Someone asked me recently if I ever become triggered by my trauma. I had to think for a moment and my answer was “no, not anymore.” I was surprised by my response because I was sure I would never get to this point in my life. I was sure I would always struggle with flashbacks, night terrors, unpleasant memories, etc. I was sure there would always be a movie of my trauma playing in the background of my mind. When thinking about how I am no longer triggered by my trauma, I had a mixture of emotions. The majority of emotions were positive: excitement, proud of how far I have come, motivation to help others, and contentment. However, there was a sliver of sadness for just a moment. Let me explain…
For most of my life, I defined myself by my past. My identity was wrapped in my trauma. When I realized I am no longer triggered, for a slight moment there was sadness because I felt like I lost a part of myself. I felt that what I went through was not valid anymore. When the rational part of my brain came back, the sadness was gone. Throughout overcoming my trauma triggers and healing, I have found who I am. I have put my identity in Christ and therefore, I have a purpose much greater than I could ever imagine.
I remember not knowing what triggers were. Oh, what a confusing time. Some examples I would experience were body sensations even when there was nothing physically happening to me anymore, heightened senses, and disturbing flashbacks that left me paralyzed emotionally. I remember crying and telling my therapist(s) “I don’t want to keep reliving what happened to me.” When I would pass a certain location, I used to freak out for what I thought was no reason. I was so confused. This confusion turned into frustration that turned into anger. I internalized that anger and frustration and turned to unhealthy coping skills in order to cope and feel a little bit of relief.
The first step was to identify what exactly my triggers were. I started with the big ones. Some of my examples are: certain locations, thinking of specific events, seeing certain individuals, and smelling specific smells. Once I identified the big triggers, I was able to prepare myself for redirecting my thoughts. I had to actively choose to tell myself I am safe and that I can overcome this. Sometimes I wanted to just let my triggers take over me because I was so exhausted from fighting–and I did let that happen. However, the next time I was triggered I had to choose to keep moving forward. This later turned into reframing my thoughts. In the beginning of figuring out my triggers, I personally needed to stay away from certain locations and certain individuals until I was able to utilize my healthy coping skills in the moment. Once I identified my big triggers and worked on coping skills to help me through them, I was able to use coping skills when I was not expecting a trigger.
…Let me mention that this did NOT happen overnight!!! I have been working on healing from my trauma for almost 12 years now (which is crazy to even think about). I have been to see many therapists that have helped me find which coping skills work for me and which do not.
I realized that triggers were (for me) a reminder of what happened to me. It was an internal emotional disturbance that I did not know how to cope with. When I realized this, I started turning to healthier coping skills. Instead of restricting my food intake, I would sit in the uncomfortableness and complete the opposite action. I also cried–a lot. For those of you who do not know what “opposite action” is, it is literally choosing to do the exact opposite of what the emotion is telling you to do. For me, I had to force myself to eat even though I didn’t want to. When I wanted to self harm, I sat in the uncomfortableness and chose to distract myself by journaling/watching tv/knitting/basically anything else besides self harming. By the way, if you hate journaling, you’re not alone. I used to hate it too.
I began talking about my past and telling my story/testimony to others. Each time I told my story to someone, the power it had over me became less and less. The longer I have been removed from my trauma and actively working on healing from it, the less it affects me. I am to the point in my journey that I do not even have the “movie” playing on repeat in my head anymore. It is possible and it DOES get better. If you were to tell me that a few years ago, I would not have believed you.
Helpful ways to cope with triggers:
- Call on your social support
- Deep breathing
- Exercise (if you are not doing it as an unhealthy behavior)
- Journaling/expressive writing
- Mindfulness meditation
- Listening to music
Empower yourself by learning how to cope with triggers! Become aware of signs in your body that are reacting to a trigger so that you can learn how to calm yourself down–you know your body best.
Overcoming my triggers did not happen overnight. In fact, I did not even realize I had overcome my triggers until I thought about it for a moment. There has been many trial and errors, relapses, setbacks, and so much more.
Overcoming trauma is a journey, not a destination.
Overcoming trauma is a process, not perfection.
If you are in the thick of trauma recovery and experiencing trigger after trigger, I see you. Keep fighting and moving forward. Take it slow–it is not a race. Find people who you trust and can talk to about it. If you are in the middle of an active addiction, I believe in you. Recovery is not meant to be done alone. Addiction thrives in secrecy. If you do not know where to start, I suggest working with someone to identify your specific triggers.
This journey is uncomfortable but totally worth it.
If you are continuously feeling triggered and are unable to cope, please make an appointment with your doctor and/or a mental health professional to discuss your symptoms.