Not all triggers are bad.

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

puppy makes you feel good

Puppy loves you!
Positive triggers.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Sometimes you need to get triggered.

The concept of “triggers,” things that you might see, hear, feel or do that could set off a change in thinking, feeling and behavior is an established part of the way of thinking in the recovery field. People learn something called “relapse prevention” in an effort to avoid having things set off a craving for drugs, alcohol or a return of depressive symptoms.

Just avoiding negative triggers is not enough for many people. You need some things in your life that trigger positive behaviors and emotions also.

Psychologists use the word “prime” instead of trigger for part of what we are talking about here. The concept is that seeing or experiencing something can “prime” your brain for a particular emotional response. Once primed it is easier to experience that feeling.

An example of a negative “prime” or trigger.

You walk into the house and see pictures of your ex. There are some broken things from your last fight. Lots of reminders of your disastrous relationship. The result? You are triggered to feel depressed or even to drink and use.

An example of a positive “prime” or trigger.

What if you redecorated that place? Put those old photos away. Go somewhere new with a friend and replace those photos with some new pictures. Same place, but this new environment, a few new things, some happy-making pictures can set off a positive mood.

Below is a list of things that might be positive triggers for you.

Things that make you feel loved are positive triggers.

What says love to you? Is that restricted to a sexual partner? Think about things that have made you feel loved in the past. Mementos from a friendship, reminders of parents, children or things that you have done for yourself to express self-love. Consider buying yourself a gift. Something you will see each time you come through that door that says I care about myself.

For some people, this happy trigger can be a pet. What says unconditional love like the greeting a pet gives you when you come home? Don’t have or haven’t had a pet? Look for a picture of that animal you want to have someday. Put that pet substitute in a prominent place. Tell yourself and the animal picture each time you see it that one day this will be yours.

For others, your love trigger would be a souvenir you bought for yourself or pictures of a place you plan to take yourself someday.

Have you started a new hobby? Put out reminders of this new part of your life so that when you walk through the door you feel at home and loved.

Boost your self-confidence.

Look for things that bring up memories of feeling good about yourself. Did you win a contest once? This does not need to be some grand accomplishment. Small doses of self-esteem mount up.

Nothing builds self-esteem as quickly as doing something for another with no expectation of receiving anything in return. What if you volunteered to help someone else? Would that help you feel good about yourself?

Trigger happiness.

What makes you feel happy? What puts a smile on your face? Rent some funny movies. Put up pictures of funny sayings. Write out your favorite jokes and post them in prominent places.

Have you seen a picture online that makes you smile? Make it your wallpaper or print out a copy and post it where you will see it often.

Cute cat videos get a lot of looks because they help us feel good about things. Bookmark those happy videos. When you feel down revisit the positive things you have experienced.

Have people in your life that trigger feeling good.

Evaluate your friends and the people who you spend time with. Do they help you feel good about yourself? If not start renovating your friendships. You may want a picture of a religious figure, you know the one I mean.

Was there someone whose life you admired? Find or draw a picture of them and put it up where it can trigger your inspiration.  Work on making new positive friends. Deepen friendships with others that trigger your positive emotions.

Smells are great memory triggers.

Is there a scent from your past that reminds you of happy times? Cinnamon at Christmas or flowers in springtime. Scents are strong memory cures. Herbs have been used for centuries because of the positive emotions they create. Get yourself a lavender or sage plant. Try some potpourri or some strongly scented cooking. Whatever scents trigger you in a positive way, work on having them with you more often.

Replace those negative triggers with a positive one.

As you work on your recovery be alert for the things that trigger negative feelings. Does something make you depressed, anxious or remind you of bad times? What makes you want to drink or use? Work on exchanging those triggers for positive ones that will support your recovery and happiness.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

Getting some recovery – preventing relapse

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Urge Surfing Prevents Relapses.

Urge Surfing Prevents Relapses.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

How do you get this recovery thing?

Moving from being “in the problem” to being “recovered” is a process. Many of the things that will take you from the pain to the solution are simple. That does not mean they are easy. Sometimes healing from the past can be painful also.

In past posts, we have talked about Defining Recovery and how recovery is possible for anyone, and that recovery means having the best life possible not necessarily a cure for your condition.

In another post we looked at Why giving up the drugs and alcohol might not make you any happier. Just trying to not do the negative or dysfunctional behaviors will not be enough. Recovery literature talks a lot about using “recovery tools” (see: Getting your tools dirty) and things like internal and external triggers.

What may be missing are the blueprints for creating recovery.

Reader Sue made the following comment.

How exactly should one get their recovery tools dirty? Giving up something that is bad for one, you do expect to feel better but when you don’t you feel disheartened. What’s left is yourself and your problems. So you read all the self-help books and try and work on yourself but how do you connect the practice to the theory? All those learned responses and ways of coping are very hard to unlearn – is it about keeping a record, making new goals or just trying to get through without going backwards?

