Archive for the ‘Triggers’ Category

Diversity (c) MicrosoftOn my blog entry entitled Faith Allen’s Story – Ritual Abuse, a reader posted the following comment:

well, I guess people who don’t fit your idea of normative gender based on their assigned sex shouldn’t bother getting help from your site. wouldn’t want to trigger you by, y’know, existing. cool. any other groups you have categorical problems with? ~ well then

I responded to this comment as follows:

Hi, well then.

I am assuming you are referring to this comment:

“To this day, transsexuals or anyone who does not display an obvious gender trigger me because, without being able to tell the gender of the person beneath the robe, I had no indication of which form of sexual abuse was coming.”

I do not have any “problems” interacting with people online who are transgender nor with any other “categories” of people. This is a trigger issue for me visually, such as when watching some of the scenes in the movie “Cabaret.” Even when I am triggered, I do not blame the other person or judge the other person for being transgender.

I just saw the movie “Rent” and was initially triggered by one character who cross-dressed. She wound up becoming my favorite character in the movie, but I did have to work through some grounding techniques first. Again, I did not think badly about the character — I was just cognizant of feeling triggered and needing to ground myself.

I can understand why someone might believe that my sensitivity to triggers might meant that I am prejudiced against that group of people or that I might be unwilling to be supportive, but that is not true in my case. I am able to separate out my triggers, which is about me, from other people’s needs and situations, which is about them. :0)

This is an important enough issue that I want to make sure I address it directly for all readers through a blog entry. I can understand how anyone who is in the minority for any reason, whether through race, gender, religion, culture, etc., can be sensitive to any comment that can appear to be critical of being part of a minority group. I freely admit that I am sensitive to comments made about child abuse survivors, such as the inaccurate but widely-held societal belief that all abused children will grow up to be child abusers themselves.

Because I am sensitive to this issue, I recognize that I might presume prejudice in the other person that does not exist. Some people are simply uneducated on a topic, such as this inaccurate comment about child abuse survivors, but truly are not going to judge me because I am a child abuse survivor. I find that most people are simply uninformed and are open to learning the truth – that only a small number of abused children grow up to abuse children.

I have numerous triggers based upon what I experienced as a child. This does not meant that I have numerous prejudices based on my triggers, and I believe this dynamic applies to numerous child abuse survivors who are healing from abuse. As an example, a woman who was repeatedly raped by men but never by women might have many triggers surrounding men without being prejudiced toward all men or rejecting all men outright.

Another one of my triggers is cowboys because one of my abusers was a horseman who dressed in cowboy garb, from the cowboy hat to the leather belt, boots, and spurs. I do not hate all cowboys, nor am I unwilling to be supportive of cowboys on my blog, despite the fact that seeing a cowboy can be triggering to me. I recognize that I am triggered and why, and I take responsibility for grounding myself. I do not categorically hate or reject all cowboys, nor do I avoid visiting places where a cowboy show might be offered for my child to watch.

I apologize to anyone who might have felt rejected by that statement and any other statement anywhere on this blog that might have made you feel like you are not welcome here. Anyone who is healing from child abuse is welcome and supported regardless of any trigger sensitivities that I or other readers might have. I take full responsibility for grounding myself whenever I am triggered, and I do not require readers to pretend to be anything they aren’t in order to receive support here.

Photo credit: Microsoft

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On my blog entry entitled Noticing the Progress I Have Made, a reader posted the following comment:

Today I got very very triggered and despite my conscious knowledge to the contrary, my subconscious mi d was convinced that my life was in danger, obviously it was not but I couldn’t rationalise this to myself at all. All my normal coping strategies were gone and I had to stay in this situation for nearly an hour. It’s been a long time since I have felt so stressed and afraid, I can’t even talk about it without feeling sick and anxious. I HAVE to be in fairly frequent contact with the person who triggered me (unintentionally) and I am very nervous about this as my brain has made a strong connection between them and danger. I’m really worried about how I’ll cope, and that experience of getting triggered was so much stronger than previous times it frightened me a lot! Hard to know what to do to “fix” this as usuals don’t seem to be working. Any ideas would be greatly appreciated! ~ Sophie

This is an old comment but one that is relevant to many people. It sounds like Sophie was triggered by a person who wasn’t intending to trigger her but, nevertheless, caused a severe reaction in her. I have had this happen myself.

