Tag Archives: triggers

Removing triggers

A year ago this month, I was filling in my family on my childhood trauma. A story I’d held inside for over 30 years. A story that shaped every aspect of my being, without me even knowing it. A story I turned around in my brain all those years to make it more bearable, without even knowing it.  A story that guided my actions, my choices, my partners…without me even knowing it. A story that I was terrified to tell, ashamed to tell…yet knew I had to tell, all at the same time.  A story that, once told, left me in pieces. Broken, jagged, seemingly irreparable pieces. It’s funny to read that, because I was obviously broken and jagged well before telling. I just didn’t notice. Well, no, that’s not true, either. I always noticed I was broken, I guess I just didn’t know why. I never knew how to connect the dots.  Now I know.

I grew up inherently knowing I was damaged. I knew I was not like other kids. I knew that joy, popularity, adoration, attention, love and the like went to other kids and didn’t come to me. I think it’s a little strange now, but I never wondered why it didn’t come to me. I just knew it wasn’t in the cards. It wasn’t my lot in life and I sort of accepted it as “It is what it is”.  Wow, writing this now, and knowing a child felt this way is actually quite sad. I still have a hard time connecting that child to me. I wonder why I wasn’t sad about it?  Maybe I was and I don’t remember. It’s easy to block things out that don’t feel good, especially being a kid like I was. I can remember trying to be invisible… a lot. Whether it was around kids I knew I didn’t belong with, or at family gatherings, or even when I was by myself…I tried to be invisible. Maybe it’s because if I became invisible on my own, it wouldn’t be as sad as the reality of being invisible to others? I know I always felt like a burden, and being invisible is probably the best way to not be a burden, right? I can’t say I’ll ever find the answer to that one…

I carried that inherent knowledge of being damaged right up to adulthood. And when you know you’re damaged, you are ashamed of it. Not sure why, but they seem to go hand in hand. Not fair, but what is?  By then, I had learned how to character play. From the outside, it looked like I had it going on! Friends, outgoing, social…complete opposite of that invisible girl.  Just on the outside, though. Hell, I carried that shit right up until last year. I dropped the charade and was honest about who I was for the first time in my life. It wasn’t pretty. But it was real. God, it was downright ugly. I can vividly remember people’s look of disgust when I got to the juicy part. Not so much my friends, because they didn’t personally know the players, but definitely for my family. It was like a “shock and awe” campaign.  Most of them looked down and away, with what looked like a slight wave of nausea across their faces. Geez, no wonder I felt ashamed. They only had to hear the story…I had to live it. Makes sense, doesn’t it?  I can remember waiting, terrified, to hear what they would say. Waiting for them to judge me. No one did. At least, no out loud. I’ll never know for sure what they think inside. The looks on their faces, though…

Everyone seemed pretty supportive, which helped ease that heavy load of shame. How one can spend their entire life carrying that shit around and not know it, I have no idea. But you sure as hell notice when it’s gone! The more I told the story, the more it became just that… a story. I was eventually able to tell it without crying, without trembling, without fearing being judged, without feeling nausea. I removed thoughts, scenarios and people from my life that triggered me and things started falling into place. The shame and doubt slowly became replaced with feelings of worth and confidence. I became empowered. I accepted things for what they were. No one was ever going to make me feel used or unworthy again! It suddenly seemed easy. And there, my friends, lies the mistake….

The problem with my technique is, you can’t remove thoughts, scenarios and people who trigger you. Sure, you can temporarily avoid them, but you can’t remove them. And when your triggers involve family, forget about it. And when your triggers involve family, you might as well forget about it. They find their way back, in one form or another. Some are more camouflaged than others, but they all find their way back in, eventually. Sometimes, they hide in people you would never guess. Removing the triggers is not what’s easy at all. It’s them sneaking back to you, that’s what’s easy. I didn’t even realize that’s what was happening. How could I not realize it? These feelings of angst, shame, rejection, fear… they are supposed to be gone. Empowered people don’t feel those things, right? For me, emotions almost seem like a trigger. When people or scenarios result in me feeling a certain way (typically unworthy or unimportant), I start to spiral. Weird, isn’t it?

