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Posts Tagged ‘dealing with triggers’

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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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 got triggered at a Halloween party over the week. As I have shared before, I do not go to parties very often because I inadvertently commit some sort of faux pas that makes me look like an idiot. So, to the extent I am even invited to parties (intense people are hardly party material!), I am very careful about which ones I will even attend.

This weekend, one of my closest friends had a Halloween party. I knew most of the people there, which is always a plus. Things went very well for most of the night. I was not even triggered by the children running around in black capes, which can be a trigger for me. However, the hostess’ husband said something that triggered me, and I am happy to report that I was able to shake it off after a couple of hours.

Background – my friend offered to make four lasagnas for a different party but only owned two 9 x 13 Pyrex dishes. I loaned her my good one. When I found out that she needed a fourth, I offered my old one but warned her that it was not in good shape. Her husband made it his personal challenge to restore the dish to its original state, and he came close – I truly did not know that dish could look so go.

So, at the party he said that he wanted to “shame me” for having a dish in that condition and that I need to be more like an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) mutual friend who had already left the party for the evening. (She is OCD about germs and cleaning.) One of my best friends was sitting next to me and jumped right in with, “Oh, no she doesn’t. I don’t need to calm her down about that kind of stuff, too. She has enough to deal with,” or something to that effect. The conversation rapidly moved elsewhere, but the damage was done.

I tried reminding myself that this guy is far from perfect and that it was an @$$hole thing to say to someone who was nice enough to loan his wife two dishes. I also tried reminding myself that it did not stop his wife from borrowing my crock pot, which was sitting in the next room heating part of the dinner as he said this. However, none of that mattered in the moment. I was flooded with shame because I was triggered, so no amount of rationalization was going to make a difference.

I could have gone a number of directions, but I chose the healthy route. The party was wrapping up by this point, so I made my exit as soon as I could without drawing notice to being triggered. I went home and did some work for my job while listening to positive music. After doing that for about an hour, I noticed that I really was okay again. Yeah, me! :0)

I had an intense dream that night. My friend and her husband were making veiled comments about me being fat (something my friend would never do). I ducked out quickly, but my friend caught me and insisted that we talk it through. She was apologetic as I battled my shame, and we talked it all out until I felt better.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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This week, I have been talking about getting triggered after child abuse. I shared a recent experience about when I was badly triggered and how I dealt with it. In this post, I want to provide some tips for dealing with triggers.

First of all, when (not if) you get triggered, don’t beat yourself up. I have been working very hard on healing from the child abuse for over five years. By anyone’s standards, I am far along the path of healing, and yet I was able to be triggered in a matter of seconds. It made me feel like I had made no progress at all. This is normal for a child abuse survivor.

I felt like I had always been in this terrible place and would never know freedom again. It felt like I had been sucked down into a deep, dark well where there was no sunlight or even the hope of sunlight. I just wanted to die. I wanted relief from the pain at whatever cost. I was only in this terrible place for about 30 hours, but it felt like decades. While I was triggered, nobody could have convinced me that I would ever feel better again.

I have written myself a note to (hopefully) get me through my next triggering faster. I am very susceptible to being triggered during the holidays, so I have no question that I will get the “opportunity” to test out this tactic before the year’s end. My note says three things:

  1. Breathe
  2. 36 hours
  3. Feed the right wolf

That’s really all I need to know to pull out of the triggering.

1. Breathe

When I get triggered, my breathing becomes very shallow. By breathing deeply, I help pull myself back into the present and back into my body. As soon as I started breathing deeply, I felt a little better. That is the very first thing that I need to remember.

2. 36 hours

When I am in that bad, bad place, it feels like I will never get out. Reminding myself that I will feel much better within 36 hours shows me that there will be an end to that pain. I just have to get through 36 hours, and then I will be okay. I hope that will give me the strength to hold on.

3. Feed the right wolf

This has to do with the Native American story that I shared here. When I am triggered, it is as if someone just fed my “evil wolf” a big, juicy steak. My tendency is to continue to feed that wolf by fueling the self-hatred.

Instead, when I am triggered, it is very important for me to feed my “good wolf” by being very gentle with myself. I need to be compassionate and set aside time to do things that I enjoy.

Also, I need to remember not to fight the pain. Instead, I need to let it flow out of me. I don’t want to keep it inside of myself. I need to let it out. Giving in to feeling the pain flow is an investment in feeling much, much better very soon.

Now, I just need to remember to read this blog entry the next time I am triggered!

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Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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