Through my many failed attempts to stop viewing pornography I became so frustrated. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t just stop or prevent myself from going back to that same place over and over again, even though I knew it wasn’t working for me.

One of the reasons why I kept ending up in the same place was because I had never really thought about triggers and the effect that they were having on even my very best of intentions.

When I went to rehab, it really helped to hear from people who struggled with other addictions, especially around the area of triggers.

What is a trigger?

A trigger is something that starts a chain reaction that leads to a response – just like pulling a trigger on a gun will begin the firing sequence that will lead to the discharge of a cartridge. For someone who is struggling with an addiction a trigger can be internal or external.

Internal triggers

An internal trigger happens inside of us, for instance an emotion. There are a couple of acronyms that are useful for remembering some of the feelings that can act as a trigger: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired (HALT) or Bored, Lonely, Angry, Stressed, Tired (BLAST). For me it was a mixture of boredom and loneliness. Somewhere along the way I had taught myself to turn to chatrooms and pornography whenever I felt bored or lonely. That’s not to blame my actions on my feelings, but understanding that these feelings were triggers helped me to identify when I was vulnerable. In early recovery it was really important for me to learn new responses to these feelings, rather than going online, I needed to make a phone call to someone I could be accountable to.

External triggers

An external trigger is outside of ourselves. For an alcoholic, it might be a billboard advertising beer, while for someone who struggles with lust, it could be  an image on a webpage, a sound, a location, or even a person. Just like I can’t blame my emotions for my actions, neither can I blame the world for putting triggers in my way. Learning to deal with external triggers involves a combination of blocking out the ones that can be blocked out, and learning a new response for the ones that can’t. For example, there are certain TV shows and websites that I knew I could no longer watch or visit. They may not have been pornographic, but they contained enough triggers to lead me down a path that would end with me searching for that next fix. Installing software like Covenant Eyes on my computer that blocked certain sites was a huge help to begin with.

That said, you can’t necessarily block out every trigger, so I also needed to learn a new response. For example, seeing a sexually provocative advertisement in the past would have started a particular thought pattern eventually leading to viewing porn. Today when I see the same advertisement, I will try to surrender it in prayer saying, “God, I know right now I want this, but please help me to want You more, help me to surrender this to You.”

I had never really stopped to consider that these triggers were leading me back to chat rooms and viewing porn over and over again, but now that I am aware of it I can prepare myself and avoid situations where I know that I’m vulnerable. I realised that I could no longer go into the computer room in my parents old house because I had spent so much of my teenage years viewing porn in that room that it had become a trigger for me.

In future blog posts we will take a look at brain tracts and how they are related to triggers.

For mor information check out this article from Kate Green on managing triggers.