I had a nightmare last night. The first one since last summer. I was home alone and I was getting robbed. Masked men were at each window. I can usually tell when I’m dreaming, but not with this one. Just like the ones I had last summer. Scary as shit and so freaking  real. In the dream, I knew they were going to kill me. I could see a scene of my father’s house, and all of my family was over there for a birthday party. I was trying to figure out how to get out of my house before the men got to me, and I could somehow hear my family talking at the party at the same time, about how dramatic I was being. Even though I was scared to death of these men about to attack me, I also questioned myself. “WAS I making too big of a deal about this?”  Jesus, I was embarrassed and ashamed, at the same time I was about to get killed. Sounds about right…

So, now I have to figure out how to get rid of this stuff….these feelings. I don’t want my head to be swirling anymore. I did enough of that last year. Intellectually, I understand all of this. I understand that I need to reduce my expectations and learn to accept things for what they are. I need to learn I can’t make people act or feel the way I need them to. That sounds easy enough. I actually have been able to do that for most of the past year. Suddenly, though, I’m finding that talent to be missing. I DO have expectations. I DO need people to treat me the way I need to be treated. It DOES affect me when they don’t. Shit. How do I get back to where those things don’t happen? I don’t want those needs. I had acceptance, and it’s gone.  I felt lovable and now it’s gone. And it hurts. And it’s confusing. And it’s scary. And it’s sad…

And the most ironic part of all this? If I heard this story coming from someone else, I would have the answers. Why is it so much easier to heal others and not myself?

 

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Superhero-ish #SoCS

I don’t want to brag, but I just changed the world. Not kidding. I know, I know…one person can’t change the world, right? Well, that’s sort of right. I mean, what can one girl do? The world is so big!  But you know what? I might not be able to change a whole lot, but I can change some. A little. Even one single thing. Change one person’s perspective. Yep, I can do that. I know this, because I just did. And that’s how you change the world, right? One person at a time.

In a recent post of mine (Post Election Triggers), I talked about how, as a sexual abuse survivor, I was triggered by the audio tapes of our president elect, describing how he can sexually assault women because he’s famous. Most people don’t understand this. I can see that. If you haven’t been sexually assaulted, you can’t understand. Even for many women who actually have been sexually assaulted, they don’t understand, either. These women I’m referring to have fascinating, intricate brains that changed thought processes after the abuse as a coping mechanism…essentially numbing them through denial or self blame.  I know this because that used to be me, until I was lucky enough to find myself on a path of healing. I performed exhausting work on rewiring my brain, and people like me are fully aware of the effects of trauma. Just because I’ve rewired some of my thought processes, doesn’t mean I’m immune to triggers.

I have to say, listening to the actual tape was not the worst part for me. Sure, hearing him talk stirred up emotions of fear, shame and anxiety. Worse, though…it was the response of much of the country that hurt. It was listening to people minimize, dismiss, laugh at, demean and criticize my feelings. It was listening to people say they didn’t care about what he said or did. It was listening to people call the accusing women “liars”. It was listening to people compare his words to “50 Shades of Gray”. It was listening to people say they were fine with what he did, because the husband of his opponent did the same thing. And it wasn’t just people…it was my friends. It was painful to listen to people that are supposed to care about me, not care about me. I listened to them say that his abuse is okay because other people have done the same thing. Crazy.

I did my best to explain that I was not criticizing people for their political choice…we all get to choose who we want. My problem was with people choosing him and not calling him out on the hurtful things he said. Whether it was about sexual assault, racism, mocking disabilities….I have a real problem with people not condemning these things…not so much politically, but on a human level. Yes, you can stick to your political party AND call these people out on their hate. You can do both.

I lost a few friends over this. They couldn’t get past the political part, and were not going to bend for anyone. They didn’t care who got hurt, as long as Clinton did not win. One girl, who had been my friend for 30 years, stuck to her political guns and stood by her comment “Adult women have a responsibility to report sexual assault at the time of the event, or they are just as guilty as the one who assaults them” (referring to women who wait years to come forward). Well, I waited 30 years to tell my story…

I let my emotions get the best of me one day,  when I posted a quote on Facebook about many women watching the equivalent of their abuser being elected to the presidency, and to be kind to them…as chances are you know multiple. Obviously, the post was referring to me. The first comment was from a male friend who said “…and 4 brave men in Benghazi were unavailable for comment”. This was a perfect example of how crazy this election was. Here I am, putting it out to the world that I am hurting because of sexual abuse, and a man minimized it, because of what happened in Benghazi. Don’t get me wrong, I feel horrible about what happened in Benghazi. I hate that those men died. It was truly awful. But what the hell does that have to do with sexual assault?! It’s OK for sexual abuse to occur rampantly in this country because people have died elsewhere? I should shut up about my pain and not care about Trump assaulting women because of what happened in Benghazi? I don’t matter because of what happened in Benghazi?

