The Stress Trigger

“He who prays most receives most.” -St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori
“Ask and ask and ask.” -Our Lord Jesus to Maria Valtorta

As recovering addicts and compulsives, a trigger is the dreaded moment when external stimuli or inner temptation become great enough to overwhelm our bodies, our state, our choice, from sobriety to intoxication, from purity and chastity to vice and sin.

Where there is conscious complicity, when we reach our mouse-clutching hand to the ‘booze’, wanting carelessly to be intoxicated, it is sin. If we do it against our own will, i.e. “I do the thing I hate”, as Paul spoke, it is involuntary vice, a disorder of obsession-compulsion. Whether culpability for sin exists in the latter case or not, a state of disorder and unfreedom still remain.

The usual arousal triggers are sensual: immodesty, seen in real life or through any number of image sources; or in sleep by things experienced in dreaming, or dreams not even remembered, but causing one to wake up ‘underwater’ to an aroused body. Yet there are also completely invisible triggers.

Stress has been defined as a condition or feeling experienced when a person perceives that a demand exceeds the personal and social resources that an individual is able to mobilize in response. More briefly, stress is a sense of having little or no control.

Stress is reported a well known trigger for recurring compulsive behavior. Stress is good in a way, as it tends to grow resilience, in part by inviting an action of calm into the very midst of turbulence. Unfortunately compulsives go too far, toward too much cushion > personal intoxication, which creates another stress that can’t be managed either > addiction.

Stress is truly the test of tests, for it always provokes what we think will work or what we have habitually believed will work, in order to alleviate the pain and discomfort of having no control. Stress brings the danger of reflexive self-reliance, a self-resort even to not knowing it.

It is thus very beneficial to recognize the ‘humanity’ of stress, to forgive ourselves, in the name of Jesus, for whatever we try to enact as a remedy that in the end didn’t or doesn’t or will not work. It is natural to devise ways meant to get around the passion of darkness. Yet stress, is also a temptation to fear, and fear casts out love, trust, faith, hope and even unwittingly, God. As we choose again to act out, we suffer a sort of involuntary amnesia - forgetting not to be afraid of temptation!

What do we do? For one, we remain realistic, stress is going to happen, it is not going to be made extinct anytime soon. Yet each encounter with the uncontrollable inherently asks us to cast our fear and human lack of control upon the Lord. Stress even counsels, one could say, that we are about to grow in our ability to recognize more of God’s presence in the midst of insecurity, to choose to surrender the situation to Him, to believe that He will not abandon us in our weakness or destitution.

Underneath our latest temptation and fall may also be the long shadow of greed and an unrecognized, ‘organic’ entitlement. These vices can be hard to detect for one with a life-persisting lust weakness. Habits can become so ingrained over decades that we simply overlook the obvious, how entrenched is the orientation toward the sin itself as a kind of emergency escape route from the agony of continence or life pain.

One can think that, under certain pressures, lust is just normal for me (thinking error!). If sin is seen as inevitable and normal, it’s doubtful one will ever be able to see dependence and attachment. The battle is with this insidious entitlement, this shrugging “I don’t know what else to do”, which refuses somehow to consider the Divine view on it. Did you ever notice that sin never blesses? Or, why do we secretly question the surety of God’s resistance to our drunken follies? If sin is just “so good”, why does grace leave us?

Chastity is an arduous campaign for the recovering lust compulsive, which entails nothing short of overcoming sexual faculty itself, seemingly the most insurmountable challenge. We are creatures after all, who once upon a time managed as mere adolescents to storm heaven, to steal the cosmic intoxication of sexual experience away from its holy selfless origin and purpose in relationship with a loved other and creation of new life. Lust addiction becomes a deformity of entitlement with very fine roots.

Well. We keep picking ourselves up, we just keep going, by getting to the sacrament of confession. We try to remember in future not to be surprised by and even to anticipate that we may experience a blind, automatic response to stress. God’s grace is greater than any stress, any temptation, or any disaster of temptation confessed with simple regret.

We really are encouraged to think on all these things. Maybe we could write out all the reasons our sin is an actual dead end, why it makes sense that God opposes this choice by its plain lack of virtue or absence of purpose beyond serving the “starving” me.

Our goal is to live Christian lives, to ask for the grace of humility and generosity, to use ourselves up, give ourselves away, for the benefit of others. If we love others, our poverty of sobriety will surely fade, our wound of addiction or compulsion will indeed heal.

God in Heaven, I am weak, grant your servant the grace of truly relying on your strength, instead of mine. Whatever is my part in this work, grant the confidence and the desire to carry it out. Do not let me squander your more-than-enough grace, do not let me die in my sin, take away my freedom to offend you. Help me to love as You love. I beg today in the name of Jesus Your Son. Amen.