Sometimes the pain is so deep it takes the breath from my body. It seems that whatever small event has happened has set off a chain reaction inside me, like the small squeeze of a hand, a single finger moving less than an inch, the small piece of metal on a gun giving way. And then my whole world changes. Everything that was light is darkness. Everything that was happy is misery. I assume this is what they mean when they say a person has been “triggered.”
I lay in bed this morning sincerely panicked. My three year old said, “Momma, you get me some breakfast.” How could I manage to get him cereal? I couldn’t even pull back the blankets on my bed! Worse, I didn’t know what to do to make myself feel better. Then the feelings of shame and despair compounded my problem sinking me ever deeper into my mattress.
I was able to convince myself to come and write. That gave me the glimmer of hope I needed to fuel my marathon journey out of the bed, to the kitchen to take my medicine, and then up the stairs. My thirteen year old was on his phone. When he saw me he expected a lecture, but he knew right away that I was not in a state to be that kind of parent. With a pleading in my voice I asked him to get some cereal for his baby brother. To my pleasant surprise, he jumped out of his chair and went downstairs immediately. God’s tender mercies!
So here I am at the computer desk, hoping to sort through why I have been triggered. Whenever this happens, my initial reaction is to denigrate myself and invalidate my feelings. My inner critic says, “This is no big deal. Stop being so sensitive! Stuff like this happens all the time. Let it roll off.” Behind these words is the primal fear of the loss of control that comes with the depth of emotion I am being subjected to. That terrified, bossy, controlling voice in my head cannot bare the fact that at my core, I am not in control of these emotions. They simply exist and I can no more control them than I can the weather or the shape of my nose.
So this is me giving a speech to my inner critic:
“Leave her alone. Let her feel her feelings. You have no right to decide whether she has a right to feel them. Calm your fear. The feelings will pass, as they always do. Surrender your need to control what doesn’t belong to you; the instrument that God has given you, the divine ability to feel emotion. This instrument does not belong to this world and cannot be suppressed by mortal will. Your fear clouds your understanding. She is in travail and will soon give birth to new insights and ideas. The process cannot be rushed or arrested.”
My trigger for today’s feelings of despair is betrayal. Betrayal triggers a complex set of memories that I have walled off from my consciousness. If my brain circuitry approaches those memories, it recoils in horror and veers away like a frightened animal. It is what might be called a “complex”; the memories and experiences I am unable to process because they are too painful. To cope, I avoid and deny their existence. Unfortunately, these memories are part of me and because they fester like a buried sliver causing pain and inflammation, they impact my emotional health even if I don’t know they are there.
I wish I knew how to heal myself– A pill, a bottle of oil, an internet article about the phases of the moon, or a hundred other coping strategies that seem to help others. The first step is understanding and I think that will be enough today. I have been triggered. Betrayal. That is enough. I have calmed my fearful inner critic and now I have freed enough emotional energy to get out of what I like to call “the vortex.” The vortex is the feedback loop that my brain gets caught in. Fear, shame, desperation, and paralysis swirl like water down a drain of misery.
So now I will ask for help, give myself compassion, eat, and continue to claw my way out of the pit. For those of you who read these words and see yourself in them, bless you! Keep fighting. You aren’t alone in struggling through the labyrinth of your mind and heart. Take my torch and use it to refresh yours. Together we can find our way through the darkness. Eventually, when I get out of crisis mode, I will work on processing the painful memories of betrayal that I stumbled upon this morning. Not now. The dog is scratching at the door. My boys need their mom. There are flowers in the garden, boo-boos to kiss, books to read, and life to be lived. There is joy as well as pain and I can and will go out and find it.