Journey to Healing and Joy

addiciton triggers

Addiction Triggers versus Trauma Triggers

by Zoe

Triggers: Are triggers the same for an addict as they are for a traumatized partner?

My first internship, years ago, was at an inpatient, addiction treatment hospital. My assignment was to take addicts for a walk on a nature trail through the beautiful, peaceful forest on the property. As we enjoyed the woods and fresh air, my job was to encourage addicts to think about their future and what their life was going to be like after they left the hospital, and to help them articulate a plan that could protect them from relapsing. One of the main topics was triggers. Sex addicts are frequently “triggered.” Partners of sex addicts are also “triggered.” But are triggers the same for an addict as they are for the traumatized partner? Understanding the difference between a trauma trigger and an addiction trigger can help take the mystery out of an addict’s seemingly crazy behavior in the first few months and during the years it takes for an addict to retrain himself and his brain. If a partner is able to recognize the difference in addiction triggers and trauma triggers it can help her make sense of her often confusing and unpredictable situation. While the goal is never for the partner to try and control the addict’s recovery — recovery is the addict’s job — understanding an addict, and the addiction, can aid in a victim’s own healing process.

Addiction Triggers

For addicts, anything, literally anything, can be a trigger. And for all addicts, developing new habits and patterns is necessary. But for some, managing triggers will mean changing locations, giving up friendships, and finding a new job in order to help them start afresh, free of the reminders of their old lifestyle: reminders that could potentially trigger and cause them to return to the addiction. Triggers can be divido types: external and internal. An external trigger is any object, event, image, person, sight, souned into twd, smell, color, anything external to the addict that taps into an internal state, or even their brain’s “wiring,” which causes an emotional reaction that can lead an addict to act out, or not, depending on how far along the addict is in recovery. A sex addict described one of his external triggers this way: When I was eight years old, I started looking at my friend’s dad’s Playboy magazines. That was over 40 years ago. I haven’t seen a porn magazine in over 15 years. But there’s still something about a magazine cover, any magazine cover with a woman on it, like women’s magazines on grocery store racks, that reminds me of my old habit of looking at Playboy. I know that magazine covers are a potential trigger for me, so I intentionally do not look at magazine racks, no matter what kind of magazines a store has.

Another addict described it like this:

If I'm at a pool and a woman in a bikini starts walking in my direction, I focus my attention on my wife, daughter, or anyone else there. I even re-position my seat, if necessary, so I am not facing that direction—I face away from the pool, for instance. As a fail safe I pray for the person that I see and remember she is a child of God, and I usually quote 1 Timothy 5:2 treat "older women as mothers and younger women as sisters with absolute purity." Yet as difficult as external triggers can be for addicts, especially for addicts not that far along in recovery, it is the addict’s internal states, their feelings and emotions, that hold the most power, because while an addict can look away from a magazine or woman in a bikini, it is much more complicated to turn away from emotions. Internal states, if not properly and carefully managed, can lead to an addict’s acting out. Some of the most common internal triggers for addicts are: sad, mad, lonely, tired, stressed, hungry, and scared. One important reason my job was to take addicts for walks along a serene, nature trail was to encourage them to pay attention to how spending time outdoors in a beautiful environment — as opposed to staying inside the hospital with its institutional colors and furniture — could change the way they feel. Stepping into the woods or relaxing beside the forest’s lake (with its ducks and swans) could immediately change the addict’s mood from sad to hopeful or from anxious to relaxed, so this was one tool they could use to help them manage their feelings.

One addict, from a local SA group, who has been working very diligently on his recovery, described his own struggle with internal triggers this way:

I really fear feeling lonely. I’m fine when my wife is at home or at work nearby. But sometimes she travels for work. When she’s gone I’m always gripped by this horrible, lonely feeling. I am so afraid whenever she has a work trip coming up because I know feeling lonely is a huge struggle for me. In the past I would act out. That’s how I kept from feeling lonely. Now I make sure I call my sponsor and let him know when my wife will be gone. And I can call him any time I need. I check in with my neighbors too. And I make plans. I sign up for the free programs offered at the library. Sometimes I will take a continuing education class at the local high school. I rent or go to movies or invite friends over for dinner. I have a plan in place to help me manage feeling lonely.

