Overcoming Triggers And Traumatic Pasts
One monumental step you can take in your recovery is learning to connect with yourself. And one way to connect with yourself is by learning to be self-compassionate and self-forgiving.
Often times, we turn back to a substance, because we aren’t happy or we feel guilty, or worthless. Perhaps we’re afraid, traumatized, or angry.
The point is that we can’t escape these poisonous feelings.
We can’t escape particular memories that engulf us with the poisonous emotions that are too heavy to carry.
We start to feel like we can’t bear to be present in our lives- we can’t move forward from this trigger of our past.
The guilt, shame, fear, worthlessness, anger… it’s all too overwhelming.
We can’t forget the pain involved with this memory, nor can we escape it.
But perhaps part of the reason why this past keeps coming back to haunt you is that you haven’t truly forgiven yourself.
Start With Forgiving Yourself
Maybe you are not showing yourself compassion.
Perhaps you are shaming yourself, or somehow blaming yourself for the events that transpired at that traumatizing moment.
You’re not truly forgiving yourself, or maybe you aren’t forgiving what happened in the past, in your heart.
We’ve already discussed the process of using self-compassion to overcome triggers, discussed in Part 1 of this series (click HERE to read Part 1).
So now let’s talk about the process of self-forgiveness, and the vitality it has for your recovery.
The Process of Forgiveness
Self-Compassion and Self-Forgiveness go hand in hand.
Self-forgiveness is the next step to this process.
Once you begin thinking of that specific, poisonous memory and are able to recognize it. Once you are able to have compassion for the feelings that accompany it.
You are then able to take your next step to forgiveness.
Again, every person deals with their own past, their own situation, and their own circumstances, differently.
Therefore the process of forgiveness will be different for everyone and for every different situation.
There will be two types of forgiveness in this process: self-forgiveness and forgiving someone or something else.
This process of Forgiveness for you and your specific situation may include forgiving yourself.
Perhaps you require self-forgiveness for a bad decision that you think you made in that traumatic memory.
Maybe it’s that you need to forgive yourself for a mistake you have made, or any regrets you may have had.
Forgiveness Starts With An Apology
This type of forgiveness fully involves yourself, and no one else.
These are situations in which you wish that you could have done something differently, but can’t.
These are traumatic memories in which you are terrorized with feelings of guilt, shame, or worthlessness.
Maybe you hurt and lost someone? Maybe you did something bad or made the wrong decision?
Regardless of the situation, there is only one solution.
Forgiveness. The process, of course, begins with making amends to those who were affected by this poor decision of the past.
You cannot truly forgive yourself until you have whole-heartedly apologized for what you may have done to someone else.
You must feel true sorrow and regret for what was done.
If you are afraid, embarrassed, or too prideful to ask this person for forgiveness, you are not accepting this change.
The process of voicing this mistake, and requesting forgiveness, is perhaps the most important step forward you can ever make in your recovery.
Before asking forgiveness from those who may have been hurt by your decisions, you must first feel self-compassion.
This is done by telling yourself, “Yes I made a mistake. But it’s in the past now and it’s time to let go.”
Truly connect with yourself, and feel the honesty of the emotion that is accompanied by that memory.
- Do I want the pain from this memory to really go away, for good?
- Do I wish it never happened or that I could take it back?
If your answers to all of the above were yes then you already have it inside to forgive yourself.
Make a mental, or verbal declaration that you have forgiven yourself for what happened.
And then, truly and honestly, forgive yourself, in your heart. You have wholly, and truly, come to peace with the past, and accepted that you cannot change what happened.
You can finally let go of the poisonous feelings that were plaguing you.
Perhaps your situation is different than the above.
Maybe this memory for you does not include a mistake or decision you made.
Rather, it is a situation you were a part of. Maybe it was a traumatic event, in which something terrible happened to you, or someone you loved.
Maybe you saw something you never wanted to see or a situation you were forced into.
It’s Not Your Fault
It is important to realize that forgiveness and compassion are almost more important in this type of scenario.
At the same time, we find that more often than not we end up blaming ourselves somehow for these traumatic experiences.
We blame ourselves by claiming that we could’ve done something differently.
