Have you ever been having the perfect day only to have it seemingly ruined by hearing, seeing, smelling, touching or tasting something that reminded you of a horrible experience in your life? Those somethings are called triggers. And they can be a real bitch.
What are triggers?
Emotional triggers are something that can totally destabilize you and throw you into self doubt faster than Garfield finds pizza. Everything can be going really well and then something suddenly reminds you of your sexual assault. Or of being bullied as a child. Or of losing your parent.
The good news is that we don’t have to spiral down into a deep depression every time they appear.
Here’s what I shared on Facebook about my recent experience with a trigger:
Triggers are a b*tch. I like to think I’m mostly strong but then there are triggers. I’ve become desensitized to many of the triggers I used to have thanks to therapy and time passing, but seeing sexual assault in a movie or TV show will literally throw me right back to those moments like not one day has passed.
Last night Roger and I were watching Big Little Lies and one of the characters has a flashback of her rape – which we learn for the very first time. Since sexual assault for me felt like an out of body experience, it’s horrible to actually watch it on a screen. It always feels suffocating and my chest tightens immediately. I held up really well and within a couple minutes the episode ended and I thought… I did it. I didn’t cry. I went into the bathroom to pee and while I was washing my hands I looked into the mirror and completely lost it. I could see that girl in there. The 15-year-old me. Tears came faster than I could wipe them away and I was so frustrated by that. I couldn’t stop them.
I gave myself a minute or two before I came back out. I walked over to Roger and said, “I almost made it.” And he knew exactly what I was talking about. Then I just collapsed with my head in his lap and cried. I felt so much pain inside. It’s been almost 19 years. I forgave a long time ago (for my own peace) and here I am… still stuck with feelings that no person should have to feel.
I can’t imagine what it was like for my parents to know what I was going through and to not really be able to do anything about it. Yes, they called the police and it made its way through the courts in Anoka County. But.. the negative feelings and negative thoughts and hate for myself running around my head can only be fixed by me. I’m left with a clusterf*ck of confusion, anger, rage and pure sadness. There was a time I relied on drugs to “fix” my thoughts. Of course that was temporary. As soon as the high was gone, I’d hit a new low.. and then couldn’t wait for the next high. Drugs made the pain disappear which made them hard to quit.
Now… lifting brings me peace. Lifting weights taught me how to build my body up, make it stronger and be proud of what it can do instead of associating my body with shame and being “damaged goods”. I have my sweet husband to thank for bringing fitness into my life. He inspired me and I think now we inspire each other.
I don’t share this for sympathy, I don’t need it. I’m sharing to let people know that the pain doesn’t stop when the sexual assault is over. That’s only the beginning… and then you’re in the aftermath. Which is also a b*tch.
My hope is that people will continue to educate themselves about sexual assault which is why I’m also sharing my blog post here with you. Sexual assault doesn’t just affect the survivor, it affects all of their relationships and the people who love them. I speak out because I was/am encouraged by others who share their story. It lets people know they aren’t alone.
Thank you for reading. Please feel free to share this post if you think it will help someone.
4 Things I Did to Help Me Process the Pain
- Let myself feel the anger, sadness and grief. It’s been 19 years and I’ve learned that healing is definitely a rollercoaster. In the beginning I had WAY more tough days than good ones but thankfully the opposite is true now. As time passes, I definitely have way more good days – but the rollercoaster is still there – even after all this time.
- Made time for myself. Certain triggers really overwhelm me. Like to the point where I feel like the slightest annoyance can send me into tears and a downward spiral of negative thoughts. It’s tough for me to be the mom I know I can be when I’m feeling so emotional and so torn down. I took extra time for myself to blog, read, play mindless games and nap.
- Externalize my negative, depressing, racing thoughts. The night we watched Big Little Lies, my mind was racing as I tried to go to sleep. I probably would’ve slept better if I had just taken the time to write down everything that came to mind right then but I was just longing for sleep. Ultimately I decided to post my thoughts on Facebook the next day because it fit right in with #NOMOREWeek, which I had already planned a post for anyway. I felt like I really needed to share to get it off my chest and try to help somebody else.
- Share so that other survivors know they aren’t alone. I was really nervous but nothing could really prepare me for how I would feel once the post went live. I made the post public on Facebook for a reason – so anybody could see it. Each time I got a notification from Facebook, I would cringe. I pretty much stayed off the site all day because I was nervous to even read what people were saying. The publicity of the post made me wonder who had read it and of course I wondered what they were thinking. I don’t like throwing my business out there but I know my sharing will help somebody who relates to my situation. It’s the people who can’t relate to it that make me nervous. I knew I was sharing for the right reasons but it’s still very hard to do. I have received zero negative feedback and my post has been shared 11 times so far. A lot of people won’t touch posts related to sexual assault so I’m always amazed and grateful when people choose to interact with the post, let alone share it on their own profile.
How to Prevent Emotional Triggers from Sending You Into Depression
I did share the specific things I did recently but here’s a more general list of things that you can try the next time you experience an emotional trigger:
- Let yourself feel whatever feelings you’re feeling – no matter how painful they might be. The only way through hell is through.
- Make ME time a priority and do things that make you happy.
- Externalize negative thoughts.
- Counteract or question negative thoughts.
- Share with others (or talk to someone you trust) if you feel comfortable.
- Try to focus on the present. It’s easy to be thrown back into the past when faced with a trigger but just remember you don’t have to stay there.
- Tell yourself positive affirmations. Example: “I am loved. I am strong. I will get through this because I can.”
- Be grateful.
- Bring joy to others because it will bring you joy too.
Triggers can be crippling and very challenging to work through. Just remember that they’re temporary and you don’t have to let them keep you down forever. You might not bounce back right away but you’re strong and you will get through it, just like you did all those other times.