Comparing Trauma Triggers and Addiction Triggers

For trauma victims, a trigger is anything that adds to or taps into their already present experience of trauma. For example, in the beginning stages, trauma victims experience overwhelming feelings of abandonment and betrayal. Fear and pain are felt intensely too. Victims can also become overwhelmed with loneliness, especially those in relationships with partners who suffer from intimacy anorexia. Trauma victims are like a glass full with the waters of trauma. A trigger is only one more drop of trauma, but one drop in an already full glass will cause it to overflow. By contrast triggers for an addict can bring on a desire to act out, not because their glass is too full but rather because a single water drop— any one feeling or desire— itself, is unmanageable, even if their glass is almost empty. An addict is a person who has a distorted view of reality and who has never learned how to manage or regulate emotions in a healthy manner. That is why a it is important for addicts to stay committed to recovery. A strong recovery program is essential because without it, any drop in the glass continues to be too much. Faithful and committed recovery work includes much more than just stopping the negative behavior. Learning to recognize distorted thinking, and to self-regulate and manage emotions is essential for long-term recovery. While any emotion for an addict, even an emotion that is normal and healthy, can be unmanageable, the same is not typically true with trauma victims. Trauma victims have difficulty managing emotions, not because they have a distorted view of reality or an immature or under-developed way of dealing with their emotions, but because they are already so overwhelmed by trauma and the fear of additional trauma, that any additional trauma or stress taxes their abilities to cope. That is why healing trauma requires support from coaches, counselors, support groups, good friends, and more: to help victims draw strength from the abilities of others in order to process the trauma. It is rare for a trauma victim to move through trauma and out the other side without help. But with help, it is possible to heal. This is why a partner too needs a strong recovery program.

Calming Fearful Feelings

One of the ways a betrayed partner can lessen the fear she feels and lower the water level in her trauma glass is to begin to unravel the mystery of an addict's behavior. As Dan Siegel explains, victims who actively seek to understand their partner’s addiction and their own trauma are taking a healthy step forward. When victims can look at their ever-present, chaotic, and overwhelming emotions and reality, and can make proper sense of their trauma experience and its root cause, then they can escape being caught up in the past and re-embrace the future with courage and hope. At A Circle of Joy, we offer individual coaching and a variety of support groups for partners who suffer from betrayal trauma, no matter where you are in your healing journey. Traveling the healing journey with trained coaches and alongside other women who also suffer betrayal trauma can help a partner make sense of the often frightening and unpredictable world of sex addiction and betrayal trauma. To see our upcoming support groups, please click here. And we invite you to visit our A Circle Of Sisters free online community and check out our “A Circle of Sisters Commons” forum if you would like to continue the discussion on triggers or if you have any questions or comments. Your feedback is always welcome!

Grace & Peace


broken window

Once Shattered, How Is Trust Restored?

by Zoe

“Respect, like trust, must be earned.” Growing up, I heard this from my parents, teachers, and coaches. But as often as I heard this, no one explained how trust and respect are earned. What makes for a respectable and trustworthy person? And once shattered, how are trust and respect restored?

Today is Father’s Day, a holiday set aside to show respect and appreciation for fathers. But for spouses of pornography and sex addicts, Father’s Day can be an emotional time. When a father is an addict, there can be grief over the loss of the father the addict could have been, had his life not been impacted by addiction. Or if an addict has been sober only for a few months, there can be fear and uncertainty as to whether or not he will stay sober, continue with recovery, and eventually heal. But even if an addict has been sober and in recovery for years, concerns remain over how the addiction will continue to affect the family. Spouses of sex addicts also worry about what kind of role model and father their partner is, especially for the children in his life. Is he trustworthy? Is he worthy of respect? And once broken, can trust and respect truly be restored?

About a month ago one of our A Circle of Joy ladies shared that her husband, after a year of sobriety, announced since he had not acted out in a year, everything was fine now and she could trust him again.

