Triggers… We all have them. Distant (and sometimes not so distant) memories that somehow make their way into our present. As someone who has dealt with trauma, triggers can show up uninvited. Truthfully, I hate them. I hate the discomfort… the ugly reminder. I hate the feeling of sadness that triggers, oftentimes, invoke. Oh, how one moment can trigger a feeling of despair, grief, and isolation. Oh, how the conjuring of it all can send one right back to square one. It all feels so very real.
After what seemed like a month of consecutive triggers, I began to ask questions. Triggers...Do they serve a purpose? A few weeks back, I was working with some mamas. At this particular event, I found myself surrounded by mothers and daughters… Mothers helping their expectant daughters pick out the latest in baby gear. I saw some of them laughing and joking with each other. I saw others, playfully bickering... daughters getting annoyed with their mothers for interjecting, as mothers so often do. I saw the connection, and then I remembered... how it felt to have MY mother here. I remembered how I would argue with her while picking out bath towels (because one can't possibly have enough bath towels.) I remembered going baby shopping when I was expecting my oldest son, Jax. I remembered how much fun we had. I remembered being amazed at how much my mother knew… about everything. I remembered feeling protected. I remembered feeling not so alone... and motherless. Seeing the mothers and daughters at this event triggered grief, sadness, and the unfairness of it all. It triggered anger. It even triggered resentment. Were these daughters taking their mothers for granted? Why were they bickering? Why were they getting annoyed? In that moment, I would have traded anything in the world to have had my mother here. Truthfully, if it had not been for my deep respect of boundaries, I would have told them to relish in this moment with their mothers (no matter how annoying they are.) But then, I was tossed quickly back to reality by the morbidity of saying under my breathe, “Hey, enjoy your mom now, because when she dies…” and then simultaneously ending the phrase with, “Congratulations tho.” How morbid and weird would that be?
Truthfully, I could go on and on regarding my particular triggers. For example, In the past, I have been triggered when not told the truth in its entirety. I lost my mother unexpectedly. My father didn't tell me that she was sick again until it was too late. I had two weeks to say my goodbyes, and then she was gone. So now, anytime I am taken off guard (OR the truth is hidden) feelings of betrayal, sadness, and grief can be triggered.
I am triggered, when I lose simple things or when something is taken from me. For example, last week, water was spilled on my laptop… all over my laptop. Truthfully, I would like to say that I didn't freak out. That would be a huge lie, to say the least. I completely freaked out. However, it wasn't for the obvious reasons that one would think. I freaked because I felt as though I was losing something…again. To be honest, I also feel this way when I can’t find or misplace something of value (sentimental or of monetary value). I felt this way when I lost my favorite coffee mug. I felt this way when some of our things were lost in storage, never to be recovered. All of these things (no matter how small) trigger feelings of loss… they trigger a feeling that I’ve been here before.
Triggered by plugged ducts... I remember finding a plugged duct and pumping like a maniac in the middle of the night…. talking myself off a ledge of anxiety. Having a mother who passed away from breast cancer was not only devastating but traumatic. Breast cancer doesn't run in our family. She is the only one in our family who has ever had cancer. After genetic testing, it was found that in her case, it wasn't genetic. As a breastfeeding mama, plugged ducts happen. However, as someone who lost their mother because of their breasts, a simply plugged duct can be super triggering. Negative thoughts that aren't your own can begin to run wild. Truthfully, after losing a mother to her breasts, one may never look at their own breasts the same. A wise woman told me during a similar discussion that breastfeeding can be super triggering for those of us who have lost loved ones to breast cancer. Our breasts connect us to our babes. However, breasts are also the very thing that separated us from our mothers. It's so very loaded. In the past, Plugged ducts (and breasts) have triggered a feeling of sadness, anxiety, grief, and loss.
So what do we do when history shows up to dance with our current reality? This brings me back to my original question. Do triggers serve a purpose? I remember reading from a dear friend via social media regarding insecurities: “Insecurities are not there to mock you, they are here to show you where you need healing.” I would say the same is true regarding triggers. Though uncomfortable AF, perhaps triggers are not all bad. Perhaps triggers are there to protect, to remind, and to heal. Here are a few things that we can begin to do when triggered.
1. Speak. I am finding that I feel a tad bit free(er) and a bit less isolated when I simply speak of being triggered by something or someone. When I say, “Hey, so this particular thing is triggering a traumatic memory, a negative thought, or a feeling that makes me feel uncomfortable,” I begin to feel a little less heavy. It doesn't take it away. However, there's just something about saying it. There is a release that happens. I find myself exhaling a bit.
2. Acknowledge. See the trigger. Look at it. Examine it. Hold it. Literally, put your finger on YOUR trigger. As mentioned, triggers can serve as a beautiful reminder that healing is still needed in a specific area of our lives. Where there is healing, there is gentleness. When we acknowledge that we have hurt... that there is an area that is seeking repair... we will, in turn, begin to show kindness to ourselves in that specific area that is being activated and/or triggered.
3. Show gratitude. A good friend suggested that I begin to show gratitude for my particular triggers. After all, our triggers are simply doing their job. When I wrestled with the thought of permanently losing my laptop and the feeling of loss was triggered, I began to say thank you for that particular trigger. I say, 'Thank you, for reminding me that I still need healing in this area. Thank you for reminding me that in the past, I have experienced loss on a deeper level than a possible waterlogged laptop. Thank you for reminding me that because of this loss, I have the ability to feel deeply in this area and connect with others who have gone through this shared experience.' When I look in the mirror at my functioning and healthy breasts, and I am triggered by traumatic memories surrounding the loss of my mother, I show gratitude. I say, “ Thank you for reminding to self-care and to take care of my body as well as my peace. I will do so. Thank you for reminding that my mother was so very special and amazing, and dope.” Same for plugged ducts.
Lastly, triggers not only allow us to be kind to ourselves, but they encourage us to constantly live in awareness of others. By simply acknowledging our own triggers, we can begin to be cognizant of the fact that we all have an internal dialogue that is constantly taking place… that we all have stuff we are continually unpacking, shifting and healing through.