Life in Traumaland: Working with Triggers

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.

0 Responses to Life in Traumaland: Working with Triggers

  1. What a sensitive but also poignant post. Thank you for your perceptive sharing of what you must endure so often and so strongly. As a fellow PS trauma survivor I also have lots of triggers, but most don’t seem to trouble me to the extent you relate. I don’t understand this: it may be an individual matter, as we all differ in the depth of our trauma, and in sensitivity, memory, subsequent experiences, healing, etc.
    I’m sure there is also a strong element of having to work through one’s trauma – and you have done at least as much of that as I have. A lot of my triggers now relate to conscious memories rather than pre-conscious body-memory.
    We continue to live, heal and learn. I also hope that in the meantime you are able to enjoy your neighbor’s pool!

    • Thank you, Fred. Yes, I intend to go back over there and swim again. 🙂 It is amazing, isn’t it, how complex people are. Each of our reactions to trauma is so individual. And yet there are commonalities. I’m glad you don’t have to deal with these types of body memories and that you aren’t as troubled by triggers. A blessing. I’m sure your deep faith over the decades has been a factor in mitigating the effects of trauma. And that we “continue to live, heal and learn” is a blessing, too.

  2. Wendy, it’s amazing you can identify triggers.
    and keep going.
    I guess i run away alot.
    This is a good piece of writing.

    • Thank you, Ellen. I’m hoping to give others courage and inspiration to identify their own triggers. But it’s not for everyone. All I’m saying is that it is possible.

  3. thanks for the writing. maybe I can see a little more what my triggers are if i develop some patience with myself
    and others.
    i seem to worry so much. my parents gave me the worry gene plus the “icky” things that happened in my childhood.
    oy love, ellen
    Mary got 5 new chickens. i know this is off topic.
    book book buk buk chirp chirp chirp
    maybe they will help me with my fears.
    i pray something like your poem fur and feathers. i wish i could see that poem again. i see now you have a poetry section on the left side.

    • Yes, if you slow down and are open, you might be able to identify a trigger and learn from it. I find that it’s an avenue to more freedom. So glad you have chickens again! The creatures teach us so much, don’t they? We are them, and they are we :). I’ll email you my fur and feathers poem. Do you mean the poem entitled “No Repair” about my mom and me?

  4. It’s called “Our Walking Together.” If you go to the blog and scroll down, on the left sides are the archives. Click on September 2013 and there you’ll see the title of the poem listed as one of my September blog posts.


  5. Hi Wendy
    But what can one do when the triggers are constant,or just slap you in the face? I have been reading that nice long post on Dr. Tinnins page about how to heal ourselves of infant trauma …is that what you think about? I’m slowly working on memorizing it. I remember the one incident that you had with the light. I seem to be having alot of trouble driving at night when we constantly have operating lights (car lights) shined in our eyes. I find tailgaters particularly disturbing. At first i thought it was because I where glasses (and part of it may still be just a normal response) but I feel the best way is to pull over and let them pass. Here is an example of where a measured flight response seems to work as the best corse of action for me.

    • Hi Dean, Good to hear from you. Well, if the triggers are constant, pick one and work with it. You can’t tackle them all at once. Just like you do with the tailgaters. Those lights right up against your car are triggers, right? It’s great you pull over. You might also have some compassion for yourself around the trauma. I try to do some self-talk to soothe myself. I might tell myself ‘I’m safe’ or ‘Wow, that was scary but it’s only a teen age girl wearing a mask and not a surgeon ready to split my gut. It’s ok now.’ What do you mean your triggers are constant? Doesn’t it depend on where you are and what’s happening? Do you mean that you are in fear mode all the time? If so, continually tell yourself that you are ok. I am safe. All is well. That’s what I do anyway. I know we are all different and different things work for different people. Peace to you, my friend.

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