If only it were that simple! Trust isn’t something magical that happens all at once and on a certain day or time. Earning someone’s trust and respect is a process: a set of actions and habits performed over time with intention, consistency, willingness, persistence, commitment, and by embracing responsibility. There are no certain number of days or months after which this process is completed and trust is restored.

The book Worthy of Her Trust, which is used by our men’s ministry,, puts it this way, “Trust building is an ongoing process that consists of multiple intentional factors divinely pieced together over the course of time and with a heart attitude of humility and commitment.”

Even in the Bible, Jesus puts emphasis on the importance of having a heart attitude of humility and commitment. Trust building is a process that begins with humility and willingness on the addict’s part, and mercy and patience on the spouse's part. But humility and willingness are only the first steps in the process.

For some real world examples, entertainer Chris Rock recently spoke with Rolling Stone magazine about his wife's filing for divorce because of his multiple infidelities. Rock said, "I was a piece of s---. I wasn't a good husband a lot of the times." Rock mentions he thought he could get away with his bad behavior in his marriage because he was the famous breadwinner. Now he knows the opposite is true. "That actually goes the other way," he says. "My faults are magnified. Your significant other, if they really love you, has a high opinion of you. And you let them down."

Another celebrity who publicly admitted he is a sex addict is Ozzy Osbourne. Osbourne says, "I am mortified at what my behavior has done to my family. I have gone into intense therapy.” His wife Sharon confirmed on “The Talk” that Ozzy has been doing outpatient treatment for sex addiction for three months, and then he will be in an inpatient treatment center for three months.

For couples working to rebuild trust, Worthy of Her Trust, is a fantastic resource. Though the book was written for men who want to work to rebuild trust and save their marriages, women find this book helpful too. It helps women to better recognize the trust building process and determine if their husband is embracing it or not. Couples also find this book a valuable resource, especially those working together as a team to rebuild trust and repair and restore their broken relationship.

Another wonderful resource for anyone wanting to understand how to determine if a person is trustworthy or not, is Brene Brown’s video B.R.A.V.I.N.G.. It can be found on our Facebook page if you click here.

Unfortunately, none of us go through life without experiencing hardships, whether it be struggling with an addiction, betrayal, or some other different trial. But it is how people respond to hardship that determines who they become and whether or not they deserve trust and respect. In terms of addiction, the best role models for our children are the addicts who face their addiction by taking responsibility for it with humility and maturity, along with a willingness to grow and change, and an authentic desire to right the wrongs and repair the harm.

Trust and respect, once lost, can be restored, but it is a process much like learning to walk again after having broken both legs. It requires hard work and commitment, but it also takes grace, hope, and faith, and an enduring belief that change is possible.

Grace & Peace,

It Is Okay To Be Scared


It Is Okay To Be Scared

At the carnival, my five-year-old daughter was immediately enamored with the huge, colorful Ferris Wheel. Children her age were riding it with their moms or dads and smiling and squealing.

Even before my disclosure day (D-day), which brought many new fears into my life, I had a fear of heights and of being trapped: not being able to leave whenever I wanted. The Ferris Wheel combined both of my fears into a single, carnival ride.

My daughter kept her eye on the Ferris Wheel even as I said, "Let's check out the petting zoo!" I pulled her along, hoping she would forget about the Ferris Wheel.

My D-day was very dramatic. Actually that’s an understatement. I won't go into the details, but because of the way my D-day went down, I could not hide my reaction from my daughter. At age three, she saw my uncontrollable crying, the panic attacks so severe it looked like I was having seizures, my inability to eat solid food for two weeks, and the disassociation: my staring off into space for long periods of time, overwhelmed and lost in a sea of pain.

As a parent, I already knew my daughter was always watching me. I was very much aware I was her role model. So from D-day on, I felt like a constant failure. I was the mom. I was supposed to be teaching my daughter how to be resilient in the face of hardship. Yet I could not stop or hide the crying, panic attacks, and terrible grief and pain.

When we finished with the petting zoo, my daughter immediately pointed at the Ferris Wheel and said, "Let's ride." I knelt beside her and gently reminded her, "Mommy is afraid of heights and feeling trapped."