I told this friend to “eff off” and deleted him…along with a few others who chimed in. One of them said “Whoa! So you think rape is worse than murder?” …like it’s even appropriate to compare the two things. Rape is OK because murder is worse?? It made no sense, and was so cold and hurtful. I really struggled the week of the election.

OK, I’m sure you’re wondering where the hell the part is about me changing the world. Fast forward to last week: the friend who made the original comment, the guy who I de-friended on Facebook…he sends me a private message, wishing me a happy birthday, sending his love…like I didn’t just tell him to “eff off” 2 weeks ago. I was perplexed. I contemplated ignoring it, but I didn’t. I told him I was surprised to see his message, that it was as if he didn’t recall our interaction. He said he wasn’t going to stop loving me because we had a fight, and he apologized for hurting me and wanted to know what it was he needed to do to make things right with me. Damn. I’ve never had that happen before. That really happened!! I cried. Finally, someone validated me. Finally, I felt worthy to one of “those people” who were making me feel like I didn’t matter. And I didn’t just think of me…I felt like it was validating all women who were feeling this way. I ended up sharing my story of sexual assault and he was so apologetic, saying he wished he had known. I told him it’s too bad that people have to either be directly affected by this or have someone they know be directly affected by this in order to be mindful of feelings. It’s too bad we have to share our story in order to get people to understand, yet at the same time, we share our stories and people still don’t care. We shouldn’t have to work so hard to get people to care.

So, this guy now has a new viewpoint on sexual assault, and more so on people’s feelings. This may sound like a post on sexual assault victims (well, OK…it sort of is), but it’s more about a solution to much of the anger in our country. We need to care about each other’s feelings, even if we don’t understand them. When someone else is hurting, I am not the one who gets to decide if they should feel hurt…they are. If I ever hurt someone’s feelings unintentionally, I will always be sorry and ask what I can do to make it better. I will not make them feel small or stupid or childish for having feelings, whether I understand them or agree with them or not. I will not tell them that I didn’t intend to hurt them, therefore they shouldn’t feel hurt. This is not what’s been happening lately, in this country of ours. People are calling other people losers, whiners, “too sensitive”, drama queens….for having feelings. They tell people to “toughen up” when they are hurt. This makes the hurt person angry, too….which leads them to want to hurt the other person, and next thing you know, we have a country full of people hurting each other. We are all different. We all react differently to situations and trauma. Instead of being a divided country that hurts each other, we need to unite and heal each other.

So, that sounds like a great plan, but is that going to happen? Probably not. The anger runs pretty deep in America. But you know what? It happened between two people. It happened to me and my friend. I can bet the next time he sees a woman talking about feeling scared regarding our president and sexual abuse, he’s going to respond differently. And I’m pretty sure he’s going to come across this scenario, as there’s so many of us out there. So many of us that are speaking up and sharing our stories. Speaking up makes a difference. Calling people out makes a difference. Not to everyone, but to some. And if I can get one person to change their views and want to help heal a person, maybe you can, too. You don’t have to be a superhero and change the whole world. Just be superhero-ish … change one person’s world.

 

This post is a part of Linda G. Hill’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday. The prompt was “SH”. I had to use a word that had those letters in it, and let it flow…totally organic writing with no edits.

 

 

 

 

