Posts Tagged ‘triggers’

Leah Day Torn Tree

Leah Day
Torn Tree

Some days, the best that a person can do is to just hold themselves as gently as possible and do their best to not be hateful to themselves. Going forward is impossible. Going backwards would be all too easy. The urge to give in to the desire to drown in self hatred feels almost impossible to resist.

Sometimes a person might start to slip- hopefully not too badly- because it can feel as though you are being unrelentingly drawn down through a funnel into a dark pit. It seems as though all of your instincts are shouting at you that you have to be hurt. “You have to pay in blood and pain.” It doesn’t matter that you have no idea why or who or what you have to pay for. You start to see images of blood- blood pooling, blood swirling in water. Even though you have never cut, you start to think about what it would be like.

Then, deep in your brain, you hear the word, “slut.” And it is like you are pulled into a nightmare world of imagined sexual degradation. It is as if your mind pulls out all of your worst fears and you know that is all that you are good for. It is like you are being told that you are trash that any man should be able to use and that you have to be available to be used.

Then the despair hits- “I can’t abandon my mother and if I stand by her, then I can’t be true to myself.” And it feels so overwhelming that it is intolerable to live with. You find yourself making plans as to how you could kill yourself and arguing with yourself about how in the end your spouse and child would be better off without you.

Your mind continues to go round and round in a self destructive haze, desperate to act out the desire to harm yourself. Eventually, in desperation, you do something slightly harmful, allowing you to break out of the cycle. But that brings its own sense of shame that you have harmed yourself. You take yourself off to the couch, wrap yourself up in a blanket, curl up with the cat, and concentrate on breathing until you are finally able to reach through and give yourself a bit of comfort.

That was last night for me. Today has been an exercise in trying to not slip back into such a damaging place. It is pretty obvious that I have some very young, very traumatized parts that are currently in a tremendous amount of pain. So I am doing my best to be as gentle and non-judgmental with myself as possible. It occurred to me last night, after I finally calmed myself, that in some ways I had been acting like a panicked animal, caught in a trap, that was trying to gnaw its leg off in order to escape. There was a characteristic of desperation about all of the impulses that were thrown at me last night.

I’ve also realized that while I am dealing with some difficult things and am probably prone to being triggered right now, I also have something going on biochemically that probably is exacerbating the effects. So, a trigger that might otherwise be a 6 or a 7 is turned into a 10 or more. Historically, when I return from a trip to a very sunny place during the winter to a very dark home, I go through a depressive crash. I think that is happening right now, but it is intertwined with being so triggered, that it is hard to untangle what is going on. It actually is a big help for me to realize that this completely over the top reaction might not all be me- it might partially be my brain reacting poorly to the lack of serotonin. This is one of the things that Mama Bear has been trying to help me learn to recognize- my reactions aren’t always entirely about the trauma. Sometimes they are biochemical- for instance, we are wondering if the antidepressant that I am on is making me anxiety prone. Sometimes they are more about current issues than past trauma. Learning to not attribute everything to being a trauma reaction can be useful.

Anyways, I am no longer experiencing the urge to heap self hatred and thoughts of self harm on myself and I sincerely hope that I am done for now. It isn’t entirely gone, though. I can still sense just around the corner of my mind the simultaneous understanding of what it feels like to know that telling myself to harm myself is both the wrong thing to do and yet to also believe that it is the safest/best/most pain free thing to do. I know, it makes no sense.

Inside, I am in disarray and shock to some extent. I have a session tomorrow and to some extent I want to work on what some of the triggering factors were, but at the same time, I also just want to work on putting myself back together again, so I feel secure.

I don’t understand why I go through these very destructive self hate storms periodically. I think that this is the third time that it has happened. I don’t think that they are going to stop, though, until I come to some resolution about my parents.

I know that I can’t be the only one out there struggling with thoughts/impulses of self harm. I also know that I have no idea of what the best course of action is for anyone else. However, I do invite anyone reading to take a steadying/grounding breath with me and for this moment do the best that you can for yourself. That’s what I am going to be doing- moment by moment.

