The gift of a trigger
Trigger: "In the strictest sense of the term, trigger is used to refer to experiences that “re-trigger” trauma in the form of flashbacks or overwhelming feelings of sadness, anxiety, or panic. The brain forms a connection between a trigger and the feelings with which it is associated, and some triggers are quite innocuous." (Referenced here)
I recently experienced the worst trigger I have had in quite some time. On the one hand, I was completely blindsided by it. On the other, I shouldn't have been so surprised, given the vulnerable state I was in.
Here is the background behind it: School has recently gotten out. That means my kids are home more, my quiet time is less, and routines generally go out the window. Translation: reduced self care unless I am being really intentional and on top of things. Also, I was in a heightened state due to triggers in social media as referenced in my earlier post. Finally, summer is frequently difficult as my husband works in a business that is very busy and stressful during the summer. He mostly handles it well, now, but he didn't always. I haven't always forgotten. Oh, and it's D-day (discovery of the addiction day) time as well. My body is really good at remembering things, even when my mind would rather it did not. It has lessened greatly over these six years of recovery, but the fact that it occurred so shortly after Father's Day, surrounded by many other difficult family experiences, has made it harder to brush aside.
So what happened? I had taken my kids to a few different places to get out of the house and disconnected from news. We were at a store and I knew that it was past time for my husband to get home from work, but I figured he would enjoy the peace and quiet of coming home to an empty house after a busy day of work. Ever since D-day there has been an expectation of letting me know immediately if he is running a little bit late from work. One of those things that helps me know that he is aware of the time and thinking of his family as staying late at work or losing track of the time there was the frequent excuse I was given when he was using. When I didn't hear from him letting me know he was on his way home, I assumed that he had left at a normal time and forgotten to check if I needed anything. I figured I would hear from him at any moment to ask where we were, or that he simply looked it up on our phone's tracking device. I had been so caught up in my activities with my children that I did not notice the time and stop to check where he was. So I received a text from him an hour after he should have been leaving work, letting me know he was just then leaving. Instantly it felt as though all blood drained from my body. I quickly reminded myself to breathe and felt grateful that I was walking out to my car from the store. I allowed myself the permission to not respond and to simply feel my feelings, knowing that they were a reaction and not necessarily anything else.
As I drove home feeling flush, feeling my heart racing and being intentional with my breaths, I maintained conversations with my kids to keep myself in the present. However, I had a thought come to me so very clearly. What a gift this is... this intense reaction. 'A gift?!' I thought. Then it occurred to me. You see, I've had the recent opportunity to speak more at length with more women who are in the early stages of their discovery and recovery regarding their husband's addictions. I frequently have women reaching out to me for support, but I had just been commenting to my husband that it seemed to be more than regular recently. I wondered if news events had something to do with it. I felt grateful as it helped me remain grounded and be reminded of the truths that I know and the progress I made. So this intense trigger? Well, I suddenly saw it as a gift because it reminded me of the intensity of that pain that I felt six years ago. Sure, I still remember the heartache and the difficulty, but the pain has indeed faded. To feel that feeling so intensely, to be reminded of just how very bad it was in such a tangible way, was a gift that allowed me both gratitude for where I am now as well as increased empathy for where these other women are right now. I never thought I would see a trigger as a gift except that they frequently clue me in to personal areas and weaknesses in my self that I need to explore. Each time I come out grateful for greater understanding.
In the end, I survived and didn't drown (even though I felt I would in that moment). We talked (as in had conversation where both listened and really heard, which would not have happened pre-recovery) and he immediately recognized what his late text may have seemed like and how the timing would have worsened that. He gave a solid reason for the delay and I felt confident in his response. When you've been there done that, you frequently question that confidence. So I've watched the other behaviors and general personality traits, and I was gratefully reminded of the things I'd seen in him in the weeks previous that were so wonderful. Even so, he offered to sleep on the couch for a couple of nights to give me space to be sure that I felt safe with him. He offered. So humbly.
The next day I made sure to get myself outside, into nature, to to some soul-soothing. I doubled up on self-care for a few days and, sure enough, my mind became clearer much more quickly and I no longer felt so easily triggered. I won't, however, soon forget the intensity of that feeling again. Like being hit by the truck all over again. Ironically, he'd had that happen just before D-day. I had forgotten that. I remember now how it gave me a sick sense of solace.