10. Identify Triggers and Maintenance Behaviors
In this Practice:
- What are triggers?
- What are maintenance behaviors?
- Ongoing review and adding to these lists will be important
- Assignment for Practice Ten
More than likely, you are a creature of habit. Or better, a creature of habits. In seeking recovery from sex addiction, you’re wanting to break bad habits that you’ve developed. These habits are self-reinforcing in a way that roots them in your soul. They have a hold on you, meaning they become your sub-conscious go-to response when you’re in certain situations. That’s why will power alone is not enough to free you from this compulsion. But you can live differently.
Identifying your triggers and maintenance behaviors is a strategy for dismantling the way your addictive tendencies operate in your life.
Triggers are situations and specific factors that lead you—consciously or unconsciously—into acting out (engaging in unhealthy sexual behaviors).
In classic recovery thinking there are four primary feelings that become triggers for most addicts: hungry, angry, lonely, and tired. You have more, of course, but those four are quite common. For me, being bored or being overstressed can be a trigger.
Maintenance behaviors are activities, settings and behaviors which are not specific triggers, but which set a mood, mindset or emotional climate in which you are much more susceptible to being triggered. Maintenance behaviors tend to take more work to identify than triggers. But there is great reward in really doing the work of identifying what for you are the maintenance behaviors that set you up.
For me, maintenance behaviors include eating late at night, staying up past 10:30 or so, engaging in flippancy or sarcastic chatter, letting my mind just run back and forth over future events. Another few of mine are letting my mind run in circuitous thinking or obsessive thinking, procrastinating on projects and ruminating over them and—this one is tricky for me because I can slip into this mindset without realizing it—wanting the approval of others. Those are just a few. I now have a fairly long list of my maintenance behaviors.
Remember back in Practice Seven when we discussed cruising websites late at night? For you that might be a trigger. It directly leads you to wanting to act out (look at porn, masturbate, meet someone). But just being up on the computer late at night can be a maintenance behavior (creating an unfocused time, an emotionally restless situation).
Identifying and then sculpting your life to avoid triggers and maintenance behaviors is an essential life-skill. It adds to the previous Practices of safeguards, boundaries and self-care.
Think of driving on a highway. As an addict you’ve been driving on the shoulder. Oh sure, more or less you’re moving on down the road, but it’s a bumpy, rough sort of drive, and every now and then you just veer right off the road. Depending on the circumstances, you’ve done a fair amount of damage to your car (your life).
Identifying and avoiding triggers and maintenance behaviors is staying off the shoulder, driving on the clear pavement. You can still run your car (life) into the ditch, but it’s less likely. And your drive is smoother. You’ll get to liking it!
Do this Practice in several settings. It’ll be important to work on it, take some time away while thinking about it, and come back to it. Ask the Spirit to help you see clearly and be honest with yourself.
This is a Practice you’ll really want to come back and carefully review and update deep into your recovery. Really, it’s life giving.
Assignment for Engaging the Tenth Practice—Identifying Triggers and Maintenance Behaviors
1. Review your compulsive sexual acting out behaviors. Ask yourself these questions and write down your responses.
- What time of day do you tend to engage in sexual behaviors?
- What days of the week do you tend to engage in sexual behaviors?
- Are there places (specific rooms, locations, parts of town, cities, etc.) where you tend to engage in sexual behaviors more than others?
- Are there seasons in the year that you have seen yourself more sexually active or more tempted to be sexual?
- Are there certain types of clothing (worn by others or worn by yourself) that arouse you sexually?
- Are there certain scenarios that run through your mind, more often than other scenarios, that make you feel sexual and lead you to behave sexually, either with yourself alone or with others?
- Are you more likely to feel sexual or use sexual behavior when lonely? Angry or emotionally destabilized? Physically tired? When you’re either hungry or have eaten certain foods?
- Are there certain people (other than your spouse if you have one) who cause you to feel sexually aroused, who capture your imagination and desire?
2. After having thought through these questions, take some additional time—both along the way and after you’ve worked through the questions—to sort through any and all tangential thoughts and insights that have come up. There will be other factors present to your approach to compulsive sex. So note those elements as well.
3. Now make two lists:
- List all situations, elements or specific factors which lead you into feeling the compulsive urge to misuse your sexuality; these are your triggers
- List all activities and situations that might not directly lead to you being triggered, but create the kind of mood or mindset where you become more easily triggered. These are your maintenance behaviors.
4. Post these lists where you will see them regularly and often. Review them carefully and often Rearrange your schedule and the patterns of your living to avoid triggers and maintenance behaviors
5. Share with someone (sponsor, therapist, recovery group or friend) what you’ve learned about your triggers and your maintenance behaviors and what you’re doing to avoid them.
6. This is a practice you need to periodically come back and review, edit and add to; if you’re growing in your recovery, there are new insights into what triggers you or sets you up to be triggered; you’ll want to cultivate this practice for quite some time, deep into your recovery
7. Here is a prayer I recommend you pray daily (it’s actually the Step Seven prayer):
My Creator, I’m now willing that You should have all of me, good and bad. I pray that you now remove from me every single defect of character which stands in the way of my usefulness to You and my fellows. Grant me strength, as I go out from here, to do your bidding. Amen.
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