There are a lot of recovery processes in use today, 12 step models, CBT & REBT therapy’s, counseling and so on. They all have their place and they all have some common elements. Here are some basic steps for transforming your life from being hopeless and suffering to having a healthy recovery.

1. What is the problem?

You don’t get chemotherapy for depression or a drinking problem. Drug and alcohol treatment is not very effective for cancer. Make sure you are treating the real problem.

For most people who come to treatment for an addiction problem, the drugs, and the alcohol is not the problem! The drugs and alcohol are their solutions. The real problem is that their coping method, drinking or drugging to ease the pain, is not working. The problem has become that they don’t know how to live without the drugs and alcohol.

Part of defining problems is to admit that your efforts to control the problem have not been working. This is sometimes referred to as “Powerlessness” which is not the same thing as being helpless. Applying this concept of powerlessness to ways to cope with family members who have the problem was the subject of another blog post.

Mental illnesses can play the same role. Depression, anxiety, and dissociation can all function to avoid a painful life experience. The current problem, the one you need to solve first is how to live life without drugs, alcohol, depression, anxiety or any other negative coping mechanisms.

Most of the time we think the solution to drugs and alcohol is to just stop doing them. This rarely works. Once deprived of your coping mechanism people just suffer. The most effective treatment is to replace the substances with something positive. With clients that I work with we start by creating a Happy Emotional Life Plan (HELP). As a counselor, I believe I am in the happy life business.

With emotional issues, as with eating disorders, it is a little more difficult. You can’t just give up sadness or anxiety and you have to eat and stay healthy. You need to learn to feel feelings without having them control you.

2. Are you ready to change? What help will you need?

Self-help groups talk about recovery being a “we” program not an “I” program. You need to be willing to accept help and support from any source that is healthy. Counselors, Therapists, 12 step groups all can assist in your recovery.

3. Change requires moving through a process

Twelve-step programs refer to “working” the steps or “taking” the steps. Counseling involves some self-examination. To really change requires a lot of action steps. For a detailed description of the process see the series of posts on “Stages of Change”

Pre-contemplation
Contemplation
Preparation or determination
Early Action
Late Action
Maintenance

4. Even after you have changed there is more work to do.

For change to be lasting you will need to do some sort of maintenance. Our old behavior patterns are deeply grooved into the structure of our life. It takes work to avoid falling back into the same old groove.

5. Progress, not perfection.

People in early recovery try to do everything now. They want to do recovery, get a job, find a new relationship and generally create the perfect life all in one week. Learn to take things “one day at a time.”

Relapse, in my view, may not be a required “part of recovery, ” but it happens often enough that it is nothing to beat yourself up about. If you relapse on substance or depression, just get back into recovery as quickly as possible and move on.

The goal, as the old saying goes is “progress not perfection.” Keep your eyes on the gains you are making, give yourself credit for anything well done and try to build on small successes until you create the bigger ones.

Life in recovery is a sort of experiment. We try things and learn from our efforts. Try to avoid experiments that result in a lot of pain or require time behind bars, but you will have to make choices and some of those choices will not work out the way you would have hoped.

This is a real life, sometimes I like it sometimes I don’t. Learning to sit and feel badly and know this will pass, but I can tolerate this feeling without using my negative coping mechanism.

So yes Sue recovery is about trudging forward, trying on new behaviors and sometimes it is hard or painful and sometimes we fall back but always keep track of what works and what doesn’t and keep moving forward.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

4 Stages of recovery

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Ball recovery

Recovery and Resiliency. Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

How does recovery grow and develop?

Recovery does not happen suddenly, out of nowhere. It takes time and work. From my way of thinking there are customary predictable stages of recovery. People may move through these stages at varying rates, some people move backward at times, but the goal for all should be to reach a final place where recovery is stable and less at risk.

The concept of recovery used to be mostly applied to substance abuse. Recently the concepts of wellness and recovery have been incorporated into Mental Health and physical health issues.

In a series of earlier posts, we talked about stages of change. Those stages begin with Pre-contemplation, the I don’t have a problem and even if I did I wouldn’t want to change anything, to Contemplation, yeah so – maybe I do have a problem but I am not sure I am ready to do anything about it. After that is Preparation, sometimes called Determination, and finally the action process, which we divided into Early Action and Late Action phases. The last part of this recovery journey was Maintenance.

In this model, Relapse is seen not as part of recovery but as the inability to maintain recovery once we reach it. This is understood as a common result of failure to do the maintenance activities. There has been lots of literature on relapse, triggers and lifestyle changes to make to avoid relapse. Much less has been written about what someone might expect during recovery.