"I know," she said. "I'm scared too. Let's ride it anyway!"

As she pulled me toward the Ferris Wheel, my heart was pounding, and I started to sweat. Once we arrived, because there was no line, the man immediately opened the gate and ushered us in. My daughter paused for a moment to look up to the top. For someone just barely over 3 feet tall, it must have looked like a skyscraper. She grabbed my hand and squeezed it.

The man helped us into our seat. He fastened the big seat belt around us both. Then he snapped into place the thick iron bar that would prevent us from leaving, or falling out of, the seat, and checked to make sure it was locked. 

I started to tremble. "I'm scared," I said. My daughter scooted over close and wrapped her arms around my waist. "It's okay to be scared," she said, "because when you're scared and you do it anyway, that's what it means to be brave."

Surprised, I asked her, "Where did you learn that?"

"From you, Mommy," she said. "You taught me."

Suddenly the man pulled the lever and up we went, holding on tight to each other: up, up, higher and higher into the bright blue sky— and beyond to a place neither of us had ever dreamed we could go. 

In her Journey to Healing and Joy Workbook, Marsha Means quotes Robert Suby to remind us that challenges and hardships are a very real part of life. Everyone has them. To try to hide our hardships (or hide from our hardships) only creates anxiety and shame. And hiding our struggles gives our children — along with anyone else who knows and observes us — a false impression: life is problem free and hardships only happen to other people.

In fact, the new brain science reveals it is important to walk toward (not away from) life’s hardships and the emotions they create, because our response to life's hardships and challenges —  how we embrace and experience the difficult times and difficult emotions — determines our resiliency. 

There are so many good books on this topic, such as the award-winning Bouncing Back: Rewiring Your Brain for Maximum Resilience and Well-Being by Linda Graham.

My daughter’s motto has become, “I’m scared, and I’m doing it anyway!” And, unaware until she pointed it out, this has become my motto too. I have learned it is okay to feel hurt, overwhelmed, and scared in response to hardship, because if you are never scared, then you never have the opportunity to practice being brave.

Mother’s Day Blessings to all of our brave and resilient readers!

Grace & Peace,

The Roller Coaster of Rage

 roller coaster 800w

Rage is a very real emotion that most of us have experienced to one degree or another. It can rear its ugly head in the middle of an otherwise peaceful day. For example, you are driving down the freeway enjoying a song by one of your favorite Christian artists, feeling joyful and alive in the love of Jesus. Without warning, some knucklehead suddenly begins riding your bumper, honking his horn, flashing his head lights and waving his arms. You get over as soon as you can, the motorist behind you quickly speeds up, and as he passes you, he gives you the California wave. You have handled all of this without an angry reaction. But then, the very motorist who had just been riding you bumper pulls in front of you, nearly hitting the left front of your car as he does, before slamming on his brakes right in front of you! As you slam on your brakes, reason gives way to emotion, and rage suddenly suspends all of thoughts of love, joy, peace and mercy!

Perhaps the above example has not happened to you, but, chances are, you have received a rude phone call, an unjust, accusatory email, been victimized by someone else’s dishonest and ugly Facebook post, or faced undeserved, extremely destructive criticism from an employer, a friend, or a loved one. All of these experiences can produce powerful emotions, not the least of which is rage.

Yet none of these can compare with the trauma we suffer when we experience deep and personal betrayal. Unfortunately, the closer you and I allow someone to get to us emotionally, the more devastating the results of the betrayal. Such betrayal has the power to emotionally crush us. It can and does cripple our ability to function normally. Feelings of depression, isolation, frustration, self-doubt, despair, hopelessness, paranoia, and yes, rage, replace the peace, love, and joy for which we long.

Nearly 22 years ago I experienced such betrayal. Married for over 18 years to the love of my life whom I had met at Bible College, my wife and I had three wonderful teen-aged children. I was pastoring a very successful church that we had founded 7 years earlier. Our children were healthy, we all loved our community, and were enjoying very close fellowship both inside and outside of our church family.