The Friday Reminder and Prompt for #SoCS Dec. 3/16

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Bully in my brain

bullyWhen I was first diagnosed with PTSD (and really, even now), I punished myself for having it.  I guess that’s pretty common for people like me. As I journaled through the influx of emotions and hyper-vigilance of those first overwhelming weeks, I wrote and said some pretty nasty things to myself. Stop being such a drama queen! You’re such an attention whore…these things happened YEARS ago! Get over it!” It was pretty ugly, but I was ugly, so it makes sense. I was a bully.  I shamed myself for needing to go to therapy twice a week. I shamed myself needing therapy at all. I shamed myself for being dramatic and sleeping with a knife by my bed and one eye on the door. I shamed myself for how I felt when I was faced with a trigger. I shamed myself for even having triggers. I shamed myself for my nightmares.  I shamed myself for not being a good enough wife. I shamed myself for spending so much time writing in my journal.  Yeah, I shamed myself for just about everything. That’s PTSD for you. It’s a self-centered bitch that likes to be in charge. Oh, you’re planning on spending time snuggling your husband on the couch tonight? I don’t THINK so! You’re going to have tachycardia and nausea instead, loser!”  My life was like a giant puzzle tossed in the air…pieces flying everywhere and nothing seemed to connect. I couldn’t put any of it together to see the bigger picture, or even a fragment of the picture. Pieces would fly right in front of me, and slip away before I could make any sense of them. Even a four year old can put together a puzzle. What the hell was wrong with me?

Somehow, I managed to keep it together enough to continue raising my kids and keep my business running. It took every ounce of energy and concentration I had, because what I really wanted to be doing was lying under my blanket in my locked bedroom. I spent most of this year like this: kids, therapy, journal, work, bed…kids, therapy, journal, work, bed.  Unfortunately for my husband, there was no room for him. Journaling was a tool my therapist gave me. She gives me the tools, and I have to figure out how to use them to fix my problems. At least, that’s the plan. Anyway, I just so happened to have signed up for a four week course to become a Certified Alzheimer’s Case Manager, right around the time all this PTSD shit hit the fan. “Great”, I thought. “I have to learn about dementia right now?!” She started the lecture by discussing the brain, specifically the limbic system. I dreaded where this was going, but once we started,  I actually found it to be a welcome distraction from my flashbacks and paranoia. But here’s where it gets exciting… I actually learned about something that was directly related to what I was going through…the amygdala.

In a nutshell, the amygdala ( pronounced “ah-MIG-dah-la”) is a section of the brain that is responsible for emotional responses, including detecting fear and preparing for emergency events. Any physical or psychological threat activates the amygdala. When this happens, the pre frontal cortex part of the brain activates. It assesses the situation and decides whether the threat is real and what to do about it, then shuts down the amygdala. Like when someone startles you…your amygdala reacts with fear, and the pre frontal cortex realizes it’s someone you know and shuts down that fear response. Pretty simple, right?  However, chemical and biological imbalances can present after trauma, resulting in an over-stimulated amygdala. So, instead of the quick “fight, flight or freeze” then relaxation, sufferers often find themselves without the relaxation part of that process. Basically, the amygdala holds on to that trauma…and won’t let go.

“Ahhh…so THAT’S why I feel this way”. It made sense. It was like I put at least 6 pieces of the corner section of my puzzle together. Validation! “So, I’m NOT a drama queen, after all…it’s just my amygdala”. I felt the heavy weight I’d been carrying around just lift from me. I felt…good.  I sort of skipped out there, humming U2’s “It’s a Beautiful Day” and replaced the word “beautiful” with “amygdala”. “It’s an amygdala dayyyyy…..” (yes, I’m that big of a dork). I felt free. Wow…I couldn’t believe an Alzheimer’s class cleared up my PTSD! So easy! Why didn’t my therapist know about this? We could have saved me so much angst…and so many co-pays!  I couldn’t wait to fill her in on the cure I’d just discovered. She was going to be so grateful to me!

Well, that’s kind of funny to read now, isn’t it? Yeah, that euphoria lasted a good 45 minutes or so, before I returned home to my trigger of a husband and learned my next lesson… just because you understand why you have these feelings, doesn’t mean you can control them. So, in perfect traumatized form, I beat myself up for singing that song… for thinking I was better. “You fool. There’s no fixing you. You’re damaged. The whole world doesn’t change just because you took a dumb class, you dumbass. You’re still scared. You’re still needy. You’re still worthless. What’s wrong with you?” God, I  hate that damn bully.

So here I am, 7 months later, still finding I’m beating myself up for my feelings, my needs, my expectations. Only now, since I’ve learned about why I’m such a bully, I’ve found I’m a little less mean. I’m slowly rewiring my brain to allow myself have these feelings and not judge them so harshly.  When I’m feeling sad or insecure, I allow myself to feel sad or insecure (well, sometimes). That in itself takes a boatload of work, but that’s what this journey is: work.  The rewiring work is a heck of a lot easier when you’ve got the right tools. Each therapy visit, each journal entry, each mediation, each yoga class…each one gives me a new tool. Now it’s up to me to remember to use them.

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