Trigger… happier

Trauma destroys the fabric of time. In normal time you move from one moment to the next, sunrise to sunset, birth to death. After trauma, you may move in circles, find yourself being sucked backwards into an eddy or bouncing like a rubber ball from now to then to back again. … In the traumatic universe the basic laws of matter are suspended: ceiling fans can be helicopters, car exhaust can be mustard gas.

David J. Morris

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We all have emotional triggers.  Seemingly innocuous things that provoke disproportionately strong responses in us.

Since my divorce, I find myself dealing with this from time to time.  My Favorite will do something and it will remind me of an old pattern that scares me- or, more often, I will find myself repeating behavior of my own that I do not want to revisit. I perceive a threat that isn’t there. I react from a place of fear.  The situation is a two, and my knee-jerk reaction is a seven or an eight.

More emotional sore spots, though, than real triggers. Those are not fun, but they are manageable.  I am fairly adept at taking a minute, realizing that he is not my ex husband, and I am not the same me who was in that relationship either. Those patterns are OPTIONAL. I can talk myself down fairly easily from those episodes.

Those are different than the triggers I have that stem from my sexual abuse.  Vastly different. There are certain sights and smells that transport me back to that terrible time and place. These things cause a visceral, physical reaction in me.  I start to sweat.  I am overcome by nausea.  I see spots, and feel faint.

I was sitting with a friend the other day in her beautiful sunroom.  We were having a great conversation, when out the window I saw a couple walking a collie.  Collies are a big one for me. I have always been a huge animal lover.  In the house where my abuse took place, they had a collie named Calamity.  Just typing her name makes me feel queasy.

It’s how my grandfather would get me away from everyone else. He knew if he asked me to walk the dog with him, I would say yes.  That’s how it happened the first time.

Sitting there in that lovely, sunlit room, I felt the bile rising in my throat.  My hearing got a little tinny and I found it hard to focus on what she was saying.  I was able to rein myself back in that time.  That’s not always the case.

Some of my triggers are easy to understand- like that one.  Some are a little more ephemeral in my memory.

Black Eyed Susans, the flower, are a trigger.  I don’t completely know why.  The first time I came east and visited my Favorite, he had them growing all over his yard.  That night, I had a terrible nightmare.  I finally came clean as to why I was waking up panicked and drenched in sweat.  A few months later he called to tell me that he’d dug up every single one.  He wanted his home to feel like a safe place for me.

There is a reason he is my Favorite.

From the outside, these overreactions must seem really strange. It reminds me of that scene in the Julia Roberts movie, Sleeping with the Enemy, where she opens the cabinet and all the soup cans are perfectly lined up, like little soldiers.  There is nothing inherently scary about that- just a neat row of canned goods.  That’s not what she saw on that shelf, though.  She was back, in that relationship, feeling the absolute chokehold of his control over her.

Isn’t that always the most effective thing in a scary movie?  Something seemingly innocuous made terrifying?  I’m asking, because I don’t watch scary movies.  Like, ever.

That’s what triggers do.  The perfectly ordinary sight, or smell, or sound catapults you back in time.  They put you back IN IT.  Your adrenaline skyrockets, and the terror is real, as real as it was when you were that little girl, powerless, and afraid.

My episodes have almost always been followed by my recurring dreams. There are two of them.

One has me in the backyard of our old house in Plymouth, Massachusetts.  That house had a cement retaining wall that looked over an overgrown meadow, which led down to a pond and a park.

It’s late afternoon, and the dappled sunlight is filtering through the trees. I can hear birds, but they sound far away.  Almost like echoes.

I’m standing on the wall, looking for my sister.  I can see the tall grass rustling, and I am calling her name.  I am scared, and I am worried about her.  Someone is telling me to go get her, but I know that rustling is not my sister.

I know it is the wolf.  I know it.

I hear him slinking back and forth through the brush.  But I worry, because what if she IS down there, too?  What if she needs my help?  My dream always ends with me climbing down into the tall grass.

I wake up shaking, heart pounding.