Then, one day, my wife shared that she was struggling emotionally and needed a break. She quit her job and went to spend two months with her three sisters, all of whom lived in the same community 10 hours’ drive from our town. At the end of the two months she told me and our children she was not coming back. It was time for her to live for herself rather than for them and me. She had found a new life that had no room in it for any of us or God.

For the next several months I drove back and forth from where she was living and our town, paying for marital counseling and praying for a miracle. Yet, in the end, she moved in with another man, divorced me, turned her back on her faith, and finally, married one of the men with whom she had dated.

I must confess that I experienced an entire rainbow of emotions. As if the betrayal of our marriage vows were not enough, she also ran up thousands of dollars in partying, traveling and frivolous spending, leaving me holding the financial bag and making it far more difficult to provide for my children’s needs. The feelings of betrayal, abandonment, rejection, self-doubt, and humiliation cut very deeply and left me feeling helpless, and, at times, hopeless.

All of these emotions led to a deep sense of anger over the seeming injustice of the whole matter. I discovered that such anger cannot be repressed and kept inside or it would have destroyed me. So, on several occasions I invited God to go on a drive with me. I would roll down the windows and begin sharing my emotions with my Heavenly Daddy. Within a few minutes I would hear myself screaming. A few minutes later I would be sobbing, feeling guilty for such an emotional outburst. After all, how could a Christian man, a pastor no less, be so full of anger?

On some of the drives, I would cycle through several waves of this emotional roller coaster: from feelings of hurt and betrayal to full-on rage to a deep sense of loss and sorrow to feelings of guilt and shame. I will always be grateful to my Heavenly Daddy for His understanding, comfort, and long-suffering as He allowed me to work through my emotions rather than deny their existence.

Why do I share this now? I believe that many men who are in recovery do not fully appreciate the roller coaster of rage on which their wives find themselves due to the unfaithfulness of their husbands. The husband has unloaded his shame and guilt in a full disclosure, he fells a great weight has lifted from his shoulders, and now he is ready to go full steam ahead toward full recovery. Following years of acting out, temporary euphoria, shame and guilt, self-promises to never do that again, a period of sobriety, building tension and stress, then another episode of acting out, and so on, the husband has reached the point that he is ready to leave all of it behind.

Unfortunately, his wife’s hell has just begun! Her whole world has collapsed upon her, and everything she held dear has just been exposed as a sham. Self-doubt, self-recrimination, and self-loathing are often experienced by the very women who has been betrayed and lied to for years. But soon the shame, betrayal, and deep emotional wounds give way to rage.

I hope you can hear my heart, husbands. This rage will be aimed at you! It does not mean that your wife has not forgiven you or that she hates you. It does mean that her wounds are so deep and have caused her such pain that the resulting rage cannot be contained. It must get out or it will emotionally cripple her. The fact that she has not left you is evidence enough that she still loves you. However, both she and the marriage have forever changed. There can be no going back to the way it was. There must be a new normal, a new beginning, a new relationship firmly grounded on truth, transparency, and intentional honesty.

Husband, you wounded her, and now it is you who can help her heal. First of all, most women stay in the rage cycle because they feel that their husband is not listening or does not get it. So the wife escalates because she desperately needs her husband to appreciate the depth of her pain and validate the emotions she is now experiencing. Most husbands react with fight or flight; we argue defensively or evacuate her presence to avoid the fight. Both options only inflict greater pain and lengthen your wife’s recovery.

Rather than fight or flee, stay with her and validate her and her emotions. Accept full responsibility for her pain, give her your permission to scream, and allow her to cycle through the rage that is flowing from her broken heart. Be the rock to whom she can anchor as the waves of rage emotionally toss her to and fro.

When the rage subsides, be there with her, using words of encouragement, affirmation, and reassurance of your love and commitment. I know that this sounds counter-intuitive, but it is the only way to help your wife work through her emotions and achieve full emotional health once again. Your presence in these moments coupled with your loving affirmation will go a long way to creating the new, intimate normal for which you both long.

It is my desire to help men learn the skills necessary to live in step with God’s Holy Spirit and to love their wives like our Lord Jesus Christ loves His church. Feel free to contact me via email (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) or by phone (480-888-5991), or visit to learn more about upcoming phone groups for men.



