How to Identify and Address Triggers
I have been in recovery from Anorexia Nervosa for almost 10 years now, and I need to be honest. I still get triggered.
I used to think that recovery meant I would arrive at a magical place: a place in which I would never experience triggers, love my body all the time, and never struggle with food. I use the word “magical” since this thought was a healing escape for me early in recovery. There was something powerful about holding onto this thought as a guidepost. However, this place in my mind of magical recovery didn’t exist, and the more I navigated my journey of healing and recovery, this definition of recovery actually began to hurt me.
Triggers are a major part of recovery from an eating disorder. For me, triggers manifest as thoughts, feelings, comments, images, and events that literally trigger me to have an eating disorder thought or urge. It could be as simple as someone commenting on my appearance, or my outfit that day. Or it could be something as extreme as seeing someone else acting out in disordered eating and body image-focused behaviors.
When I experience a trigger, it can be very uncomfortable. This is largely because my original definition of recovery meant I would not experience triggers anymore. This created feelings of shame, failure, and fear. I was scared that any thought, feeling, or urge meant that I wasn’t in recovery -- and that my eating disorder was right around the corner.
10 years into my recovery journey, and I still get triggered. But I now know that this is recovery! There is no longer a metaphorical, magical destination that defines my recovery. Life is recovery. Being able to face life on life’s terms, and accept myself no matter the circumstances, is recovery. You might say that recovery went from being a noun to a verb. Recovery for me is about action, and what I do when I am triggered.
And so I’m here to help offer you peace of mind. We live in a culture that is largely centered on shaming body standards, gender roles, and disordered eating. In so many ways, eating disorders have become normalized, making the very process of recovery a radical act of social defiance. You are not alone, and the reality that you will never experience triggers is a fallacy. Recovery is about what to do when these triggers surface, not that they do not exist.
The following are some Recovery in Action Steps I take when I experience triggers.
- Radical self-empathy: I am already feeling my feelings, and therefore know what it feels like to be experiencing this trigger. I have learned to recognize that if I am experiencing an eating disorder thought or have an urge, I have just experienced a trigger. I stop and practice giving myself empathy and compassion for how scary being triggered can feel.
- Identify: I immediately ask myself: what am I saying about myself? What am I saying about my worth and my value? For me, this is always at the root of any trigger. Do these thoughts align with my values framework and my overarching recovery process?
- Ask for help: I have learned to radically accept that being alone with my thoughts and feelings when triggered is never a good idea. Who can I call? Who can I talk to who will support me? Call this person. If they are not available, I always write down these thoughts and feelings and share them when I can.
- Affirmations: I have a go-to affirmation for when I am triggered, especially when I am in the rut of “compare and despair.” This is a tool to combat the feelings of unworthiness . I sit and say to myself, repeatedly, “I am enough, I have enough, there is enough.” This always works.