There is a word that has become quite popular in the past two years. It’s a word that is the main theme in many of my articles, mainly “The Lingering Effects of Assault”. The word is “trigger” and if you’re a survivor of assault or have PTSD, if you’ve been the victim of a sex crime or any other traumatic experience, you’re probably very familiar with this word. Also, if you suffer with anxiety, triggers make themselves comfortably at home in your limbic system (the part of your brain that controls emotions). The hippocampus (which stores memories) works closely with the amygdala (which controls our emotional response to these memories). Of all the research I have done on the amygdala, the term most often associated with that part of the brain is fear. Therefore, when we are triggered by something, as insignificant as it might seem to other people, we are filled with fear and anxiety. The prefrontal cortex regulates anxiety. These are all parts of our limbic system. The brain just fascinates me.
As intrigued as I am with learning about anxieties and triggers, I’m even more determined to figure out how to conquer them. I know that there will always be certain things that set me off. For example, when someone comes up behind me, 9 times out of 10, I will be very startled. Sometimes I jump, other times I scream or cry. I have even been known to just collapse to the floor in a moment of pure, yet unnecessary panic. But maybe, just maybe I can dig a little deeper and find out the best way to work through those moments. If we’re willing to dig deep enough, we can find the hidden gem in all that mud and muck. We just have to sift through it!
The other night, I overcame one of my triggers. It was a baby step, but still a step that I want to share with you because I believe we should put more focus on the light that can be found in a dark place. And I have found that being vulnerable and sharing my story will not only benefit someone else who may be struggling, but it will bring healing and understanding to me too.
Here goes. I can’t handle being held too closely. I have my moments of wanting to cuddle and snuggle up with my love, but those moments are rare. When he pulls me close to him and gives me a squeeze, my thoughts revert to a time when I was forcefully held against my will. My heart starts to race, and I feel like I must run away immediately. I imagine it’s like claustrophobia. It’s terrifying to me. And embarrassing! I don’t want him to see me freaking out because he wants to hold me close. All he wants to do is just love me! If it was up to him, I’d be in those loving arms all the time, feeling safe. But thanks to my hippocampus and amygdala, I go back to that scary time when I couldn’t move. I couldn’t escape. It was 29 years ago, but I can still feel that terror like it was yesterday. This trigger of mine is a problem, and I’ve been told many times that I could stand to be a little more affectionate. But I simply haven’t been able to shake that fear that comes with it. I know it sounds ridiculous, but it’s very real.
A few nights ago, we were lying next to each other and he pulled me close to him. I could feel the panic building. My heart started beating faster and I was already thinking of things to say so I could leave the room. He held me from behind and I closed my eyes and told myself that I was okay, he loves me. I am going to allow this man to love me. I started focusing on my breaths. I took a very deep breath in and let it out. Then I told him what I was feeling and what I had experienced. I explained it to him the best way I knew how. I decided I was tired of hiding this from him, tired of hiding a part of me. I never want him to feel that it’s him. It’s not. It’s a part of me. It’s something that happened to me that made me feel unsafe but keeping this from him to save myself the embarrassment was doing more harm than good. The only way to get over this, was to go through it and share this with him.
Instead of judging me or looking at me strangely, he listened and then asked if he could rub my back. He could tell I was anxious. He wanted to help. So, I chose to hear the love in his voice. I chose to speak up and let it all out. I let ME out. He started to rub my back and as my breathing slowed, with each exhale, I could literally feel my heart rate slow down too. I could feel that his touch was a loving touch. I felt closer to him now. Before too long, I was comfortable and content enough to fall asleep. I think that by telling him my truth, I was releasing it.
We talked about it the next day and he shared with me that while we were lying next to each other, he could feel so much good energy coming from me and it made him happy. I explained to him that being in a relationship with someone who allows me to speak my truth, say what I’m feeling and trusting him with it, is what allowed me to exhale my anxiety away. Now he knows, and now I know that I don’t have to hide it when I’m feeling triggered or afraid. We are not to be stifled. We are not to be ashamed. We should never feel like we must hide parts of ourselves. The right person will love all your parts and you will feel safe sharing them. I feel like I have unlocked some secret door. I’ve had the key this whole time. It is truth. It is knowing that every part of me deserves love. I can accept that love now and know that I am worthy of it.