Addiction is all about living in response to your own, unique history. By getting a handle on that history, you can come to a better understanding of what your “triggers” are. Sometimes, these triggers are obvious. For instance, if you are out in public, and you see a woman who fits your “type,” you might feel triggered, and later seek out a porn actress who looks like her. Sometimes, you may even spend hours trying to find just the right video clip, only to feel ashamed afterward. The fact that you were triggered, and acted out as a result is obvious, and relatively easy to identify.
Blue Sky and the High Heels
There’s another type of trigger that is not quite as obvious though, and therefore not nearly as easy to catch or understand. This is a more subtle type of trigger, relating back to the concept of euphoric recall. I call this kind of trigger “blue sky and high heels.” (You’ll learn why in a moment.) This is when something happening to you in the present, triggers a memory of a sexual experience, which prompts you to act out — whether or not you realize the root cause.
Years ago, I had an experience in which I was triggered by something that might seem innocuous to most people. I was walking up the stairs to my office, when I heard the telltale click-clack of what sounded like high heels. This is a sound you might hear every day without reacting to it. However on this day, I instantly found myself in the grip of a powerful triggering experience. I made it to my office, sat down, and stared out the window at the blue sky. This seemed to only make things worse. Even though I had been in recovery for years, I was feeling the need to act out sexually, right there in my office. The feeling was so strong, and so sudden, I actually found myself saying out loud, “What is this, really?” I was desperate to understand what had just happened.
There are subtle triggers all around us. They could be as fleeting and common as the fragrance of a familiar perfume, a particular scene in a movie, or in my case, the blue sky. It dawned on me that the blue sky was tied into a painful, personal memory. Years ago, before smart phones, or even before the internet existed as it does today, I would drive across the Bay Bridge to go to a porn theater. On my way, I would look up at the blue sky and think “Please don’t let me go there again,” but I always would. When I got there, the sound of a woman’s high heels would often be heard in the movies. The moment of piecing together this trigger was an “aha” moment for me.
Once I realized what was happening, I was able to reconcile it. I could regain control of the situation, and break my memory’s hold on me. My addict was no longer able to pull me towards porn when I confronted him with the grown man I’d become. Once I’d identified the blue sky and high heels trigger, I was able to navigate around it. Bringing our hidden triggers out into the light is how we can disrupt them, and ultimately move past them.