I was at the grocery store a few years ago, and a woman was pushing a young (maybe two years old) child in a shopping cart. The second I saw the child, I became triggered and feared I would vomit in the store. I had to get away from that child IMMEDIATELY to avoid a panic attack so severe that I couldn’t hide it in public.

A couple of years later, I ran into the same child at the public library and had the same reaction. (I have no idea why.) This time, I was with a friend, and I asked her if she noticed anything strange or different about the child. She looked surprised by my question and said he just looked a normal child to her. To this day, I have no idea why I reacted so strongly to this child, but I hope he moved away so I don’t run into him again!

The first step is to acknowledge that for some reason, this person triggers you. Don’t beat yourself up for this – it is what it is. Ideally, you wouldn’t have to interact with this person (just as I don’t have to interact with that child). When you have a choice, choose not to interact with someone who triggers you like this.

If contact is inevitable, don’t just assume that there is something “wrong” with you. Consider the possibility that you are getting triggered for a reason. I got triggered by an eye doctor and assumed it was just me since I was new to therapy. I saw him again a couple of years later (when I was emotionally stronger), and I went in prepared and with an open mind. I got the same triggered feeling. He was inappropriate but subtle, doing things holding his cheek against mine when he examined my eye. (I have seen numerous eye doctors, and none of them physically touched me during an eye examination.) I wasn’t overreacting – I was picking up on vibes from that doctor. I switched doctors after that visit.

If you are certain that you are not picking up on any “vibes” and that you are being triggered but are safe around this person, take steps to mitigate your reactions. Another option is to remove yourself from this person, such as by switching jobs or moving. There is not one person on the planet that you MUST interact with. You do have options.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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On my blog entry entitled Being Protected versus Taking Responsibility for Managing Triggers, a reader posted the following comment:

You mentioned in your post that you now knew what tools you needed to employ to get through your triggering. When you have time, I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about those tools..? (if it’s not too personal that is) Besides deep breathing and running away, my toolbox is a little empty I’m afraid! ~ Mia

As always, some of these tools might work for you and other might not. I think it is helpful for each child abuse survivor to figure out what works for him or her and keep adding to your toolbox. What is in your toolbox might be completely different from what is in mine, or there might be lots of overlap. What matters is that each child abuse survivor try different ways to bring yourself down when you are triggered. For me, it helps to have a variety of tools. As I build up my confidence in some tools, I am able to remove others.

The first tools I had in my toolbox were not the healthiest choices, but they did help when I was triggered. These tools included binge eating and banging my head. It was important for me to recognize that these behaviors, which I hated and wanted to stop, were serving the purpose of helping me manage my triggers. As I built up my confidence in other ways to manage my triggers, I was able to let go of those.

In the so-so category for me are tools that alter my mental state physically, such as drinking wine or taking a Xanax. Again, these might not be the “best” tools, but they are less unhealthy than binge eating or banging my head. Transitioning these tools in helped me to let go of the other behaviors over time. It might surprise you that I am starting this blog entry with behaviors that many people might classify as “less healthy” than where I am going, but I think it is important to recognize the role of self-care that “less healthy” behaviors can serve. For me, this second category belongs in my toolbox, and the tools in my first category, which are physically harmful to me, have mostly fallen by the wayside.

Some of my more positive tools include the following:

  • Calling a friend and venting
  • Deep breathing
  • Exercising
  • Expressing my emotions (crying, punching pillows, etc.)
  • Scheduling an appointment with my therapist
  • Taking a walk
  • Visualization
  • Watching a comedy on TV
  • Writing on my blog or at Isurvive
  • Yoga and meditation

I think the biggest difference in my reaction to triggers now versus seven years ago is my confidence that I am going to be OK. In my early days of healing, I truly did not know this. Something would trigger me, and I would feel “off” for days or even weeks at a time. Today, I am typically over a trigger in a few hours. For serious triggers, I might be rocked for a few days. Even when I am badly triggered, I know that these feelings won’t last. Whatever I am feeling right now – either good or bad – is going to pass.