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My family went on our first family vacation in two years last week. It was much needed and much looked forward to. My husband isn’t much of a travel planner, so I tend to propose an idea to him, he agrees with it, and then I plan the whole thing out. In many ways it’s nice, because it means that everything is to my taste.

When trying to decide what to do for this trip, we knew that we needed to keep the costs down, so it needed to be a place that is within a two day drive. So no trips to Glacier National Park for us, which is the sort of thing that would be our first choice. My daughter and I love the ocean, so I thought that a holiday close to the ocean would be a good thing. Eventually, I hit upon the idea of renting a cottage on an island off the coast of Maine for a week. We would cook for ourselves and do outdoor activities, so we could keep the costs to a reasonable level.

Off we went on our island adventure and all was well on the two day trip there, other than not being able to leave until 8pm on Friday, so not getting to our first stop until 3AM! Saturday evening we made it to the island, found our very pleasant cottage, made the beds, pieced together a dinner and then fell into our beds exhausted.

Early Sunday morning, I woke up to nightmares. I almost never remember my dreams. I’m sure that I have bad dreams all the time trying to process what I am dealing with, but I just don’t remember them. Well, something changed, and Sunday morning set the pattern for the entire week. I woke up to nightmares at some point during every night/early morning last week, except for the final night. It reminded me to be grateful that I normally don’t remember my dreams, because if that was a taste of what is going on when I am doing heavy duty processing, I think that I will leave the dreams to my unconscious mind for that side of the work.

On Sunday morning, I managed to get back to sleep and woke up feeling somewhat better around the same time as my husband did. So we did what most couples would do on a vacation morning while their child is still asleep: we started to cuddle and kiss. At least we did until I suddenly was massively triggered into a child state and feeling terribly trapped.

I continued to feel dissociated during the day, although we did go out into the woods and to the beach and we played a new game as a family, so I still was functional. When I was active and out, I simply felt dissociated, as if part of me was being active with my family and doing the things that I enjoy but that part felt about 10 feet away. The rest of me was wrapped in a cocoon, and I couldn’t even touch the ground or really connect with anyone. Actually, it took me about three days to get to the point where I could even describe how I felt- I was that dissociated.

Much of the time when I was alone, I felt as though I was getting memory type flickers of things. Most of the time when that happened, I was able to not engage with them, although I do remember at one point clearly connecting with something and collapsing, curled up into a ball.

It was a very odd experience: I was doing things that I enjoy very much with my family on this beautiful island off the coast of Maine, but at the same time, internally, I was having a very different experience. The thing was that I was so numbed out and dissociated that I couldn’t even see that maybe I should be concerned about what was going on for the first few days.

Monday morning was a repeat of Sunday. Tuesday morning was a repeat of Sunday and Monday. And I continued to go along in a dissociate state that I couldn’t seem to touch, no matter what grounding technique I used. Finally on Tuesday afternoon, I e-mailed Mama Bear, because by that point even I could see that something was going wrong, although, the thing that I could most clearly see was problematic was my physical relationship with my husband. Thankfully, the woman has good sense and pointed out that I was putting pressure on myself and working from expectations, not from what I actually wanted. Being sexual with my husband because of expectations simply would not work.

Once I took that pressure off of myself, things got somewhat better. I still was dissociated, but enough less so that I could actually figure out some of what I was experiencing. I felt trapped. I knew that I was being triggered by something, but I just couldn’t figure out what. There were things in the bedroom that we were in that made me uncomfortable, but not enough so to have this extreme of a reaction all day long. I had felt fine on the drive up to Maine, so it wasn’t that I had brought it with me. I just couldn’t figure it out, so I gave up on trying to figure it out.

At that point, we were mid way through our week on the island and I resigned myself to the fact that I might continue to feel that way for the rest of the vacation. However, I also kept in mind that I knew that I was not going to stay in that state forever. I wasn’t actually trapped in it, even if I felt trapped right then. The “knowing” me simply had to hold on to the knowledge that the state that I was in would ease at some point, even though the “experiencing” me was afraid that I was stuck in it long term. Panic wouldn’t help me in any way.

