Saturday, September 26, 2015
On Healing and Managing Triggers
Three years ago I didn't know what "triggers" were. I thought PTSD was something that affected soldiers. I never used terms like grounding, self-care, inner child, or trauma. I'd never done a yoga stretch and I owned but a single coloring book. I've learned a lot since then!
A couple months ago, I ran smack into a multi-pronged trigger that nearly took my breath away. This time, though, I had a whole toolbox of resources to help me stay afloat through the swirling emotions that threatened to overwhelm me.
I got out of the house right away and spent time looking at art. At trees. At the sky. I went walking multiple times a day. I talked with my therapist. I leaned heavily on my support network of friends around the world. No need to pretend I was okay. I let them comfort and heal me, receiving their gifts of soothing words and music. As we shared our secrets and heartaches, we strengthened one another.
At home, I did a jigsaw puzzle, crocheted a scarf, baked cookies, cleaned cabinets. I drew pictures, painted, colored in my coloring books, wrote in my journal. I danced. I did yoga. I swam and went ice skating. I sang loudly in my car. I pounded out my feelings on a poor pillow. I chopped up a tree! I sought solace and guidance and escape in stories--stories about grief, about love, about growth and change. I watched new movies and old favorites.
I kept offering my body nourishing foods, even when everything tasted like cardboard and nibbling a sandwich took an hour or more. When I found a dish that tempted my appetite, I allowed myself to indulge, thankful that I could appreciate the experience. I cared for my body by seeing doctors. I loved it by buying clothes that express who I am now. Clothing can carry so many emotional associations that a new outfit can feel like a baptism!
I smelled flowers, touched tree bark, listened to birds, watched squirrels and butterflies in my backyard. I gave long hugs and asked for them, too. Chris and I spent hours and hours talking on the porch in the twilight (and drank many glasses of wine!).
In the past, major triggers have wrapped me in a cloud of foggy numbness. This year, though, I've felt an array of conflicting emotions simultaneously, each one distinct and insistent. The intensity of feeling has been overwhelming at times--but I found it helped preserve my sanity to assign my varied emotions to different inner voices: The child within, for example, is lonely and scared, the bitch always sarcastic. The big sister in me is bossy, the mom often anxious or driven by guilt. The drama queen thinks she's going to die, while the journalist believes each human experience, however painful, will be invaluable in the future. And the sexy tart, oh, goodness me!
And instead of being stuck in hyperarousal, my nervous system is responding to all strong stimuli--however happy or upsetting--with tears. I have not cried so much (or in front of so many people) in years, yet it feels...cleansing. I have felt more alive this year, even with the triggers, than I have in a long time. More human. As if a long-sealed part of my heart has cracked open and is finally healing from the inside out.
Other times, I've only managed to survive the immediate trigger. But this time around, I've been able to go far deeper into the emotional flashbacks. One sense of anxiety and loss has called up so many others from across the years and I've found myself weeping over decades of unacknowledged sadness, separations and stresses I still might not have fully mourned had it not been for this summer's jolting trigger.
I could have protected myself better. I could have guarded against being hurt or reminded of the past. I could have made myself less vulnerable. But I took the risk of living my life instead. And as upsetting as triggers can be, I'm convinced that working through them can make us stronger. None of the time I invested in recovery and managing past triggers was wasted, and this time won't be, either!
I'm still using my coping strategies as needed. Still crying and growing and leaning into the feelings that arise. Still learning new things and being patient with myself.
But what a fabulous year it has been!