Relapse Prevention in the Canyons: Training ourselves to be aware of and deal with Triggers

Relapes Prevention - Dealing with TriggersRelapse prevention is an important topic in substance abuse treatment. At Legacy Outdoor Adventures one topic of relapse prevention we focus on is education, awareness of, and how to deal with triggers.

What are triggers? Triggers are things that induce an emotional response in us that can lead to obsessive thought or behavior around drugs and alcohol. A trigger could be a smell that we associate with using. A trigger could also be seeing someone who we associate with using or going to a place we used to use. It could be hearing a song we have listened to while using. Triggers often appeal to the senses. There are also emotional triggers. Something that creates stress, anxiety, anger, or depresses us can be a trigger. When using drugs or alcohol all the time, all of these things can create a conditioned response that makes an addict obsess and crave drugs and alcohol.

This week at Legacy we worked on creating awareness around the things that trigger us and tools to help deal with them. We incorporated this with a canyoneering adventure. Canyoneering is descending technical slot canyons by hiking, down climbing, and rappelling through the canyon. It requires teamwork and good communication to navigate and descend the canyon safely and efficiently. After gathering all the equipment we needed to descend the canyon we began our approach hike from the trailhead. The first half mile of the hike was flat and did not offer much of a challenge. Then we came to a trail that lead straight up hill where we would gain 700 feet in elevation over the course of ¾ mile. At this point we sat down and took our packs off and had a discussion about triggers. We defined what triggers are, what experiences people have had being triggered, and what specific things trigger us. We then talked about specific tools we use to fight triggers. Then we introduced the idea of a trigger buster. A trigger buster is a tool to interrupt the internal response that the trigger causes and reconnects us with our purpose in living a life of meaningful recovery. The trigger buster starts with awareness that we are being triggered. Then we take a deep breath to calm ourselves and slow down our thoughts. Then we have a mantra that we tell ourselves that connects us to our purpose. After explaining what a trigger buster was we all took a few minutes in silent meditation to think about our trigger buster and develop a personal mantra or saying that we would tell ourselves when things got tough that would connect us back to our purpose. Everyone shared their saying out loud and we began the hike up hill. When the hike got tough we encouraged each other to take a deep breath and say your mantra. “Be Strong” “God, grant me the serenity.” I have the freedom to choose to be me.” “I am capable of dealing with hard times in positive ways.” “I want to make my Grandpa and family proud.” These were some of the mantras the members of the group shared.

The most fear, stress, and anxiety inducing thing encountered canyoneering is often the rappels and because of this response that it creates we wanted to use the rappels to practice our trigger busters. When each member was half way down the rappel his partner below would take him on belay so he could let go of the rope with both hands. With both hands free of the rope each member practiced taking a deep breath and saying their mantra. One group member stated that he realized the purpose of this exercise and saw the value in it. “If I can learn, practice, and condition myself to practice a trigger buster while hanging off the side of a cliff on a rope I will be able to do it when I am tempted by something in my regular life. But I know I have to practice it so it becomes my natural response to dealing with stuff when it comes up.”

This canyoneering adventure proved to be a successful one. Not only did we have a great time hiking, exploring, rappelling, climbing and celebrating recovery but we also learned about addiction, triggers, and how we deal with triggers.  The canyon helped create a meaningful setting for us to teach and talk about relapse prevention and having meaningful recovery.

Working with triggers in wilderness therapy