The holidays. Just the mere mention of this time of year can elicit all sorts of emotions within us. How about you? Does it bring memories of joy, laughter and happiness? Perhaps. But for most of us, it also brings something else…stress! There is so much to do! Shopping, cooking, baking, decorating, wrapping gifts, mailing out Christmas cards, attending Christmas parties and going to gatherings with family and friends. And unfortunately for those struggling with chronic health issues, this time of year takes an even greater toll on our bodies and can leave you feeling absolutely depleted physically, emotionally and even spiritually. To help you better survive and thrive during this time of year, I would like to share with you five things you can do to help support your health during the added stress of this season.

1. Accept Yourself as You Are – Many of us struggling with chronic health issues also experience other limitations. Your body is likely not as strong physically as it used to be, fatigue may be a constant companion for you, you may have gained weight and do not see yourself as attractive as you once were, your mind may be a bit foggy and your confidence level may have suffered. I know, because this is what happened to me. And if you are like so many women, your response is to withdraw from the outside world and crawl inside your shell until you feel better, but this is very hard to do during this time of year. So what do you do? My prayer for you is that you pause and reflect on the beautiful person that you are! Despite these physical challenges, you are still the same person with the same heart and soul and your health challenges do not change these aspects of you. Focus on and connect with the love and passion you have for people and life…because that is who you really are!

2. Listen to Your Body – There are so many extra demands placed upon you during this time of year and it is essential that you learn to listen to your body. If you are experiencing fatigue or pain or even depression, stop and ask yourself what can you do to support your body. When your body says it is tired or in pain please stop and give it the rest it needs! In the long run, you will get more done and it will help protect your body from dipping into a worse state of being. And even more, it will give you renewed energy with which to enjoy your family and friends!

3. Learn to Let Go – of Even the Good Things – There are so many good and worthy activities that we can invest ourselves in during the holiday season. But the problem is that we have a very limited supply of energy for each day. It is as if we are a little oil lamp and once all the oil in our vessel is burned the light goes out and all we can do is sit on the couch or go to bed. So what do you do? You need to learn to say no---to even the good things and activities. You may not be able to attend every holiday party that you are invited to. Maybe you order gifts online rather than running around from store to store. You don’t need to bake 6 different types of Christmas cookies; one or two will be just fine. And it is okay to enlist the help of others. Most of our loved ones will be more than happy to help out to give you the rest you need to survive this time of year. Remember, your health is paramount. And to have the energy to enjoy the most important activities of this holiday season, you must learn to say no.

4. Practice Good Self-Care – Good self-care is taking the time to care for you. And believe it or not this is very difficult for many of us to do! We are so focused on serving others and meeting their needs that we put off taking care of our own needs, especially during this time of year. Here is what I suggest that you do. Make a list of activities that restore you, such as taking a walk in nature, listening to soft music, taking a warm bath or getting a relaxing massage. Then make sure that you take time each day to love on yourself by doing one of these activities. Do not feel guilty if you do these. You are valuable to so many people and you deserve it!

5. Take Time to Fill Your Joy Cup – Everyone has a joy cup. And studies have shown that when your joy cup is full, it helps to regulate your emotions, your pain and your immune system. And it also releases the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin. Isn’t that amazing! Just imagine how much better you might feel if you can fill your joy cup! So how do you fill your joy cup? In a nutshell, you build your joy capacity through loving, fulfilling relationships. We experience joy when we are with someone who is glad to be with us; time with this person produces warm, happy feelings. So you need to ask yourself, who do you have in your life that brings joy to you when you are together. It could be your spouse, a sibling, a good friend. But think about who the person or persons is(are) and purpose to spend fun time with them. Don’t say that you don’t have time, because this is the very thing that will give you the strength and energy to enjoy this holiday season!

I hope that you will take the time to implement these 5 steps. I know that it will take some of your precious time and energy to do these things, but in the big picture it will help you find greater joy and contentment during the next several weeks. My prayer for you is that these steps will help you to not only survive – but thrive – this holiday season!