The other I will not describe- but in it I relive the last, worst incident of abuse in what feels like real time.  But I know in advance what is going to happen, and I cannot stop it, so I am even more scared than I was when it actually happened.  At least then I had the advantage of ignorance. I usually wake up, sit bolt upright, and then run to the bathroom and vomit.

My whole life, as long as I can remember, I have had these dreams pretty regularly.  Some periods, during times of stress, they’ll be fairly frequent.  Sometimes I have stretches without them.  Never more than a month, though.

Until now. Since January, since my cousin and I went to the police, since Officer Paul listened to us, since he wrote it down, I have not had a single nightmare.  Not one.

I don’t know if that will be permanent, but it seems an awful lot like progress.

Maybe I will always have triggers that can be tripped by seemingly harmless sights and smells- but perhaps now, now that I am standing inside my story and speaking it out loud, the chamber of the gun is finally empty.

Maybe those memories don’t have any ammunition, anymore. Maybe I am one step closer to dogs just being dogs and flowers just being flowers.

That feels a lot like hope to me.

30 Comments on “Trigger… happier

  1. This whole idea of triggers and memories needs to go in the book…and so does the opening quote…LOVE. What is that from btw?

    The second to the last line “Maybe I am one step closer to dogs just being dogs and flowers just being flowers.” Made me sigh and then say…”Man…” and sigh again. Great job!

    >

    >

    >

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I have found that giving my past a voice removes its’ grip from me. And evidence that I’m not crazy – that happened – has been very powerful. Here’s to the loosening and falling away of those nightmares!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. There are different layers of triggers. Every day it seems it is one huge mass of crap. Noises. Light. Hands. I did do some EDRM so the hyper startle is almost gone…but smells are bad. One day…it will be better. I hope

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  4. Dear Laura,
    It was hard to read that you have had these dreams (so often) and triggers. I want to take it all away. I know I can’t change your past but I’d like to see you keep finding more peace. It was great to read of the progress since he wrote it down. I wondered if you had ever tried techniques like mentioned above? There is also some kind of tapping therapy I don’t know a lot about but I got a mini lesson from my acupuncturist and even that limited bit seemed to help me.
    Keep shining your light – you are brave and strong.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I love this…..thank you! Here’s to progress!!

    Loves and Hugs from Spokane

    Congratulations btw on the new gig!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you for posting this and openly talking about your triggers. Hearing this made me feel that I am not crazy. I hope many people see this and begin to understand the minds of those who have been abused.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This was a brave post and I am glad that by writing about it, you are finding some peace … where dogs may be dogs and flowers may be flowers.
    Your writing is inspirational.

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  8. Thank you for sharing and explaining everything. I pushed the blogpost “like” button for your writing, but I really wanted a “dislike” button for the content and your pain.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Wow, Laura…just starting to get caught up. So powerful…and so very brave of you to let us in on this. And your Favorite is really something!

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  10. Thank you for once again saying outloud what I can only whisper….
    Triggers can be predictable and sometimes can blindside me. Sometimes I can recognize what’s happening early on and walk through it and sometime I am in a tailspin for days. Sometimes its something as simple as the smell of cologne or driving down certain streets. Sometimes its complicated like a story someone tells that I want to be present for or my children’s anger that is not about me but feels so scary.
    The nightmares have always been there along with the flashbacks. Sometimes less often but never have completely gone away. Maybe someday. I’m told not to expect that I will ever sleep like a “normal” person…but maybe they will be less.

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  11. I was reading along and crying, because I do not want my 6 year old daughter to have triggers. I know she does and will, but I want to fix it. One of her nightmares is about a werewolf. Because it’s a man, you see, that has a monster inside him that makes him become a scary wolf. Shit.

    But then I read how you are better now that “he wrote it down”. Hope is a glorious thing. It’s a tendril of warmth that seeps into the dark. I am hoping and praying that our “he wrote it down” is “she listened and believed me”. I am praying that my girl will not have years of nightmares and triggers. Maybe, just maybe, please God, the fact that I believed her and listened and turned him in and made him go to prison, has made all the difference. Please, please, make a difference.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, Sara. First of all, I am so completely, crushingly sorry that happened to your beautiful girl.

      You believing her is so crucial, and by following through and seeing that he is behind bars? You saved other little girls. You did that. You. WARRIOR.

