Monday, November 3, 2014

On Trauma & Triggers...

Instead of following my plan to simply apologize to the Home Mom of my Kindergartener daughter's class for not helping with the Valentine's Day Party, I explained why I had been unable. The details of  my recent loss of twins came tumbling out in a jumbled up mess. In the moment I knew it was flying out of my mouth, but it was as if my lips had a life of their own.  I was being "that" kind of woman.  You know...the one I used to avoid because I didn't want to be "sucked into the awkwardness" of her never ending "drama." I instantly felt foolish and the embarrassment grew as she quickly ended the call.  Now in hind-sight I recognize what felt like my being a blubbering idiot, was a trauma response.  I was seeking desperately to find validation and for someone to hold this deep hurt with me.

When we have deep hurt stacked upon deep hurt, it can become crippling. For those who interact with someone supporting a loved-one with addiction, we can probably feel overwhelming to say the least.  I hope this post will give a little insight and also help those struggling with trauma and triggers to not feel so isolated.

When the counselor would say things like "you have been traumatized" or talk about "the trauma" I initially felt like it was too dramatic.  It really wasn't that big of a deal.  Now 3 or so years into recovery, trauma is the perfect word.

First, let's talk about trauma.  

Going into nurse mode, thinking about trauma from a physical sense---it's a wound.  Typically a significant wound.  As a mommy, it's an "owie" that really hurts.  I am assuming we are familiar with the use of trauma in these contexts.  What about emotionally though?  Although from an addiction related standpoint, trauma isn't limited to this setting.  Trauma & deep hurt can come from many situations as unique as the individual who has experienced them.

Right now I am finishing a group counseling program.  It has been a great blessing to be able to finish after about 18 months in between legs of the program and in this time and season.  With my husband suddenly home more in the past few weeks, I didn't realize I still had so much trauma yet to work through.  Our time had been limited and scheduled and now that we have more time together, it has brought things to the surface I didn't even realize were there.

Being in group counseling again, I have caught the vision and feel excited for the end-result.  Right now we are doing an assignment called "trauma eggs."  We are to finely comb over our lives and review our trauma from the earliest memories to the most recent.  I recognize it as a backdoor approach to an inventory and look forward to having looked in every hiding place of my life for trauma: both hurt from others and hurt I have caused.

What about triggers?  

Ashley has a fabulous post on triggers HERE.  If you haven't found her blog, she is a phenomenal writer and brave woman to share the real life challenges she has faced in recent years.

Triggers have been a daily, sometimes hourly, struggle for me.   "In her work on 'remembering the wound' versus 'becoming the wound,' Dr. Uram explains that most of the time when we recall a memory, we are conscious that we are in the present, recalling something from the past.  However, when we experience something in the present that triggers an old trauma memory, we reexperience the sense of the original trauma.  So, rather than remembering the wound, we become the wound" (Brene Brown from "I thought It Was Just Me But It Isn't, page 88)

I can be going about my normal activities when in an instant I can be thrown back to the darkest time of my life.  It is such a crazy experience: to know I am perfectly safe.  That my husband is sober and transparent.  Yet in that instant, I feel those things slipping in my hands as my chest tightens and my stomach sinks.  It may not be because of something obvious to others, and at times, may even take some investigating on my part.  It may be as simple as a word, my husband using a certain tone of voice, a smell, etc.  I have literally filled pages with things, people, situations, etc that are considered "triggering" to me.  Triggering being anything that sends me to relive that time of darkness and hopelessness.

For loved ones of a loved one with addiction, I plead with you to be tender.  Be patient.  Be generous in giving us the benefit of the doubt.  When we suddenly shut down or become angry for what may appear to be no reason, chances are we just had a trigger that lead to a trauma response.

