Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Avoiding Addiction Triggers

© Russ Beck, May 2010

The other day while working in the house, I heard my dog, Corky, barking from the kitchen. This was not his normal bark telling me there was a stray cat in the yard, nor his answer to a neighbor dog, calling out the latest news. This bark had a little bit of distress to its timbre. As I walked into the kitchen to locate the source of his difficulty, I noticed him staring intently at the full-to-the-brim kitchen trash. I'd intended to take it out earlier that morning, but it slipped my mind. Corky pointed his nose at a napkin, hanging over the edge and just at eye level.

The little dog loves to chew on napkins. He not only chews on them, he shreds them, leaving tiny bits and pieces all over. Sometimes he even eats them. However, he knows this love affair with napkins is a forbidden activity for him.

Just what was he trying to tell me as he barked and stared at the temptation? From past experience, I knew he was calling for help. He really wanted that paper dessert, but he also knew that he would be in trouble if he took it and shredded it all over the kitchen.

I told him he was a good boy, then I emptied the trash, thereby removing the temptation. He calmed down and went about his normal routine.

There's a good analogy for all of us in that story. How often do we see temptation, then flirt and toy with it, only to succumb in the end? Why flirt with temptation when it would be better to avoid it or seek help in overcoming it? And how much stronger is the temptation when there's an addiction involved?

Once an addiction has started to become a part of someone's life, there are many situations which have the potential to draw them back into the web of addiction. How aware they are of these triggers and how they deal with them ultimately determines their success in not returning to addictions.

For most people, a major trigger is stress. This can be stress from a job, family, unemployment, neighbors, etc. Stress is a killer in many ways, but for someone overcoming an addiction it is deadly. Learning how to live with stress and not use the familiar addictive coping mechanisms from the past is hard. Recognizing the stressful situations gives us the opportunity of choosing the next course of action and not just reacting to the stress in old destructive patterns of behavior.

For example, I love eating ice cream. However, I need to lose a few pounds and I’m diabetic, so I need to be careful about what I eat. If I have a difficult day at work and then come home to find the wind has blown shingles off my roof and flung the pine tree into the street, I know I’ll be stressed. If next I go to the store thinking I'll pick up something quick for dinner before I start cleaning up the shingles, and instead I start to walk slowly down the ice cream aisle, I’m placing myself in danger. Additionally, if I pause to look at the different varieties of ice cream, I’m increasing the level of danger. Ultimately, I’ll open the door, handle the ice cream container and before long, it’s in the cart and in my tummy in short order.

That example makes it clear that the more we are able to identify what our particular triggers are, the better we’ll be able to develop new coping measures.

For fun, clink on the following link below and look at the pictures: http://www.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,1626481,00.html Do they entice you to want to eat or not? If weight, or over-eating is a problem, or you believe you have a food addiction, which pictures might be a trigger for you and which ones wouldn't?

One trick in objectively identifying triggers is called mindfulness. It means to become aware of ourselves in a non-judgmental manner so we can be more objective without being accusatory. Techniques such as meditation, prayer and quiet reflection are ways to accomplish this. Another good technique is keeping a journal. Combined with these are deep breathing and listening to peaceful, relaxing music. Mindfulness exercises place us in a position to view ourselves in a more lenient fashion. They also offer an opportunity to choose our future actions in a calm state of being.

All of these mindfulness behaviors assist us in tending the garden of our mind. It is important to remember that just as an unattended garden will produce weeds, so too will an unattended mind.

To bring us back to the example in the beginning, with Corky, the dog, I now try to be more like him when I notice old, destructive behavior patterns starting to surface. I bark for help from those around who love me.

Try the tips that I've mentioned above and see if they don't help ... no matter what you're trying to overcome.

Until next time …

~ Russ


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1 comment:

  1. Good advice. I guess that means if I want to give up chocolate, I shouldn't have that bag of it sitting in my pantry, huh? Or walk down the candy aisle at the store when I'm hungry?

    Bummer. :)

    Thanks for posting this ... very helpful.