If I am badly triggered, I remember that I am the fire hose and that the emotions are the water coursing through me. I am not the emotions. I will do deep breathing and visualize the emotions passing through me. This helps me ground myself and recognize that the feelings of being triggered will pass.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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One area of healing that has been a balancing act for me is allowing myself to be protected versus taking responsibility for finding ways to heal and/or adapt in areas of my life that the abuse has affected. As an example, I developed a phobia of Russian nesting dolls because of their use during my abuse. In the early stages of healing, a friend and I took our children to the library for story time. The story was about Russia, so the librarian brought in a Russian nesting doll set for the children to see. I was triggered by seeing the doll while she read the book, but I was able to hold it together. However, when she started to open the doll (which was a trigger of a specific threat to my sister’s life as a child), I had to leave the room and had a full-fledged panic attack in the bathroom. Thankfully, my friend knew about my phobia and watched my son until I composed myself.

Clearly, I needed to be protected from my trigger in the early stages of healing. I had little experience with working through triggers and managing my anxiety when faced with such a severe trigger for me. However, I cannot spend the rest of my life having to go have a panic attack in the bathroom every time I see a Russian nesting doll. While (thankfully) Russian nesting dolls aren’t on every street corner, I do bump into them in unexpected places, such as on display at a friend’s house (who received them as a gift when adopting from Russia) or for sale at a consignment shop that sells antiques. Part of healing for me has been learning how to manage my triggers. Another way of wording this is taking responsibility for managing my own triggers so that my friends and family don’t have to spend the rest of my life ridding the world of Russian nesting dolls so that I can function.

Of course, my life would be much easier if I could just wave a magic wand and make all Russian nesting dolls disappear, but that isn’t going to happen. I don’t want to spend my life being protected from my triggers, so I have worked hard to dismantle as many triggers as I can. It is a work in progress, but making the choice to take responsibility for managing my triggers has been empowering. Having to rely on other people to protect me from my triggers makes me feel helpless and weak even though I know I am a strong person. Conversely, each baby step that moves me toward being able to manage my own triggers makes me feel empowered.

In fact, just recently I bumped into an open set of Russian nesting dolls at a consignment store, and I was OK. I noticed them and felt a twinge of triggering, but I knew what tools I needed to employ to bring myself back down. My friend wouldn’t have even noticed I was triggered if I hadn’t pointed out the dolls to her. That’s a huge change from the friend who had to watch my son while I had a panic attack in the bathroom several years ago. It felt really good to see my growth in this area of healing.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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Smoke day (c) Hekatekris

My kid (N) is having an issue at school. You can read the details here.

Update – the third party (K) still does not want to be N’s friend even after his mother explained the situation. N’s best friend (P – different “P” from the child N had an issue with) is also friends with K. K put P in the position of “choosing” between K and N at school yesterday, and P chose K. (In fairness to P, he did play with N at afterschool care.) N came home from school very upset. P’s mom and I are good friends, and she will talk with P tonight about not blowing off one friend for another. As for K, I have told N that nobody can make K be his friend, not even K’s mom.

Yes, it’s fifth grade drama!

That being said, I am having a difficult time keeping my own triggers out of the situation. I am trying to handle everything like a rational adult, but I am having to deal privately with my own triggers.

Trigger #1 – K just spent the night at our house the weekend before the drama hit. The boys were supposedly great friends, and now K wants nothing to do with N. This is triggering my own issues with the sudden ending of a nine-year friendship that is still somewhat raw.

Trigger #2 – K comes from a wealthy family, and I am leery of wealthy families because my most sadistic abusers were also wealthy. I have an aversion to anyone “in society” because I view those people as threats – it was “society” people who hurt me as a kid. I have been working very hard to assess people based on their character and not by their pocketbooks, but having the “rich kid” screw over my kid steps all over my childhood triggers.

