There will always be triggers
It took a long time, meeting the right people and building up the correct support network, for me to feel ready enough, to start my recovery journey. I slowly began to trust and to feel safe, which lead to disclosure and many memories being unlocked. I wrote unsent letters to both my parents, letters to and from my eight year old self, as a way of trying to self-help. I tried to reconnect with my mother, in order to disclose to her and to correct her view of me, (which was probably of a stroppy, unreachable teenager, although she did not know why). I wanted to share the heavy load of this dark secret and if I am honest, I wanted her to take the responsibility of dealing with it all, away from me. We had a very difficult and long email exchange which did not end well and I never did tell my mum what I set out to. I had done as much as I could do alone (with the support of very good friends), before finally accepting that I had triggers and needed some professional help.
I know that I have many triggers that knock me off balance and that these have not diminished in effect in 20 years. This was one of the reasons I embarked on a journey with professional help, as I didn’t want the triggers to continue effecting my life. I think that there are many different types of triggers. I think there are different triggers for me as an adult and also for the inner child stuck within me. I also think that my triggers, fall into different categories: memory, feeling, physiological, imagination and sense triggers. They can strike at any time, in any place, with anyone present, with varying degrees of enormity and impact. Anything that de-stabilises, transports me to a different uncomfortable place, or makes me feel something that is out of alignment with the current situation, I consider a trigger.
It is not uncommon for me to end up a blubbering mess at T.V. Shows such as ‘Long lost family’ (just one example), which taps in to my feeling of being alone in the world and the rejection I felt when I was removed from the family home. I feel this, despite the artificial family I have created around me and the actually family I have made. It is not the stories of how the separations happened that has me in tears. I think it is the desire that the lost souls have, to look for a missing family member and I relate this to the longing I have felt, that my mum would maybe one day, take the initiative and try to find me. The tears also fall at the moment of meeting, that is captured on film and the relief and happiness, forgiveness and acceptance that spills out, at the sight of their loved ones. I think this triggers my imagination and leads me to think about ‘what ifs’.
It is not uncommon for my anxiety levels to increase when witnessing random parents disciplining their children in the high-street, in a way that I perceive to be harsh. It might not be harsh at all and I guess my perception can be very judgemental of these people, I know nothing about. But I have a sixth sense for the pain I can see in a child’s eye and the sound of their sobs and it puts me right back to an emotionally tough place. What the child might have done to warrant the discipline in the first place, or acknowledgement of what is going on in that adult’s day, or life, does not feature in my thought pattern.
Being told what to do is a trigger for the trapped inner child inside me, which is usually activated in the very adult realm of drinking alcohol. I get to a place where I no longer hear the advice of people around me and, caring comments, such as, “don’t you think you have had enough,” sends the ‘kid that won’t be told’ in me, straight back to the bar. People not saying anything about the amount of alcohol consumed, also sends the ‘kid that won’t be told’ in me, back to the bar, as she feels like no-one is ‘looking after’ her. The inner child in me is very strong under the influence of alcohol.
Meeting new people obviously brings about conversation, as you get to know each other. Being asked about my family is a trigger for shame and embarrassment and the way I respond to this line of questioning, is dependent on how I feel at the time. I seem to have quite a good judge of character and if I trust the person asking, I am likely to be more honest and open. If I am in a place of vulnerability or stress, then my response can be very dismissive and abrupt, as the wall goes up. I think my response is also dependent on where I am and who is with me also.
Being ignored is a massive trigger for me. I felt like I was unheard by people, who should have listened the hardest, both as a child and a young teen. Despite trying to reach out implicitly and explicitly then, I could not make people hear me. Asking my children something more than once, suggests to me that I have been unheard and they can receive an angrier and more agitated response than they were expecting, or able to understand. This is unfair on them, but I can’t stop this from happening. Adult me, will not be ignored, especially as it has taken me the best part of 20 years to find my voice.
Hair that is not attached, is another trigger for me, although this situation is much better than it used to be. I remember having a full blown panic attack, after cutting my ex husband’s hair with clippers once. I could not get the hair off of my hands and it triggered all sorts of memories for me. The more worked up I got, the hotter I got and the less likely I was to get the hair off of me, but I didn’t see this at the time, while panicking and crying hysterically. This is one of the most clear triggers I have, as I know exactly where it comes from and therefore, this is one of the triggers that is easiest to both manage and understand.
