I keep seeing this word - what is a trigger?
A trigger is anything that reminds you of smoking; typically on a level resulting in craving.
Sounds pretty vague.
It is vague. A trigger could literally be anything.
Okay, well so what if I am reminded of smoking? I want to quit - I hate smoking.
Well, unfortunately for you, memory doesn't work that way - you can't control which memories come to surface. And memories often lie; this is especially true with addiction.
Well, you might recall the memory of satisfaction. Or the lie that smoking actually helped you do whatever it is was that prompted you to smoke. Even flat-out lies can feel quite genuine in the moment. Emotion often trumps reason. And cravings can be said to be an emotion.
Yes, LIES!! All of them! And satisfaction?! Never! All smoking did was relieve me of withdrawal.
Relief is a powerful form of pleasure.
I don't believe you.
Okay fine. You win. as$hole
I saw that.
Anyways... Triggers! Yes. Why are they so ubiquitous?
That's the nature of the beast - and is one reason why quitting smoking can be so difficult for some. Smokers tend to smoke all day. They smoke when they wake up, they smoke when they have coffee, they smoke after they eat, they smoke on their way to work, they smoke before going in to work, they smoke on their break, they smoke before lunch, they smoke after lunch, they smoke on their second break, they smoke after work, they smoke on their way home, they smoke all the freaking time. It is like every notable event is bookended with a cigarette.
Well you are talking about the past.
How long have you been quit? 30 days? You smoked for 30 years. Over time, you have learned to associate pretty much everything you do - ever - with a cigarette.
Yes, learned. Addiction is learning. Addiction is memory. Some people tend to think of memory as a sort of filing cabinet or hard drive, in which individual - and discreet - memories are formed and stored. But this is not how memory works. Memory is more like a complex system of spider webs, as is wonderfully explained here:
It seems that our memory is located not in one particular place in the brain, but is instead a brain-wide process in which several different areas of the brain act in conjunction with one another (sometimes referred to as distributed processing). For example, the simple act of riding a bike is actively and seamlessly reconstructed by the brain from many different areas: the memory of how to operate the bike comes from one area, the memory of how to get from here to the end of the block comes from another, the memory of biking safety rules from another, and that nervous feeling when a car veers dangerously close comes from still another.
Each element of a memory (sights, sounds, words, emotions) is encoded in the same part of the brain that originally created that fragment (visual cortex, motor cortex, language area, etc), and recall of a memory effectively reactivates the neural patterns generated during the original encoding. Thus, a better image might be that of a complex web, in which the threads symbolize the various elements of a memory, that join at nodes or intersection points to form a whole rounded memory of a person, object or event.
This kind of distributed memory ensures that even if part of the brain is damaged, some parts of an experience may still remain. Neurologists are only beginning to understand how the parts are reassembled into a coherent whole.
Interesting...so if I understand this correctly, my morning cup of coffee is not encoded to memory as just a cup of coffee?
Exactly. The memory will include everything else that occurred at the moment you enjoyed your coffee.
Like smoking a cigarette.....
Yes! So the next time you think about coffee, it will recall the entire "web" of associated events, perceptions, emotions, thoughts, ect. This can be a passive process as well. All five senses, when presented with any sensory association, can recall the entire memory web. You may have heard that smell is one of the strongest stimuli for memory recall. Even something as simple as glancing at your coffee maker can be enough to trigger/recall memory webs which are likely to including smoking.
You can think of it like a chain: Sight of coffee machine --> morning coffee --> sitting on porch --> smoking cigarette --> relief from withdrawal --> reward from relief = craving.
Crap....does this mean that for pretty much my entire day, for the last 30 years, everything I did was connected to the "memory web" of smoking?
Sadly, yes. It does. And this is why triggers are everywhere.*** This is why smoking will dominate your thoughts after you quit....
Because everything I do will recall the memory of smoking....
It does. And this is probably a major reason why so many people fail in the early quit....but, the human brain is an amazing thing. This process can be unlearned. Time is your friend here...
Because after I quit, every single one of my new memories will be encoded without the association of smoking?
Exactly. It takes time. But it works. Just ask anyone who has been quit for a while. The associations will begin to weaken each and every day you are quit. And before you know it, you will be able to go through an entire day, month, or maybe even year - without the thought of smoking.
Don't be discouraged by the constant triggers; it's simply part of quitting, and is very much doable (as evidenced by hundreds of people on this board). And this is important to note - everyone is different....you may sail through your quit without major or constant triggers. But regardless of where on the spectrum you fall, it will get much better each day you are quit.
You really do have a lot to look forward to
***(Also keep in mind that I am describing the absolute worst-case scenario. Most people will not have everything linked to smoking)