Trigger #3 – My kid only lashed out at the other kid because he was hurt by a deep wound being opened. (In fairness to the other kid, he had no idea about my child’s emotional wound. Side note – The other kid has forgiven my child, and they are getting along fine now.) I suspect that one reason K is pushing N away is because he believes there is no excuse for saying something so mean, which tells me that K doesn’t know what it is like to have been deeply wounded. I know what it was like to be deeply wounded as a child, and it hurts to know that my child has been wounded as well (different cause, but a wound is a wound). The whole dynamic of someone who hasn’t been wounded judging someone who has stomps all over my triggers.

So, I am blogging about my crazy … um, I believe I was told to call them “confused” … emotions as I try to process fifth grade kid drama as an adult and not a triggered child.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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Man under Palm Trees (c) Lynda BernhardtMy father-in-law took my son and me for a visit to his college alma mater at a military school. We watched the military parade, ate lunch in the mess hall, and then watched a football game. I had a great time other than experiencing a strong trigger reaction during the military parade. The trigger tied into two traumatic events from college, both of which I wrote about in this blog entry.

The first memory had to do with a gang rape of sorts, although in fairness to the perps, I probably appeared to be consenting. What I did not share before was that this was a party attended by many men in ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corp). So, visiting a military campus, where all of the men were in ROTC and in uniform, was the first trigger.

The second trigger was the smell of a man’s cologne. It was the same cologne that my ex-boyfriend used to wear – the same ex-boyfriend I wrote about in that blog entry who raped me in his dorm room at a different college.

So, we were standing around the parade grounds with hundreds of other people watching the ROTC parade with the smell of that man’s cologne hitting me. I couldn’t get away – it was very crowded, and I was there with my kid and father-in-law, which was chatting with a fellow alum and his wife as other people pressed in around us to watch the parade.

I got lightheaded. I told myself I couldn’t leave, which moved me into feeling dizzy and then the blood draining out of my head. I dropped to my knees to try to stop myself from fainting.

At this point, my father-in-law noticed that something was wrong and directed me to a nearby bench that I had not noticed before. With deep breaths of air not smelling like my rapist’s cologne, the dizziness/lightheadedness went away, and I felt more like myself again.

After the parade, we took my son to the gift shop, which is where all of those other people went as well. It was hot and crowded, and I had to wait in line for 20+ minutes with wall-to-wall bodies. That didn’t bother me a bit – no lightheadedness at all.

It has been a long time since I was hit that hard with a trigger. I am used to the “floaty,” lightheaded feeling, but I don’t recall feeling ready to faint. Of course, I used to dissociate with regularity, so I probably was unaware of how hard a trigger would hit me. I guess I should celebrate that I was able to stay present through it.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Yellow Flowers (c) Lynda BernhardtI shared yesterday that I have given up alcohol and pills (Xanax) to suppress my emotions. I am, instead, using new tools being provided by my therapist to ride out my emotions without reacting to them.

This was put to the test last night. So far, I have been experiencing flashes of anxiety with no apparent cause. As long as I don’t react to them but, instead, just become compassionately aware of them, they pass.

That did not happen last night when I experienced a full-fledged flood of anxiety. I don’t know what the cause (trigger) was, which was really annoying. If I could have said to myself, “I am feeling X because of Y,” then I could have talked myself down and challenged the lie that was fueling the anxiety. However, because I had no idea why I was being flooded with anxiety, that didn’t work.

I tried using the same visualization that had been working successfully all week (and that I have used for years), but it did not work, either. I visualize that I have an “emotion magnet” that gathers the emotions as I breathe in deeply. Then, as I breathe out, the emotions flow out of my right side. I repeat this process until my mind and body relax. I don’t know why it has to be my right side, but this has worked very well for me, especially with mild triggers.

I tried doing some other things (watching a TV show, burning a lavender-vanilla-scented candle, etc.) to no avail. By now, it was bedtime, and I had to make a choice – Do I give in to the Xanax so I can sleep? Or do I ride this out?