I also accepted the fact that I just wasn’t going to have the vacation that I wanted to have. It was frustrating and it wasn’t fair, but accepting it for what it was would make it easier for me to get out of it as much as I could. I might only be able to have 40% of the experience, but that was better than the 25% that I had been getting.

One of the most frustrating things for me was that I realized that extra stimulation increased the levels of dissociation. An 8 year old chattering at you and bouncing around is stimulating. Simply being around my daughter made things worse for me, much of the time. So we would take her out on hikes and walks on the beach and I would drop back and try to focus on little details, so help me ground into the experience. The different colors and textures of moss on a fallen tree. How things reflect in a pond when there is only a breath of wind. The iridescent colors in the mother of pearl on the inside of an abalone shell. Those connections to that moment helped me to take in as much of the experience and be as present as possible.

Unsurprisingly, the memories from the 2nd part of the week are more vivid than the memories from the first part of the week. I never managed to completely ground myself- I was somewhat dissociated the entire week- but I was able to manage the situation well enough that it didn’t completely degenerate into my being a dissociative mess. Instead, I was able to help myself.

And I finally figured out what my trigger was: being on an island. I felt trapped because I was on an island. The morning that we left, I felt better even before we left the island, but within an hour or two of getting to the mainland, I felt as though a huge load had been lifted from my shoulders. It turns out that my husband also felt trapped, but had a much more mild reaction than I did. I’m not sure how much of it was not being able to get off the island easily and how much of it was simply being on a small island. Between the ages of 10 1/2 and 13, I lived on a small island, so that may have been part of the trigger for me. I really don’t know and it isn’t important right now. What I do know is that there was nothing that I could have done short of leaving the island other than just what I did: remind myself that I wasn’t really trapped in the now, and work on grounding and being as much in the present with my loved ones as possible. And repeat over and over and over.

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Artist: Mark Horst

Artist: Mark Horst

“We have stuff to talk about.” Mama Bear had a very serious look and she got straight down to business at the very beginning of the session.

“I know,” and I felt myself bracing for what might come and the very beginnings of feelings of panic.

I walked into my Wednesday session dreading it because I knew that I had written a very long e-mail to Mama Bear over the weekend that was incredibly honest about everything on my mind that I have been afraid to say to her. Things about figuring out what happened with my father, trying to figure out how to deal with my mother, questions about memory and dissociation and whether this whole thing could be true at all. Basically, I bared my soul in 2,000 words. Needless to say, it was an intense piece of writing. Mama Bear has been trying to work with me to reduce the amount of intensity that I am experiencing between sessions, so I knew that she wouldn’t have been thrilled to see the amount of turmoil that it represented. When I went into the session, I already felt like I had done something wrong and that I was in trouble.

I don’t remember what Mama Bear said next, all I remember is looking at her eyes and being stuck on how very serious they were and I felt more and more as though I was in trouble and increasingly young and frightened.

Mama Bear stopped, “What is going on, C?”

I struggled with what to tell her, because I felt ashamed for having the reaction that I was having. I was convinced that my reaction was wrong, so I couldn’t tell her about it. And the fear and sense of being in trouble continued to build.

“I really need for you to talk to me about what you are reacting to, because I don’t know.”

I found myself curling up in a ball.

“Do you feel young?” I nodded. “Do you know what age?” I shook my head. “Can you find your adult to help you tell me what is going on?”

I continued to struggle to say anything at all and I found myself shaking my head, because so much of me was determined to not reveal what a “stupid” reaction I was having. I felt frustrated because I could feel the minutes of my session ticking by, being wasted by this internal impasse that just felt so stupid, so I said, “Never mind. Just keep on going, please.”

“No. I can’t do that because I don’t have all of you here with me right now and I don’t know what is going on. I need for the adult you to join us so this child part can speak through you and tell me what is going on.” She fetched a pad of paper and pen and put them on the coffee table in front of me. “Here, write, engage that prefrontal cortex of yours. Your amygdala is way over stimulated.”