Creating Safety

Just like I had to learn to create safety for Mark, he has learned to do the same for me.  Years ago I had to learn that if I wanted transparency in our marriage, he needed to know he could share.  He agreed to telling me about slip ups withing 24 hours, then giving me 24 hours to fully process it.  It was crushing as he would report slips in sobriety.  Some days it would be a double-whammy of current slips and also things that were brought to his memory from the past that hadn't been shared in his inventory.  Initially I literally had to script it.  I would thank him for his honesty,  tell him how I felt (I feel hurt, or angry, scared, overwhelmed, etc), then commit to a time to speak about it after I had fully processed it.  It was foreign initially to hold back the full extent of emotions, yet I was surprised to see how quickly doing so created safety for him to share.

We have added my trauma and my triggers in our check-ins.  Sometimes I almost feel embarrassed to admit to my husband on a daily basis what I am feeling and thinking.  In the moment I re-live the trauma it can feel suffocating, but sometimes to regurgitate it back in the light of day seems silly.  He has done an amazing job of holding my trauma.

As our marriage continued to heal, so did our communication.  In creating safety for him, the time came for him to do so for me.  I recognized in owning my "stuff" (how I felt, what I needed), I needed to also own the trauma.  It was mine.  Although his choices created the deep hurt, it was my deep hurt.  Initially as I held the trauma up, he couldn't hold it.  It was like when I first started setting boundaries.  It felt like things were worse, then suddenly better as I consistently owned my trauma by sharing it.  At first he would see it through a filter of shame.  He would take my bringing trauma to be examined as somehow a reflection of him being a bad person from creating wounds.

Little by little it changed. One day he said something along the lines of "I am so sorry!  No wife should ever have to worry about that/go through that.  That was wrong that it happened to you.  I am committed to my recovery and to our marriage.  Is there anything I can do for you right now?"

WHAT?!  Wow!  And on top of saying it, he meant it too.  I found out later just as I had been scripting my response to create safety, he had been given a script in the group counseling program to create safety for me in sharing my trauma.  Just like my script, over time, his created safety too.

Seemingly Never-Ending Hurt

As I began to share the trauma, my husband commented on how much there was.  We would sit down with the intent to discuss one trigger or trauma response and would find that we ended up talking about four or more.  He gently asked "haven't we talked about this before?"  I tearfully responded "we have talked about this situation, but it was this aspect of it.  Right now I am talking about that aspect of it."  Forgiveness came quickly for me.  Not so much my readiness---that was a process, but actually forgiving my husband came in one lump sum.  Healing from the trauma has been so nitty-gritty.  I was beginning to live healthy long before my husband.  Now it feels maybe some of what he felt as I watch him zoom past me, living in freedom as I look down at what seems to be endless chains holding me back.  He assures me he will wait for me, just as I waited for him.

Sorting through the trauma with the safety he has created is like having a closet full of junk to sort through.  I didn't intend for it to turn into that.  In the moment, it just wasn't safe to hold out, so I shoved it into the deep dark closet.  Over time that closet has filled to the brim.  At first I would timidly pull something out and if that safety wasn't there or was shattered, it was quickly shoved back in until a safer time.  Now as I pull something out, it is rarely not safe to share.  That item if followed by another, then another.  All memories tied together, bound by emotions rather than logic.

My paper doll strand of hurt.  Coming out into the light of day.  My heart swells with love and gratitude as my husband examines the details with me, as if he were cupping his hands around mine as I hold the hurt up to our eyes.  When I know that he knows what he did was wrong, when I feel validated in my hurt, and when I know that he will continue to choose recovery, it is as if the hurt slips through my fingers like sand.  It is gone.  What an amazing feeling for an instant!  It usually isn't long; however, before another trigger starts the process all over again and I find myself reaching into the closet yet again for another ugly something.

With my face caught up in this work it can feel like there will be never-ending hurt.  As I lift my eyes to The Light, I am amazed to see how He has carried me. He has taken the hurt from me and I know He will continue to take it as quickly as I hand it to Him.  

Alma 7: 11 & 12 "And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.  And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities."

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