Making progress with triggers

** WARNING: Trigger alert **

Thank you everyone for your very lovely comments this week. I was scared nearly to death posting that longest blog post ever, but have been very touched by how kind and supportive you all are. 🙂 Thank you.

Apologies to those of you getting nauseous with all this talk of progress, but I’m finding it quite helpful to look back at where I was a few months ago and think about how far I’ve come. Or it would be helpful if I hadn’t committed to doing it every day! 😉

Another area in which I’ve made some progress over the last few months is dealing with flashbacks and triggers.

I’ve always been sensitive to loud noises, which I believe is common in trauma survivors and those with PTSD. As a child I’d usually vomit if I was surprised by a loud noise – my grandmother starting up the floor polisher; the workman at kinder starting up his drill. Six months ago I’d jump out of my skin and completely lose touch with reality. Now? Well, I still startle easily, but I’m generally not so wiggy about it.

I’m still very sensitive, especially to noise. The sound of men laughing; loud male voices – these are particularly bad. Triggering, and I’m always convinced the men are laughing at me. I can remember numerous times when my father, and his friends, laughed like that at me. The worst memories are associated with sexual abuse – my father spying on me in the shower, and laughing; his friend touching me where no adult should touch a child, and my father laughing in the background. No wonder the laughing is so hideous for me.

I’m still sensitive to a lot of things. From simple things like the sound of wood being chopped, or the clatter of wood on concrete, to the smell of boiled vegetables and the smell of panel beaters’ filler stuff (I don’t know what it’s called). Other things like freshly washed men’s flannelette pyjamas, the smell of sauerkraut, the smell of beer, old men (smell, sight, sound and touch)… I could go on but you get the picture.

Sometimes these triggers are accompanied by flashbacks. Mostly the flashbacks come with noise triggers now.

When I was younger, being alone in the house at night would totally and completely freak me out. The slightest noise, the wind blowing, a dog barking – everything sent me rushing to the window to see who was there; to see who was coming to “get” me. I can’t tell you the number of nights I spent sleeping with a knife to keep me “safe”, or cowering in the corner on high alert. I didn’t realise until very recently that all this is connected to the past.

Somewhere over the last few months I’ve got a lot better at dealing with many of these triggers. There are still things that take me by surprise (like the woman who suddenly appeared beside me at the shops today), and some things that leave me flopping about like a half dead fish, but generally, as I’ve said before, I’m much better at recognising what’s happening and talking myself through it. I’ve become a lot more adept at noticing the physical things that happen – a tightening inside, heart pounding, shoulders tense, body shrunken away. And the shaking. Always the shaking. Though I am a lot better at being alone at night now. That’s kind of a good thing when you live on your own!

I often wonder if I will always be triggered like this? Perhaps. Or perhaps I’ll just get better at knowing what’s triggering me, and why, and better at dealing with it. For now, I’ll just enjoy not “vortexing out” at every damned thing. 🙂

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7 thoughts on “Making progress with triggers

  1. Hi Kerro,

    I can relate to some of the same triggers. I know how hard it is to cope with triggers that you can have no control over them happening and how much of a challenge it is to manage them. Big steps. Good for you.

    Good and healing thoughts to you.

    Kate

  2. Kerro,
    I hear you about loud noises. I can’t handle loud to well. I’m glad that the strain of these things has lessoned for you. Keep on keeping on.

    C

  3. Kerro –
    For me, I am glad that I recognize triggers for what they are. My list has similarities – I am hyperalert to people sneaking up on me, the smell of cheap beer, etc…

    Also – I smell cigarette smoke, often when it is not around. Like in my bed, sometimes at work. Needless to say, I feel like I am suffocating in a bar.

    But you are right, recognizing them is the first step to dealing with them and calming myself.
    OLJ

  4. Omg K…that is so huge! I know we spoke about some of the same triggers with C, and about recognizing them. And you are…at record pace. I wish you could see comparatively, how much progress you have made in a short amount of time. C is still way behind the curve! So, although you will still get angry, scared or check out when triggered, your ability to re-right yourself and not obsess is enormous! Or to walk away or ask to change the conversation in a delicate way and move on…it just incredible progress. Your seeing that others and their actions, don’t necessarily equate to your past, and seeing your reactiveness as a result – unbelievable. Changing learned behaviors, especially the deeper ones takes time and a lot of rewiring…but look its happening! Maybe not fast enough…but its happening…

    Do something nice for yourself K. These recent posts have been difficult and you are processing through without the spiral…recognize that and treat yourself to a few minutes of bliss….(((K)))

  5. Hi Kerro,
    You said “I wonder if I will always be triggered like this”.

    Some triggers are, I think, fragments of dissociated memory (say, the sound portion or the smell portion or the emotion portion) that for me tend to extinguish when I put the whole story together and grieve it.

    I’m far less triggered by things than I used to be 20 years ago, which is good, so I’m not wandering around all spacy, half in my body all the time.

    That being said men’s angry voices still upset me a lot, partly because I can’t dismiss it as harmless like people do.

    Congratulations on all the progress. It’s good to see, isn’t it?
    SDW

  6. I think it’s wonderful that you’re looking back at and discussing your progress; that’s what gives hope to people who are beginning their journeys. Nobody who enters therapy with these issues really believes they will ever start to heal, and one of the only things that keeps people going is the knowledge that other people with the same issues have begun to heal. Reminding your readers of your progress is one of the most generous and helpful things you can do as a survivor-blogger. When you let us celebrate your victories, we celebrate our own hope as well. So thank you for that.

  7. @ Kate – thank you. It is a challenge to manage the triggers and, as I’m sure you know well, just when you think everything is under control another one sneaks around the corner and whacks you. I’m going to keep trying, though.

    @ Ceara – I’m not sure if the strain has lessoned, or if I’ve just got better at managing that strain and not letting it overwhelm me. Or perhaps they are the same thing? 😉

    @ OneLongJourney – I hear you. The pub/bar smell is horrendous. The beer on carpet smell is very triggering for me also. Hugs to you (safe ones, of course)

    @ Strangename – thanks hun. You’re right, changing those deeply ingrained behaviours is very f****ng hard. It’s a constant effort. And for overachieving workaholics like us – way way WAY too slow, but in my more rational moments I’m able to accept that it will take as long as it takes. 😉

    @ Sword Dancer – Your theory on dissociated memory is interesting and, I suspect, right on the mark. I’m not yet in a place where I want to explore how or why these things trigger me. I don’t want or need to resurface every damned thing. Managing them so that they don’t overwhelm me is, for now, enough. It’s quite amazing to see (and really believe) the progress. Thanks for your support.

    @ David – you’re right. I too never thought I would heal. When my life started falling apart, even up until last week, I thought I’d never get “better”. It wasn’t until I re-read some of the emails to my therapist that I really noticed the progress. Thanks so much for your words of encouragement and support. I said to someone recently that if I can give back one tenth of what they’ve given me…. 🙂

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