I took a few deep breaths and started to talk, although it felt as though I had to force the words through some thick substance that didn’t want to let them go. “I feel in trouble. I did something bad.”

“Who said you were in trouble? Who said that what you did was bad?”

I knew that she was trying to get me to analyse what actually had happened, rather than just respond to the trigger. It worked, too, because as I talked, I continued to calm. “I know that you didn’t actually say that I was in trouble or that I did something bad. That was why I felt so stupid about the reaction, and then I felt so ashamed.”

“Because you were doing things ‘wrong’?” Mama Bear knows that is my persistent struggle.


She sighed. “This has happened before. Every time I start to talk to you the way that I did today, you have this reaction. It is a combination of a reaction to what is happening now and you also are strongly reacting to something remembered. I am not angry with you. I do not think that you did something bad. I am glad that you were honest. But I am concerned and we need to figure out solutions to some problems because you are getting hurt the way that things are happening now. I don’t like seeing you get hurt.”

And we moved on with the session from there. I thought that the matter was taken care of for now, but then later in the day it hit me, I knew exactly what I was reacting to.

To be continued in Part 2

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One of the good things about healing is that you get stronger. But I have found that as I get stronger, I also find that since I can tolerate being more honest with myself, I need to be more honest with myself. Sometimes that can mean admitting to myself some things that I would really rather avoid thinking about all together. The good news here is that if I can admit to myself that it is going on, no matter how much I don’t want to admit to it, then I have a chance of dealing with it before it becomes a real problem.

This weekend, I caught myself feeling compelled to do something that I knew would be a mistake. It would have been harmful to me and set back my healing. It certainly would have reactivated some damaging messages and potentially could have retraumatized me. I knew that it would be a bad thing for me to do and yet I also felt an intense amount of internal pressure to do it.

So why was I reacting this way? I don’t know all of the reasons, but I think that part of it is that my husband was involved and I know that he was frustrated/angry about something that happened between the two of us. I interpreted his emotions to mean that he was frustrated and angry with me, but in retrospect, I think that he was just frustrated and angry about the situation.

OK, I’m going to just name the situation… I had been badly triggered while we were making love and this was one of a series of several times in a row that this had happened. My husband is patient, caring, and generous, but he is also human and after having his wife go from passionate to shaking with fear in about 2 nanoseconds for the 5th or 6th time in a row, he was irritated. He first held me and waited for me to calm down and be present again, but then he needed to leave the room because he was so irritated.

The young parts inside of me completely over reacted and were positive that he was furious with me and that I had to do something to make him less angry, otherwise I would be in terrible danger. It was like I then observed myself making a plan that I would wait until that night, when all of the lights were out and then let a sexualized part take over and “take care of him.” I had to wait until it was dark, because I knew that he would be able to tell that something was off if he could see my face.

It seemed to be that all of these messages that I have been fighting against were being triggered: “All I’m good for is sex.” “I’m made to be hurt.” “I’m in danger unless I do what he wants.” “My body doesn’t belong to me.” And I had a major battle going on as to how I was going to handle things.

The wiser part of me knew that it was a terrible idea for me to act on this impulse. Not only would it be harmful to me, it wouldn’t be what my husband wants anyways. Remember how said that I knew that I could only do what I was planning in the dark, because he would see that something was wrong if he could see my face? He’s not looking to have sexual gratification, no matter what; he wants to have a healthy sexual relationship with his wife. He doesn’t want to have sex with a sexualized part or a child part, just to have sex; he wants to make love with the me that he recognizes. Frankly, carrying through with that plan could only cause problems between us.

I wrote an e-mail to Mama Bear, describing my struggle to her. I knew that she was out of town and so would not get the e-mail for 2 1/2 days, but I hoped that by telling her, I would help to hold myself accountable for my actions. I was betting that if I knew that I would have to face her, I would be more likely to find a way to find the strength to resist the compulsion. I struggled with the idea of calling her to ask for help, but I really didn’t want to interrupt her trip, so I decided not to, unless I was pretty certain that I would be unable to resist the urge to act on the impulses.