      I cannot promise you that she will not have years of struggle ahead, I wish I could. But knowing that her mother has her back, and got her help? That’s the whole ballgame.

      You listened. You believed her. You rescued future girls from abuse. I am sitting here crying, crying for your baby- but filled with such joy that parents like you exist in this world. Thank you, on behalf of…well, EVERYONE. God bless. xoxoxoxox

      Liked by 2 people

  12. Your essay, “he wrote it down” changed me. There were many, many tears. But it changed me and moved me and literally propelled me forward. I am joy-filled to know that it changed you as well. I think you’re really brave

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Dear Laura. Thank you. This is stunning. You are a beautiful girl.
    I had some new things come up. I told Jared (husband) I am going to ask a detective friend of mine if he can bring his official reports papers and write it down for me. I haven’t asked Nik yet, I think I am feeling small and afraid. I sent that post to my cousin when I read it. I needed to do that. I needed to remind her that she was my person. I like that we have that part of our story in common. Thank you Laura. xo – Vicki.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Oh — I remember this one when you posted it. I think I shared a clip of it with my therapist (as if she needed educating, right?) Because you captured it so well and I never have the words.

    I’m sorry you re-linked to it because it is relevant today.

    I get that — I get that when things have calmed down more days than not — a resurgence feels more brutal than ever before. Comes out of the blue and knocks you on your backside.

    Hope you’re able to pick yourself up.

    “That’s what triggers do. The perfectly ordinary sight, or smell, or sound catapults you back in time. They put you back IN IT. Your adrenaline skyrockets, and the terror is real, as real as it was when you were that little girl, powerless, and afraid.”

    Yes. Exactly yes. I spend so much time time-traveling.

    Last night, I was exposed to someone who was hostile, aggressive. Not hostile to me, but directed to someone in the vicinity.

    Heck, maybe he wasn’t even that hostile — maybe the tone, the words — maybe my alarm sensors go flaring off much too easily — but it was difficult, and I haven’t shaken it yet. My skin is crawling, my heart is beating fast, and I have that “hunkered down” feeling inside.

    And nothing to do but grit my teeth and bear it and wait it out. My new therapist talks about naming colors in my environment, feeling the chair I’m sitting on, and the last one had advice like remind myself I am safe —

    But that’s just it — I never feel safe. Never, ever. No where, and no when.

    Anyway. Hang in there, grit your teeth and bull your way through it, or name colors out loud that you can see and textures you can feel and sounds you can hear if that works for you (it never does for me).

    Hope you regain your equilibrium.

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    • Yes- I had a therapist tell me to do that, and it does help me ground myself when I am first coming our of the episode. What do I see, what do I hear, what can I touch, what do I smell? I just always seem to have a day of wearing all my emotional nerves on the outside the next day- and maybe that’s okay. I’ve come to think of my PTSD as chronic, but not progressive- and certainly not terminal. It’s manageable- for me, anyway. xo

      Liked by 1 person

      • In the category of “managed expectations” she has told me that’s what I should expect for the longterm. That it would never completely go away, but that I should time travel less.

        And yes – it is like your skin is inside out for the next day or so — everything is exquisitely raw.

        Where I tumble hard is when I get into a spiral and don’t come out of it for days at a time. Or events collide and pile up and keep hammering me.

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      • yes- that’s hard. I’ve gotten better about not expecting myself to be anywhere other than where I’m at. If I’m having a hard day, I acknowledge it and let it be what it is. I don’t wallow, but I don’t try to force myself out of it, either.

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  15. Oh the dreams. It is 2:29 in the morning, and I’ve read and listened and watched and read more all to avoid my eyes closing. I’ve been awake so long that I’ve had multiple cycles of being drunk and sobering again, all without sleep in the interim… My eyes half closed, I am trying to trust you and what you say can be – that maybe someday we can all be closer to “dogs just being dogs and flowers just being flowers.” And I’m holding on. Tightly. Both hands. Xo

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    • Sister. I know. I remember those nights. I hope you slept.

      You can get there. With help, you can do the work and get there. It can get so much better, friend. It can.

      Like

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