On living with triggers for which there are no warnings…
I found myself welling up with tears as I chopped potatoes Sunday morning. It wasn’t the onions and garlic. It wasn’t dust in the air. It was the reminder that the breakfast I was making for my family was the same breakfast my father made for me before he passed away last year.
Since my dad’s passing, I have found myself crying at the mere sight of the most innocuous things. Sometimes, it’s from looking at a seasoned salt container, knowing that was the only salt he would ever use. Sometimes, it’s while walking through Costco at the Hawaiian-style shirt that he often wore on Saturdays. It’s the sound of the bowling alley. It’s the smell of barbecue. I find myself triggered so often by things I once loved but now remind me of the parent I will never be able to call, hug, or get frustrated with ever again.
As a survivor of sexual assault, I am also triggered by things many people enjoy. I can’t stand to watch basketball anymore because it reminds of the basketball coach who targeted me in high school. Walking past a Victoria’s Secret reminds me of the ways he groomed me for months. These things were once ineffectual to me. Now, they are painful reminders of a time I will never be able to forget.
I am realizing that I have formed my adult life in ways which allow me to conveniently (or inconveniently) avoid people, places, and things which trigger me. As a Black queer woman, the list of triggering material things, places, words, and events is much longer than what I have outlined here. But, the point is, many of the things that trigger me are so common in daily life that they are nearly unavoidable. And, my seemingly “irrational” – a term often use to refer to emotional actions we can’t or don’t care to understand – reactions to them often leaves me feeling embarassed and isolated.
There are no real warnings for the things that trigger me. And, I can’t expect everyone around me to know every single thing that might send me into an emotional tailspin.
However, knowing these things about myself has encouraged me to be more discerning with the spaces in which I participate and people I choose to engage. Rather than expect the world to change around me, I have taken an active role in shaping how much of the world I choose to involve myself with. This means that sometimes, rather than trying to fix people, I have to remove myself from environments which feel harmful or violent. It means that, on occasion, I have to excuse myself from get-togethers and other social events because I am becoming overwhelmed with the people there. It means that, even though I will look perfectly fine on the outside, there are at any given time a range of emotions I may be dealing with because of my lived experiences.
Because I navigate the world in this way, I am more sensitive to the emotional needs of others. I try to offer as much grace and patience as possible but I work to center myself when doing so. It takes work. It takes intention. But this is the best life for me.
In the end, these triggers have forced me to take stock of my efforts toward self-care. They have forced me to sit my ass down and rest at times when the old me would simply power through.
I am living with triggers that have no warnings but, despite them, I am living a very full and fulfilling life. It’s possible. It takes work. But it is definitely possible.
Photo credit: PicsHype