We could have “tried harder”, or that we “put ourselves in that situation”.
We’re going to stop you right there. Those thoughts, are 50% of the traumatic poison that envelops your mind.
By constantly blaming yourself for a situation that you had no control over, it creates this hypothetical cancer in our minds.
It deepens and strengthens our feelings of fear, anger, guilt, or shame. It prevents us from showing compassion to ourselves, for a truly terrible situation.
Self-forgiveness is 100% necessary if you find that you do often blame yourself for a past situation that may have been out of your control. Combined with self-compassion, you need to mentally and verbally comfort yourself by saying:
- “It’s okay to feel afraid. What happened to me back then was traumatic and I am allowed to feel this way. But it is not my fault, and I have to stop blaming myself.”
- “What happened to you was not your fault.”
- “It’s okay to feel afraid and feel scarred from this experience. But remember that it was not your fault.”
You have to be your own alert. You are your own annoying alarm clock, that you were a victim of circumstance.
That the past is the past- you can’t do anything differently now.
All you can do is to forgive yourself.
Forgiveness In Your Heart
Now you have fully shown yourself compassion, and forgiven yourself wholly.
The process of forgiving the situation, or the person who hurt you, is necessary to successfully overcome your trigger.
This is done solely within your heart- you are certainly not expected to physically forgive the person (unless you feel you need to).
You do have the ability to accept what happened and choose how you let it affect you, from this point on.
Choose what level of power over your life, you continue to give it.
This is when you can forgive the situation in your heart, accepting that it is all in the past.
Changing what happened is no longer possible. And dwelling on it, even more so.
Forgiveness Of The Situation
Understand that we are proposing the forgiveness of the situation, in your heart. You are not physically forgiving the person, nor are you forgiving the person in your heart.
You are accepting that the situation happened at all, and you are making peace- with the situation.
This is simply situational forgiveness, my friend. And perhaps you have already made peace with the situation- or perhaps you haven’t.
If you’ve truly made peace with the situation in your heart, ask yourself these questions:
When you talk about the memory out loud, what do you feel? Not about the person, but about the situation.
Do you feel angry that it happened? Or do you feel complacent?
When you talk openly about the memory do you think, “Yeah it happened, but it’s in the past.” “The situation was hard and terrible, but it happened, and it’s done.” “Yeah it happened, and it was hard, but I’m a better person for it”
Do you talk casually about what happened? If so, what do you feel when you voice the memory? Do you feel a sharpness inside of you- anger, or fear, or an ache of pain and sadness? Does it sting your eyes when you talk about it?
Or are you nonchalant about the topic? Maybe you hardly feel anything when you voice the memory, but you get angry talking about that specific person in the memory?
Or maybe you feel a slight sadness that the situation happened, but you know you’ve already accepted it?
Forgiveness Of The Person
We understand- it’s easier said than done.
These feelings we’ve cultivated over longer periods of time towards the people in these memories, filled to the top and poured over the sides.
You may be angry. Angry at that person who hurt you. Angry at what happened to you or that you were in that situation “in the first place”.
Maybe it’s not anger, maybe it’s anxiety. Or perhaps the memory has tainted certain activities or places that you will forever associate with that poisonous memory, rather than a person.
These feelings that surface when we think of forgiving these people are understandably strong.
The feelings absolutely overpower us.
Even just the thought of forgiving them internally sparks a fire so hot in your heart that the thought is simply unfathomable.
You think, “I will never forgive that person”, or “I can never set foot in a place like that again.” We understand this.
No matter how long the process might take. Whether you find it in your heart to forgive and make peace right now, next month, or 20 years from now.
Someway, somehow, even if you didn’t even realize it happened, you will make peace with it one day. You have to believe that.
But it is the process of moving past it right now that is so vital.
To not let the memory and emotions drown you, and bear you down.
Even if you can’t imagine forgiving them, even just in your heart right now. Can you make peace with it for the moment?
Ask yourself: Will the memory continue to ravage me?
Will the memory continue to spark these harsh feelings in me?
Most importantly, will the memory affect my recovery?
Can I live with the pain of the memory, without the safety net of a substance to relieve the pain?