I thought about another metaphor that my former yoga instructor taught me – I am the fire hose, and my emotions are the water coursing through it. No matter how powerful the water flow, I am the hose, not the water. This didn’t work, either … at first.

Then, I don’t know how it happened, but I latched onto my body – I don’t really know how else to describe this – and became very aware that I was grounded, solid, and safe in my body because my body is the hose. As soon as I made this connection, the intensity of the anxiety poured out of me, and I was left with the hose – my body – safe and no longer anxious.

I guess this is what multiple people have been trying to get me to do through deep breathing, etc. I have heard numerous times about grounding yourself through deep breathing, etc., but I never really made the connection about reaching out and grabbing onto my body as a grounding tool. I have mostly seen my body as the “enemy” since childhood because it was the vehicle used to hurt me. For the first time, I truly appreciated being attached to this body.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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This blog entry continues from yesterday.

One reason I have so much trouble feeling safe and protected is because I have had abuse lie dormant and then resurface. My mother went 10 years without abusing me and then attacked me again after my father died, so a part of myself is always on alert for when the other shoe is going to drop. No matter how much time has passed without being abused, a part of me lives in fear of it happening again.

For the most part, I do a good job knowing what my triggers are and how to diffuse them. However, getting blindsided by the theme park has rocked my confidence in my ability to keep myself safe, which leads to my feeling the need to take more control, which is what prompted my focus on control this week.

The thing is that I was objectively safe at Legoland. Nobody hurt me there. Nobody was even rude to me despite my terrible attitude in my triggered state. However, being immersed in a “land” of something that is clearly a trigger for severe trauma (based upon my severe reaction) has caused the traumatized child in me to feel extremely unsafe.

I have always loved to travel because I can let go of control and feel safe because I am physically far away from the threat. Now that part of myself fears leaving home because who knows what terrible trigger is lurking out there? I am working hard to dismantle this pattern. I don’t want to spend my life looking backward and navigating the landmines of potential triggers.

I am sick to death of my life being controlled by my childhood. I lived in the trauma for ~ 20 years. I have lived longer without the trauma, so why do the bad years get dibs? The war is behind me – I am so tired of living in a foxhole now that the war has ended.

I really want to move forward. I did not invest all of that hard work and money into healing and therapy so I can still feel unsafe most of the time. The little girl inside is screaming that the “safe” part of the world just got much, much smaller, but I am fighting back – I am not giving up something I love (traveling) because of one big trigger.

The other thing is that I am not going to put a bunch of work into trying to recover the memory this time. I remember enough to have a pretty good idea of the level of trauma associated with the Legos. I don’t have to relive it to heal this. I am sick to death of reliving past trauma – I haven’t really gotten “new” information in years, just more of the same. My abusers were sadistic bastards who tried to break my will, but they didn’t succeed. I want to move forward, not continue focusing on the past. I think it is enough to acknowledge that Legos are a trigger, accept that the trauma was really, really bad, and compassionately move myself forward. I never need to put myself around Legos (and certainly not Legoland) again, but I also don’t need to live in fear of them. They are just Legos.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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Traveling to new places has been a wonderful way for me to let go of control and enjoy the moment. I loved visiting Los Angeles last year. I felt so free and safe … so far away from home and not responsible for doing anything but having fun at Disneyland.

This year did not go that way. I did not know that Legos trigger me until I walked into Legoland and had a complete meltdown. In retrospect, the signs were there. I had been very excited about our trip. Then, when we added that theme park to our agenda (my friend’s younger son is very into Legos), I kept procrastinating scheduling the trip and really was not looking forward to it any longer. Hindsight is 20/20 – I just thought this was spillover for all of the other stuff I was dealing with at the beginning of the summer.

I had no idea that I was triggered, but I felt the intense need for a Xanax as soon as we entered the gate. I thought it was the crowds at first. I was slammed with intense hatred – I hated every single thing about the place and kept visualizing blowing up all of the Lego statues.

