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Posts Tagged ‘triggers after child abuse’

Oh, boy, did I have a bad day last week. I was triggered so badly that I could barely stay in my body. I could not function. I could not work. I could not stop crying for four straight hours. It was a very bad day. I won’t go into all of the details that led up to the final moment of triggering, but the incident that put me over the edge was accidentally giving my son the wrong medication.

It is a very long story how this happened, but instead of giving my nine-year-old son his ADHD medication, I accidentally gave him one of my Xanax pills. As soon as I realized it, he had just swallowed the pill, and I had a few terrifying moments of not knowing whether I had just accidentally poisoned my kid. Per the Poison Control Center, the dose he took of Xanax was completely fine for his age and weight, and, in fact, many children are prescribed even higher doses of Xanax, so my son was never in any danger. He just had to stay home from school since we did not know how he would react to the medication. (Surprisingly and thankfully, he had no reaction at all.).

The point of this blog entry is not to talk about my idiocy but to talk about my triggering. My greatest fear is not keeping my inner child, and by extension, my child safe. Subconsciously, I am unable to tell the two apart. So, any potential danger to my son causes my dissociative identity disorder (DID) system to activate again. Considering that I endured a few minutes of sheer panic of possibly poisoning my child, you can imagine the level of anxiety I experienced.

I am still shaky even writing about it, but I want to focus on all of the things I did right. My immediate reaction was the overwhelming urge to kill myself because I have always said that I would kill myself before I ever endangered my child. I told my therapist this when I started therapy, and he knew I meant it. If I ever found out that an alter part hurt my son, I would commit suicide immediately to save him from being harmed by me like I was by my mother. My therapist assured me that, because I feel so strongly about this, I would never hurt my son. All alter parts are still me, and I would never do something so fundamentally opposite of the core of my being.

Back to the story – As soon as I knew my son was safe, I came completely unglued and could not stop crying hysterically. Thank goodness this happened in front of another adult (the one who called Poison Control), so she could calm my son down while I completely freaked out. Next, I called friend after friend until I got one, and she worked hard to talk me down. That got me home without driving my car into a tree.

Next, I took Xanax myself, which my friend thought to tell me to do because I was too far gone to think of it. Next, another friend coincidentally happened to call. I wouldn’t have answered the phone, but my son did and handed it to me. She continued talking me down until the Xanax kicked in and I could be somewhat rational.

Then, I went to my bedroom and watched an episode of “Ugly Betty,” a lighthearted comedy just to get my mind doing something other than berate myself for being the worst mother in the world. I also ate a light meal so I could self-medicate with food in a healthy way rather than binge eat. By the time the show ended, I was rational enough to be able to do some mindless work-related things, which helped keep my mind focused on something other than my emotions. Despite all of these measures, I cried for four straight hours, and the rest of the day was terrible. I took medication to help me sleep and went to bed early, and I woke up fairly okay the next morning.

Rather than focus upon the near-tragedy, I am choosing to focus upon how far I have come. I seriously doubt I will get more triggered than I was that day, and I was able to get through it without harming myself. That is real progress.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Fish by reef (c) Lynda BernhardtSurvivors of child abuse often get “triggered” by things that remind them of the abuse. A trigger can be pretty much anything. For example, I get triggered if someone opens my bedroom door when I am trying to sleep. I was awakened too many times to be abused, and those episodes always began by somebody opening my bedroom door while I was sleeping. So, to this day, I equate hearing the bedroom door open to experiencing abuse.

When people are triggered, they get a rush of adrenaline. They feel panicky and react in different ways. I would dissociate, which means that I would feel “floaty” in my head. The world would seem like I was looking at it through the wrong end of a telescope. I would feel disconnected from what was going on around me. It was like I was “there” but “not there” at the same time.

I used to struggle to “stay present” during therapy sessions. I would hold onto my chair to help me stay present instead of distant in my head. I wanted to remember the therapy sessions afterward, and that was hard to do if I stayed triggered or dissociated the entire time. It took me a long time to learn how to stop dissociating. To this day, dissociation comes naturally, so I have to choose not to do it when something triggers me.

I used to be triggered by many things. Today, I am only triggered by a few things, thank goodness. When I am triggered (such as when I have to clean up dog poop), I get a really bad headache. I feel very angry, which is an improvement over feeling helpless. At least anger propels me forward instead of running away. Getting triggered sets off the “fight or flight” response. Now I feel the need to fight instead of flee, which I guess is progress.

I hope that I will reach a point in my life in which I no longer get triggered. That might be an unrealistic goal. However, as long as I am moving toward it, then I know I am making progress.

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Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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