that caused you to feel resentful which lead to you fighting and eventually using, that dynamic will possibly happen again once you are home. Being aware of your dynamics in relationships might be the difference between you acting out or making the decision to do something differently. You only need to do something differently once to see that there is another way.
Many people underestimate the force that these triggers and associations have on someone in early recovery and just how quickly they can lead to the physical relapse. Here at Bethesda Rehabilitation Centre we make a point to go through triggers in our relapse prevention workshops and in our Transitional Workshops.
The question remains, how do we deal with triggers and associations so that we can be safe when we leave treatment?
For most people, the transition will be difficult as not everyone can move houses or towns. You will be confronted with the same situations, with the same people most likely causing the same feelings.
The first step to combating these dynamics is awareness, we need to be prepared for this. Surprises will pop up but the more prepared we are, the less chance of emotional acting out there is.
Trust your internal messages. Treatment makes us aware of ourselves and of our thought processing. If you think you are at risk, you probably are. Walk away, rather apologise one day for being rude, then apologise to your family because you sold the car again. Being true to yourself is going to be far more rewarding than conforming to what others expect of you.
Time, time is the best healer of triggers and associations. Time allows for new associations to be made. That new playlist in the car, that place where you experienced serenity for the first time after you got through a tough time clean and sober. However, time on its own is not sufficient, time with active recovery work is the recipe for long term and lasting change.