Outwardly, I kept b@#$%ing about how juvenile the place was. (Our boys are nine and ten – it looked more appealing to the kindergarten crowd in my fully biased opinion.) Inwardly, my skin was crawling, and I wanted to use my fingernails to peel it off my body. I got angrier when I learned that it is a “dry” theme park (most theme parks do serve alcohol) because I wanted to stay inebriated the entire day. I kept counting down the hours until we could leave. I was lightheaded and immersed in anger and shame.

I was so incredibly triggered afterward – so much so that my friend kept bringing me rum punches. (I haven’t had that much to drink in years.) She had no idea why I was being so intense about the place. I told her that I simply could not go back. I would do anything she wanted – lie, cheat, steal – but I would not go back. (We had two-day passes.) I wound up spending the next day seeing the new “Harry Potter” movie while my friend took the kids back. For the next few days, I struggled with very strong suicidal and self-injury urges.

That experience really shook me, and I have been prone to triggering and panic attacks ever since, which is why I am putting so much focus on staying in the moment, reminding myself that I am safe at this very moment, etc. Being slammed by that intense of a trigger without having any idea it was coming has really rocked me. More tomorrow…

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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I am writing this blog entry on the day before the summer solstice. I have not been this triggered in a really long time. I have been struggling for a week – pretty much since the full moon last week – and it feels like there will never be an end to this. I hope that by the time anyone reads this, I’ll be able to say that I have pulled out of this and am doing OK. Right now, I feel anything but OK.

I took the title of this blog entry from something a friend, who is a child abuse survivor, hears from her mother a lot. Her mother says she only has so much nurturing to go around. So, if she is already putting energy into someone else, she will tell her daughter, “It’s not your turn.” Even if my friend is in serious crisis, if it’s “not her turn,” then her mother will not help her – period. I feel like it is never “my turn” in any relationship in my life.

I have been struggling a lot over the past week in particular – insomnia, severe headaches, etc. I feel more memories coming but simply cannot handle them right now. In the midst of this, as I shared on Monday, I am feeling sucked dry by too many relationships in my life. It’s always everyone else’s turn, never mine.

This thing is, I really don’t ask or expect much from anyone else. I was taught at a very young age that my needs don’t matter. In fact, I was taught that I don’t even get to have needs. So, for the most part, I muddle along through my life, trying to help others while pretty much blowing off anything resembling needs of my own. However, when I go through periods of deep triggering as I have recently, I simply have nothing left to give. I am not even asking for anyone to **do** anything for me – I just need them to stop sucking my energy for a day or two.

Back to Monday … I actually got a good night’s sleep courtesy of taking a larger dose of Xanax than normal. I was hopeful it would be a better day. Then, an additional trigger happened, and I came completely unglued. The one trigger wouldn’t have been a big deal if I hadn’t been trying to juggle 50 other triggers as well as the negative energy of several other people in my offline life. That was the last straw. I simply lost it.

I tried to call one friend … and then another … and then another … and then another. I could not find one person to answer the damn phone. I tried seven … yes, seven … friends, and could not reach one of them. I even tried calling my therapist – something I have not done in a couple of years – and couldn’t even reach him.

That’s when I gave up. All I needed was one person to ground me … one person to tell me that I would be okay … one person to tell me that I matter … one person to let it be “my turn” for five minutes. Truly, that’s all I needed.

So, I resisted the deep urge to drive my car into a pole. I also fought the deep urge to take a steak knife to my arm, although that one was harder to fight off. I finally settled on binge eating and Xanax. I turned off the cell phone and house phone. I closed out my inbox. I didn’t matter – nobody called, anyhow. I guess nobody needed anything.

I lay in my bed all day and watched a marathon of a TV show. I slept for a couple of hours. I got up and binged again and watched more TV. I pulled myself together long enough to meet the minimum requirements for my job (all done online) and then went back to doing nothing but watching TV.

I feel so disconnected from my body. I picked up my son from camp and took him to basketball practice. I worked out on the elliptical machine for 30 minutes, but it didn’t feel like my body. I ate dinner, but it didn’t feel like my stomach. I feel so disconnected from everything and everyone. I hope this passes because I cannot live like this.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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