Here are the four stages of recovery as I see them

1. In recovery.

People in this stage are seeking answers, working on themselves and investing time in their recovery. This is the time when people are taking action steps or may begin to do maintenance to hold onto the gains they have made. Lots of people will describe themselves as “in recovery”

2. Recovering.

People who describe themselves as recovering have moved from the point of being hopeless and lost to having hope and seeing their symptoms reduced. The urges and cravings may decrees even if they are never totally gone. People with mental health symptoms, while not fully back on their feet, may find they are able to do more things more days. Symptoms while present are shrinking.

3. Recovered.

Some people are afraid to say this. They are afraid that feeling recovered, they will let down on working on themselves and relapse. The A.A. Big Book uses this language on the title page of Alcoholics Anonymous, “The Story of How Many Thousands of Men and Woman Have Recovered from Alcoholism.”

People who call themselves “recovered” are quick to point out that they are not cured. Just as when someone is diagnosed with diabetes they may get their disease under control but they will never go back to being a non-diabetic. With any chronic, relapsing disease you may recover but you are never really cured.

People who are recovered begin to get their life back. They may go back to work, volunteer or be able to participate fully in everyday life.

4. Life on life’s terms.

Every recovered person will have bumps on their road of life. This is a real life, good happens and bad happens. A person’s recovery is secure when they are able to withstand the things that happen, good or bad, in life without a return to active symptoms.

Doing the maintenance steps helps, so does building a comprehensive support system. The real test of someone’s recovery is – can bad or unexpected things happen in your life without triggering a return of your symptoms.

Best wishes on your recovery and having the happy life you deserve.

Other posts on this topic can be found at: Pre-contemplation, Contemplation, Preparation, Early Action, Late Action, Maintenance, relapse, recovery, triggers, support system, more on support systems, Resiliency

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

The Inside and Outside of Relapse triggers.

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Relapse

Relapse.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Relapse triggers, either internal or external, are those things that set off cravings in a recovering person. The failure to do maintenance steps in the process of change increase the risk of giving into triggers.

External triggers are the things outside ourselves that place us at risk to resume old behaviors and give up on the progress of recovery. Shorthand ways of understanding these triggers are people, places, and things.

People are one of the biggest reasons people relapse. There is a huge temptation to look up old friends. Often the only thing that you have in common with an old friend is a history of using drugs or drinking. Sometimes there was a history of other dysfunctional activities, codependency or abusive relationships. If the people you had around you in the past supported your addiction or if they were not affirming, or made you feel bad about yourself, being around them can take you back there. Avoiding people who are bad for you is not being selfish.it is being self-caring. In early recovery it is suggested you not make a change you can’t take back like changing jobs or relationships. Surround yourself with people who support your recovery.

Places are another important external trigger to pay attention to. Alcoholics need to avoid bars; drug addicts should avoid dope houses. But there are other places to avoid. People with relationship issues should avoid revisiting places they used to go with a partner who is no longer in your life. Should someone on a diet visit a candy store? I wouldn’t recommend it. Think about places that you may need to avoid if you want to be secure in your recovery. Is there a family member or former friend who triggers your issues?

Things can also reignite thoughts of returning to an old lifestyle. Music can be a powerful memory trigger, so can some smells. People with relationship issues, sometimes we call these people love addicts, find it hard to let a relationship go. They keep the old moments out. They think about the things they did together. One last call to see how that person is doing is likely to set off a new round of problems. Carrying lots of cash can trigger some people, especially gambling addicts and former drug dealers. Sometimes it is a pipe or a lighter you find hard to get rid of. Is there something that reminds you of your issue but which you find hard to give up?

Internal triggers are the other part of the equation. The things going on inside our bodies and our minds are also relapse triggers. The word HALT standing for, Hungry, Angry, Lonely and Tired is used as a reminder of those triggers.

Hunger, thirst and many other physical sensations can make you feel restless, irritable and unleash the cravings. Negative emotions are powerful relapse triggers. Feeling anger fear or resentment, any number of negative emotions can cause someone to catch a case of “who cares.” Loneliness sends people back to their disorder quickly. Being tired is likely to upset recovery also. All of these internal triggers have to do with not taking care of ourselves. It is a short hop from not taking care of yourself to thinking you don’t deserve care, after that why should you hang on? Why not go back to the old life? People who don’t provide good self-care don’t encourage others to care for them. They start believing they don’t deserve to be treated well and then they stop treating themselves well.

Another way of understanding internal and external triggers is to look at the two main causes of relapse, romances, and finances. Romances are all about your feelings, feelings of loving and being loved, self-worth and self-esteem. Finances, mostly money, is the ultimate thing. Lack of money can sap our will to change. Having a lot of money makes some people feel they are invincible; the rules don’t apply to them. Pay attention to the healthiness of your relationships with things and with people. When one of these relationships gets out of balance, your life is headed out of balance.

These are only some of the things that might cause you to relapse. We each have our own triggers. What are yours? Knowing your triggers and how to defuse them strengthens your recovery.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.