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Forget Me Not: Coming to Terms with Triggers
My stomach tightens and tears start to sting my eyes. “But we have plans that week.” I try to say calmly into the phone. I tell them I will have to call back and hand the phone to my boyfriend. I’m angry and can feel myself cracking. Anxiety is taking over and there is not a solution on hand that will make me feel better. It is better if he talks to the person on the other end because I’m going to say something that will cause a problem.
I can see the look of confusion on his face. “Baby, it’s fine. Your parents can still come. We will work around it.”
But I’m still upset. His plans have been changed and I feel like this is not the time for my parents to visit. It just won’t work! I want everything to run smoothly. I don’t want them to feel like they are in the way, or for him to feel he has to entertain when he has other things to tend to. I start rambling all the reasons why it’s a problem and turn my anger on the office that messed everything up. He continues to reassure me. But, although I know my concerns are not warranted, the feelings I’m having about the situation tell me different.
The more I attempt to explain my reaction, the more I realize that what I’m experiencing is a flashback. A flashback, or a trigger, is something that reminds us of situations that caused us great stress in the past. That’s my simplified definition anyway.
Even those of who have managed to move on from a crippling abusive relationships can suffer the aftershocks of abuse—in other words, PTSD—for many years. PTSD from abuse is characterized by symptoms such as flashbacks, intrusive imagery, nightmares, anxiety, emotional numbing, insomnia, hyper-vigilance, and avoidance of traumatic triggers.
In this instance, I was having a flashback to the emotional torment my husband would inflict on me anytime my parents wanted to come visit. Even when I lived close to my parents, my husband disliked their presence. He never wanted to visit them and made it very difficult on me when they came to see us. His behaviors ranged from changing dates around, to constantly questioning me on when they were leaving, to ignoring them when they were around, and asking me to lie so they would come later or leave earlier. Oftentimes, my parents could feel the tension and felt unwelcomed. In other words, he made their entire visit burdensome. And, if they stayed longer than planned or questioned his disengagement, he would make sure I was well aware of his discontent.
It may seem to be a minor issue, but it is one that still affects me. I was well aware of how unwelcomed they felt and how bothered he was. This put me in a constant state of unease as I tried to balance everyone’s happiness and comfort level. This went on for years and created an emotional reaction that would rise up in me every time my family wanted to come visit. I actually lost time with them because I would cancel trips, or not plan them to begin with, and avoid family functions because I didn’t want to deal with the pushback I got from my husband. Of course now I know that is exactly what he wanted.
Now, as I look back, I’m saddened by all that I have missed. It goes hand-in-hand with the lost time aspect I mentioned in Victim vs. Survivor. And, it is of no coincidence that this blog post follows so closely behind that one, as I’ve been battling my emotions for the past few days. This is something that happens now and again, although I still am unsure what brings it on. This time, I assume the cause is a mix of facing reality after vacation, dealing with being sick, and feeling an overwhelming need to catch up on everything. Suitcases and clothes scatter the floor, the house hasn’t been cleaned in weeks, work piles up as I’m too drained to go to work, and I feel the need to get everything on track. I’m honestly not sure if that need to declutter, and cross off the to-do list, is a personality thing or a trigger thing, as some things are so ingrained in me that I’m not sure where they started.
What I do know is that when life gets a little out of control, that is when I’m more prone to lose focus and slip backwards a bit. That is when I’m more likely to be triggered or to fall back to victim status. That is when I’m more likely to feel guilt for my past choices, even if they are not all my fault. That is when things get rocky. Although I cannot go back and change the past, I almost feel like I need to do something now to make better somehow now.
What is the point of all of this? Well, healing is a process that does not happen overnight. I write this blog in an effort to show that happiness can be found and life can be beautiful after abuse. However, it is also important to acknowledge the realities of growth. Anyone who has suffered trauma in their life will have fallout that they have to learn to deal with. It doesn’t fix itself. What is most important is that you learn to recognize it for what it is and do your best to address it. Get help if you need, seek out support, research the facts, and focus on the good. It may take time, but each and every day gets easier and you do get stronger.