Sorry I’ve been away for a few days. I had to go home for a family emergency. It’s being sorted out, but I’ve had a lot on my mind. Don’t worry, my recovery is still paramount and I am dedicated to healing.
Today I started the PTSD phase of my program. I’ve heard from many peers that it’s exhausting and very emotional, so I am trying my best to mentally prepare for that. Today’s topic in one class was ‘triggers’. Before class I knew I had some very serious triggers when it came to my PTSD, but I had no idea how to really manage them. I always felt like I walked around with a big tangled mess of stress that ultimately led to an even bigger mess of triggers, that in-turn grew into the biggest mess of shitty coping skills. And not knowing when or how most of my triggers would arise put this messed-up perfectionist’s brain over the edge!
I learned today that I will never be able to eliminate ALL of my triggers. Some exist in daily life, and short of locking myself in a cold dark room, I will inevitably crash into one eventually. The old coping skills I used when my triggers made me freeze on the spot, then curl up in a ball of anxiety, were dangerous. All I wanted to do at that moment was to lash out, run away, and numb the feelings they gave me. That usually meant me drinking, oversleeping, using pills or literally running away. But those solutions just forced me to stuff my feelings for another day… another day to drink, oversleep, take pills and run away. You get my point; it’s an endless cycle of fear and anxiety that I didn’t want to feel. So I had to learn how to stop the cycle.
First and foremost, I’ve learned that purposely exposing myself to known triggers so early in my recovery is unhealthy and sometimes dangerous. During this early phase at Homewood U, I am still re-wiring my brain. Therefore, it’s unable to cope effectively with repeated exposure to trauma. But then arises the question, what happens if I DO come across a trigger?…Well that’s where ‘grounding’ comes into play.
I still have quite a lot to learn about this skill, but what I have learned is that grounding moves me to the present reminding me that the trigger didn’t actually bring me back to the trauma. Some ground techniques are similar to my anxiety tools. I can recognize the trigger is there, then focus my attention on an object that is with me now, in that moment. My choice is to hold onto the necklace Caroline and Adam made me and squeeze it tight. It will hopefully reminds me that I am not in danger, and distract me from the trauma my memory wants to reenact. In essence, grounding reminds me that I’m safe!
Grounding also allows me to live my life rather than run from my life. The old Natalie would bolt from the scene of a trigger, possibly ruining my plans and definitely ruining my day. But I’ve been told that if I become skilled at grounding when I realize a trigger has struck again, focusing on the now may allow me to regain trust in the safety of the present. Why couldn’t I have learned this a long time ago. Of course tools are not always guaranteed to work, but it’s sure worth the effort of trying.
Going along with the lesson that I shouldn’t purposefully expose myself to triggers so early in my recovery, brings up the point that these triggers can be people too. If I’m with a trigger person I have to remind myself to ask, “Where has this person gotten me? Am I truly happy when I’m around them?” That’s not to say that the person has any default necessarily. It just means that for what ever reason I am not able to communicate effectively with them or cope with our interaction, so I have to remove myself from such personal triggers. The necessity to remove myself from these trigger people doesn’t have to be forever (unless I want it to be), I just need to do what’s healthy for me right now.
So there you have it, my one hour lesson transformed into a few paragraphs. I hope it helps anyone out there battling with daily triggers. If I need to practice my grounding today I will, but I’m still choosing to stay away from tractors, anyone being bullied, articles about the Travellodge, or any disruption to my family relationships…piece of cake! I wish!