I adore getting triggered.
Here’s what I mean about “getting triggered”: It’s when whatever is happening in the present moment somehow (in even the tiniest way) resembles a past pain or trauma, and my brain recognizes this and sounds the alarm system in a desperate attempt to protect me.
Fight or flight or freeze activates, and I temporarily feel hijacked by old stuff. And terrified. Even though I may be sitting on the sofa next to my amazing boyfriend eating dark chocolate covered almonds, totally safe and loved. When triggered, I may feel panicked, suffocated, or under attack.
I used to despise this feeling. I’d tell loved ones of different charged words or topics to be sure they avoided them. I made sure everyone walked on egg shells, and I did the same for others. I thought that relationships could work as long as we didn’t activate each other’s shit.
Now? I love it. I’m like, ‘BOYFRIEND. THE THING YOU SAID JUST THEN? I FELT SUCH ANGER ARISE IN ME, AND IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH YOU! HOW EXCITING IS THIS?! AN OLD PAIN! READY TO BE REMOVED AND AN OLD STORY REWRITTEN!”
And he’s just over there all chill and calm and grounded… Patiently holding onto the tether to help pull me back to earth.
I love when I “get triggered” because it calls my attention to old pain and old stories which are ready to be released and rewritten. It also challenges me to anchor into my breath, into reality, and into the new mental programs and stories I’ve written in recovery.
It challenges me to trust Boyfriend or Friend or Therapist or Sponsor when they tell me what is real and what isn’t. (Because, when old stuff gets activated, that shit can feel SO REAL even though it’s SO NOT.)
Think of it like walking around with a bunch of thorns in your skin. Every repressed emotion or situation or unprocessed trauma is another thorn lodged in your body. After a while, this would make normal living rather painful. One would have to bend and mold and adjust a lot in an effort to not hit the sore areas from the embedded thorns.
Shit, for my first year or two in sobriety I remained inside my house and rarely left at all. Outside life was too loud and brought up too much pain. I’d fall into sensory overload and shut down. It was too much to handle.
I had way too many thorns. Basic living and human interactions would aggravate multiple painful areas, and I’d get overwhelmed.
Over the years, through therapy and 12-step work and journaling and EFT and meditation and surrendering to a higher power and the like, most of my thorns have been removed. Now I’m down to the last few which are deep in there, and I trust they’ll surface when they’re ready.
It’s a painful process to unearth these issues and the old pain. But you know what’s really amazing?
Issues which used to be “trigger-happy” topics for me are now non-events.
I never thought this would be possible. Stuff that used to instill complete panic in me now has zero effect on me. Or, if it does come up, it’s like a little mosquito and is easily squashed.
Now here’s the NEW part of this lesson, which which I haven’t quite yet grasped. (Insight is appreciated.) Boyfriend is a big help with this.
Oftentimes, I don’t have to “do” anything when this stuff arises.
Sure, I breathe deeply, I share with those close to me, or I may go stand barefoot on the earth to anchor into my body. Self-care and grounding measures are important so that I don’t shave my head and move to another state all from a place of hijacked fear.
What I mean is… I don’t have to FIGURE ANYTHING OUT. I don’t have to double click the folder of the thorn that’s dislodging. I don’t have to go, “WHICH SITUATION AND YEAR DID THIS PAIN COME FROM?” I can just breathe into the physical sensations, recognize them, and allow them to exist while I continue taking care of what’s right in front of me.
My body knows what it’s doing. If I support it with breath and self-care and general awareness of what I’m feeling, the energy has space to dissipate.
If a corresponding knowingness naturally arises, that’s cool. But… Trying to figure shit out while my logic is already compromised due to an overall system shutdown? Well, that’s just a silly idea.
Doesn’t stop me from doing it, nearly every time. 😀
Naturally, as I add more light and love and compassion and forgiveness to my life, old gunk is going to leave. It’s like adding clean water to a cup with dirt at the bottom of it. The clean water makes the dirt rise up and overflow out of the cup.
This is what’s happening when an old story gets activated. It’s asking to be purged. It’s saying, “Please pay attention to me. Please love me and give me permission to be seen, heard, and released.”
All it is is old, stuck energy… Which stems from emotions I likely couldn’t feel at the time of whatever trauma or confrontation or pain. Maybe I didn’t feel safe at the time, or maybe I just didn’t have the depth or capacity to process the issue. Maybe it happened when I was super drunk and high and therefore incapable of true emotional maturity.
It doesn’t matter where it came from. I don’t have to dig or do a deep surgery for every thorn.
By naturally moving through life, old stuff is organically going to arise. We will be challenged by old stories. At first, the hijack can feel SO INTENSE and convincing, and can last for a long time. But, after a couple rounds of breathing, sharing, anchoring back into reality, refusing to react out of fear, and allowing the central nervous system to calm down…
The thorn dislodges. The times of hijack decrease in intensity and duration and frequency.
The area may still be tender sometimes, and that’s okay. We all have our stuff. We’re all human.
But… Imagine a life where you didn’t have to avoid topics or certain songs or interacting with certain people? What if you felt the old feelings around certain charged words (“crazy” used to be a charged one for me) so that they no longer were thorns or triggers for you?
IMAGINE THE FREEDOM.
I’m experiencing it now, in my life. Issues which used to be debilitating are now handled within 15-30 minutes. Soon, they’ll be handled in 5 minutes, and then become non-issues.
My ability to integrate back into life hasn’t been as a result of thickening my skin; it’s been a result of opening my heart and fully witnessing whatever arises.
Whatever arises, love that.
I feel it necessary to say that this isn’t something I’ve been able to do alone. For anyone who suffers from PTSD, please seek the help of a therapist or a support group. It can be terrifying when old trauma gets activated, but it is possible to live a life with more freedom and less fear. Take it easy on yourself, and do what’s healthiest and best for you.