Ah, time for relief from stress and for much-needed exercise–a refreshing dip in my neighbor’s pool. Late afternoon is perfect–a quiet, sunset time with a slight breeze gently swaying the treetops. The water is clear and clean and at first toe-tip feels too cold, but I remember my friend’s words: “The river is 66 degrees and the pool 78. Enjoy!”
As I step onto the apron of the pool and see the pool-cleaning machine at the bottom, hooked up to the drain, with a hose snaking up and coiling at the surface, I recognize it as a trigger. That machine freaks me out, I admit to myself. But it’s simply a pool-cleaner, I reason; I can stay on this side of the pool with plenty of room for laps and frolicking. But as soon as I put my head in the water, I hear the loud buzz. I am officially freaked out. Hyperaroused. Even a bit panicked.
An aha moment snaps on in my brain: The machine resembles a respirator! I must have heard a similar sound from the breathing machine after I was intubated at one-month old for my stomach surgery. Incredible! Even with this level-headed understanding of the situation, I’m still hyper aware of the machine and the snake. My nervous system is keyed up, and I can’t let go of my awareness of the ‘threat.’ I finish exercising, despite its presence and my reaction, because I choose working out over retreating. I’m no hero. I’ve just learned to cope.
This type of occurrence is all too common for those of us who live in Traumaland–those of us with post-traumatic stress. We decide to do a normal task or embark on a pleasurable activity only to find ourselves disoriented and frightened. There is no ostensible danger, but our bodies act as though there is.
That I am aware of when I get triggered is huge. That I can often make sense of why I get triggered is incredible. That I am often able to work with the trigger to get done what I’d originally planned is awesome. That I go through these types of experiences is, I’m afraid, common for people like me who’ve been traumatized and whose trauma is unresolved.
I’d rather not live in Traumaland, but I’m not sure I can ever be free from triggers. What I am happy about is that I can often free myself from my instinctual reaction to the trigger. For this, I am grateful. And I still harbor hope that one day, I’ll be able to move out of this town altogether.