I have not been able to tolerate the ticking of clocks for a very long time. I have a clock in my lounge that has been stuck on 7:50 for probably over a year, because I removed the battery. I like the clock; it is very pretty. I just can not listen to the constant ticking. I thought this was related to the fibro-fog I experience, as a feature and symptom of my fibromyalgia. In a very recent conversation, a very dear friend asked me about the clock and what the memory was attached to the noise. Only after she asked this, did I remember that it is attached to a very vivid memory of a watch, very close to my ear, in the darkest of moments. I had not stopped to realise what my issue with the noise was until this moment. Now it makes sense.
Hunger is something I can not tolerate and triggers memories of going to bed hungry as a child. Not having your very basic human needs met, on a regular basis, is a form of neglect. I was regularly given food that my parents knew I did not like, and consequently did not eat. Food, access and entitlement to it, was also used a weapon to force me to comply. I piled on weight when choice of food, became under my control. I ate what I fancied and I ate enough to ensure I was not hungry, often over-eating. I took control of this trigger when I lost almost 7 stone in a year, while not once, feeling hungry.
I will help anyone at any time, if anybody asked me, because it is just in my nature and it makes me feel good. I feel like it is much more beneficial to everyone involved, if the help I willing give, enables others to help themselves. If I get to a place where I feel like I am being taken advantage of, then I am transported back to a time where my innocence was taken from me. One sided relationships, where there is only taking and no giving, is a trigger for me.
My life was once full of secrecy and lies so now, I demand and expect, honesty and transparency. Trust is very important to me and if I find someone out in a lie, then there is very little forgiveness I can show. My ex-husband used to steal money I had saved for Christmas presents, buy alcohol, drink it and then hide the beer cans or liqueur bottles, all around the house. Dealing with his own demons, he then made the decision to steal more money and try to win and put back, what he had drunk, by buying lottery scratch-cards. The trust was completely broken then and it was not long after this, that I asked him to leave.
An ungrateful response in my own children is enough to trigger thoughts like “ you don’t know how lucky you are” or “it wasn’t like this for me”. I don’t know whether these are new triggers for me, or whether I am now more open to triggers, as a result of therapy or the place I am at in my recovery, but I find myself having these thoughts quite regularly recently. Either way, I think my fear has diminished and this lack of fear, is allowing me to see the triggers more often and more clearly. I am no longer unfeeling. I am no longer blocking the process.
I have a history of long running recurring nightmares that are extremely distressing. Some of these nightmares are 20 years old, but they keep coming back in waves, at times when I am particularly tired, stressed or sickening for something. I wake in a real panic, often crying. My heart is racing and I find it very difficult to get back to sleep, as it takes me so long to settle myself. How long will I have these same dreams? Is this another unpleasant consequence of the abuse I endured? The nightmares themselves can be triggers, but the physiological reaction to them is also a trigger. The physical feelings are very familiar.
It seems so unfair that even after I survived, escaped and am now safe, even now I do have a wonderful life, beautiful moments can still be so tainted by what ‘he’ did and the consequences of it. Why do we have this life-long sentence? It seems so unfair. Being told to ‘get over it’ and to ‘let it go‘ is an anger trigger for me which screams ignorance and lack of compassion and a lack of respect for our individual differences. Despite being well meaning, to me, it shows a lack of understanding and is quite dismissive.
When I started therapy I truly did think that recovered was possibly. I thought that if I did the hard work and remembered, shared, talked about, wrote about and went through the therapy process, I could be fixed. I had hope at the beginning. More than half way through the process I had to face the hard fact that my history will always be my history, but this realisation that there will always be triggers, completely knocked me for six.
This is the first time I have stopped, to identify what my triggers are (although those highlighted above, is not an exhaustive list). My question now is, how do people get to a place where their triggers are manageable? Maybe I need to accept what happened to me in my life, in order to be able to manage the triggers. Maybe the key is acceptance, but how can you accept what should never have happened? It is not OK, it is never OK, so why should I be OK with it? People tell me I will cry in time, I will know what to do with all this in time, when I am ready. I am not sure I believe them. Yes, I can see more clearly how abuse has effected me: it has effected every single aspect of my life. It has an impact in my relationships and interactions with everyone. It has effected my thought processes and the way I view myself, others and the world. It has effected my self belief and confidence.
My triggers effect my ability to truly be in the here and now. All of this stuff is all around me now and I can see the enormity of it all. But what do I do with it? I don’t want to live like this. I can’t live like this: doubting myself; questioning everything; triggered all the time; stuck with trapped emotion and why should I have too? I feel like I am swimming in the sea and every so often big waves drag me under. The wise and caring people in my life, throw me little life buoys, filled with their pearls of wisdom. I crave these and seek these out, because they keep me going. I can see the beach and the beauty of it. It is warm and calm and still and peaceful, but I just can’t seem to get there.