And these impulses were persistent and strong, I believe because not only was I reacting out of a need to try to protect myself from an angry man (however false that perceived need actually was), but I was also acting out of a sense of self hatred and a desire to self destruct. This self hatred seemed to come out of nowhere and I can still feel the echoes of it now, but two days ago, it was so strong that it was overwhelming.

There has been so much that has been so positive lately and it’s almost like I’m afraid of the fact that I am starting to feel my strength, dare to live within my body, and increasingly claim my life for my own. It’s like I’m trying to slap myself down before someone else does it even more painfully. It’s like I hope that if I hurt myself badly enough, then I won’t be destroyed for daring to try to escape.

So I guess that once again, I am back to helping myself pay attention to the fact that the here and now that I am in really is different from how things were when I was a child. The people in my life now want for me to live into my strength, take delight in having a body, and claim my life. They believe me that things were bad and that I still hurt now and they won’t punish me for hurting or for getting better. It really is safe for me to fully be alive now. And I can keep on struggling with this for as many times and as long as I need to. Each time I will take in my safety a bit more and eventually I will deeply accept it and I won’t panic and think that I need to punish myself in a misguided attempt to keep myself safe.

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Tonight is another night when it is well past midnight and I am up yet again. Why do I do this to myself? Why am I so reluctant to go to bed at night? At the moment I am so tired that I can hardly think straight, but I still can’t get myself to turn off the computer and lights, get ready for bed, and get into bed. So you all get to be subjected to my late night ramblings, I fear.

Really, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. I take a medication that makes it relatively easy for me to fall asleep most of the time, so it isn’t like I toss and turn for a long time once I go to bed.

I don’t think that I have nightmares, but then I rarely remember my dreams, so maybe I am having bad dreams and I just don’t remember them?

My bed is comfortable and there is nothing off putting about my room.

Or is there? Because I am now aware of being a bit anxious about going to bed. I think that there are two things here… 1) When I am in the process of waking up from or falling asleep into a nap, I am vulnerable to memories coming up. I think that my bed is now slightly associated with frightening memories. 2) My husband shares my bed with me. I didn’t realize that I was avoiding bed partially because of him. It isn’t like he does anything threatening. In fact, he understands that while I may want to cuddle up against him for some physical contact right after getting into bed, I can’t tolerate being touched at all while I am actually falling asleep. He has learned to not take it as a rejection when I turn my back on him and move over to my side of my bed; it’s just that I have to mentally create my own safe space in our bed, or else I will either never get to sleep or I will end up kicking and striking out defensively as I fall asleep.

I’m not going to kick him out of our bed. And most of me enjoys sleeping close to him; in fact much of the time I sleep better when he is at home in our bed as opposed to when he is out of the house for some reason when it is time to sleep. I will admit the obvious, these parts of me are nervous because sometimes I make love with my husband, and at times that still can be triggering for layers of me. So I need to find a way to reassure the nervous parts of me that it is completely safe to me to sleep in the same bed as hubby. I won’t ever wake up with him touching me at all, never mind touching me sexually. In fact he would help to keep me safe from a threat, so I am safer with him in my bed than I would be alone. Ah, those 2 things may be the keys… While I have been trying to separate past from present for these parts and convince them that my hubby is safe, however what I forgot was to not just tell myself, “he won’t hurt me,” but to think through and help those parts understand how my husband does act. He understands that being touched while I am sleeping could be highly triggering for me and he is a caring and considerate person who will act appropriately on such information. I can’t even remember the last time he touched me in my sleep- it likely was more than 20 years ago- and he isn’t likely to change how he acts after this long, when he has a better understanding of why it is so important. Also, those young parts tend to think of being alone as being safer, if I can’t be with my mother. Well, things are very different now- my mother no longer represents safety in the now, and I am safer in my bed when my husband is also in it. He is a help to me, not a threat!

There is no magic cure here, but this gives me a couple of things to work with myself on, that I hadn’t considered before.

Who else here has trouble with going to bed? What have you done to help yourself solve the problem?

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