Trigger is a word thrown around quite a bit throughout anorexia recovery and maintenance; and rightfully so! It’s a HUGE part of recovery in the sense that recognizing them can strengthen your self-awareness, and finding effective ways to manage them can help you progress further in recovery. So while this word is used constantly, I don’t think it’s accurately defined nearly as often.
Put in simple terms: a trigger is anything that provokes anxiety, fear, or upsets you throughout anorexia recovery. It can be a person, place, type of food, statement, you name it. In each case, a trigger can often motivate you to resort back to the “safety” of anorexia, and ultimately can set you back in recovery if you are unable to work through these triggers. I will openly admit that there were multiple experiences where my personal triggers led me to restrict at a meal, or an entire meal. Reverting to the habitual food restriction felt like the easiest thing to do.
Part of the problem was that in the initial stages of recovery, I wasn’t even aware that I had triggers. Obviously, this would make it nearly impossible to fight through my triggers if I didn’t even know what they were! What I did know: I was upset. I was pissed off. I was anxious as hell. However, I didn’t necessarily know WHY.
Here are some tips to help you identify your triggers, manage them, educate your supporters of your triggers, and most of all, to help you accept that they are a normal and expected part of recovery.
Keep a journal
You will see this tip over and over again; and it’s because it actually works. Keep an accurate account and record of your feelings and thoughts, specifically when you feel yourself becoming anxious. Write down exactly what is going on around you; this will help you determine what is triggering you in the environment. When we build self-awareness, we are better able to move onto the next step of managing what is causing us the anxiety and distress.
Control the triggers that you are able to
If mirrors trigger you due to body image distortions, cover up the mirrors temporarily. It is okay to alter the environment you’re in while recovering. If you have to remove the scales from your household, do it. Your mom who likes to check her weight weekly will understand and can easily go to a local gym to weigh herself instead. If you have to remove your pantry and fridge of all fat-free foods (because you’re triggered to eat solely fat free food during recovery), then do it. Your health is far more important that the salad dressings that fill your fridge. If you have to recycle or donate “anorexia clothing” so that you’re not triggered by the size on the clothing label, then do it.
Have a conversation about your triggers
Let’s say your trigger is something you can’t necessarily control: a person. I know that throughout my recovery, my mom would unintentionally trigger me. Excessively. The triggers continued month after month, and part of the reason was because she was completely unaware that she was even triggering me! And this is because I never talked to her about it. I encourage each of you to have an honest conversation with the recovery supporters you have in your life. While our anxieties feel real and true to us, they don’t always make rational sense to our friends and family. As sensitive as our supporters can be, it becomes difficult sometimes to say the “right” thing when literally nothing our supporters say feels right in the moment. I remember telling my mom, “just don’t say anything at all. Don’t say I look pretty. Don’t you dare say I am looking healthier.” My trigger was hearing anything remotely related to my appearance. And so she stayed silent. While this pissed off my eating disordered, I knew that my healing side was benefitting. Your supporters won’t know what to say versus what not to say, and they won’t know your triggers, unless you tell them.
Accept that you may be triggered during and after recovery
Keep in mind that by accepting your triggers, this does not mean you simply allow them to persist without putting in work to manage them and overcome them. By accepting our triggers, I mean that we accept that these are a normal part of recovery while we also acknowledge that it is primarily our responsibility to learn new ways to cope with them. Feeling triggered may be our (temporary) reality while in recovery; however, it doesn’t mean that it will always be this way.
Be honest when you are triggered, and even more honest when you act upon them
You will not recover if you’re being dishonest. This is true for being dishonest with yourself, and with others. Recovery begins and is successful when you are honest about your triggers. It’s okay to admit you’re anxious. It’s okay to feel scared and to feel hopeless throughout the recovery process. It’s okay to feel exhausted and frustrated with ourselves. It’s okay to admit that we maybe took a step back in recovery, because there is always tomorrow where you can take two steps forward. And in doing so, you’re taking the hardest and biggest step towards change and recovery because you’re simply being honest.