People who have endured abuse/challenging childhoods can be triggered by many things that remind them of their traumatic past. Sounds, smells, looks, tastes, emotions, touch, the list can be endless.
They learn to recognize and deal with them.
But there is one trigger out there that doesn't look like a trigger. So much so that it is often the source of those " I have no idea what triggered me" episodes.
When I was in the beginning of therapy and working hard on stopping the self injury, I was documenting all my episodes. To try to find a common thread, anything that would help me get a handle on the, at the time, out of control injuring.
In short order it we discovered...life triggered me.
It was frustrating.
We stopped focusing on that and worked on just getting me grounded, and centered and healing.
Slowly over time the rate of self inflicted violence (SIV) dipped down, slowed then stopped for about 3 months.
At the time I was VERY excited. Three months of no injuring was HUGE for me.
Then one night I blew that record. I wrote down everything that was going on and took it with me to therapy and we discussed it.
Literally, NOTHING triggered me. there was no tangible cause. No reason for me to harm my self.
That was followed by a 4 month stint of non-injuring. Then another bout of SIV, that left me with a nasty new scar.
"THERE IS NOTHING TRIGGERING ME!" I half hollered at Richard. " This is soooo frustrating not to be able to find the cause of this unrest!"
"What were you feeling just before you picked up the matches?" he asked in his quiet voice.
I closed my eyes and rolled my self back to that moment.
"I had been illustrating one of my books. I was feeling very calm. Very relaxed. I felt safe....then I felt the dissociative aura trickle in and I watched my self go dig out the matches."
He didn't respond. His brown eyes waited, patiently.
grrr. I know that look. That look of: 'common P the answer is RIGHT there, put it all together.'
I sigh a snort and then lean back in my chair and return his stare as I think some more. Finally I sit up and start listing the emotions again. "I was drawing and feeling at peace, very relaxed, very calm, very happy, very safe, very....very....normal."
"How did you feel once you injured?"
"Relieved." I responded without thinking. "Relieved?"
"Relief from what?" he prompted.
"Hell I dunno, that was what just popped into my head!"
He sighed, set down his pen on his clip board and leaned forward in his chair. A action that I knew by now. It meant he was going to lob a fast ball at me. "Relief from what?"
"I don't know!...relief from...." I try to summon up the words. "...waiting?"
"Waiting for what?" he pressed me.
I felt my insides fall inwards as I frantically tried to answer him. " I dunno! I was feeling good, deliriously happy and content and at peace and safe, hurting my self felt right...I don't know...it felt like the normal thing to do...like that is the answer to that equation, happy + safe = hurting."
It only took a few seconds before the realization choked me in the throat and punched me the gut. I double over in the chair and exploded into sobs.
It was the feeling of peace, happiness, relaxedness, the calmness, the feeling of safety. That was the trigger. My injuring put those feeling back into cold storage, and returned me to the state of mind I was used to living in.
When I calmed enough to be able to talk, I demanded and answer from him. "WHY!? why would feeling those emotions cause me to hurt my self?"
The kind old soul look returned to his eyes as he leans back and thought for a few min as I collected my self. "Children who live in a world without boundaries and chaos, get used to living in a state of flux, you expect to be hurt and when it doesn't happen..."
I cut him off. "I , I inset the hurt! I injured because my life pattern is anytime I was happy, shit happened! I no longer can feel safe without feeling like someone is going to pull the rug out from under me...I am waiting for the bad stuff, and the longer the wait the more anxiety builds up...no abusers in adulthood so I insert the abuse and the anxiety of feeling safe goes away."
His subtle nod tells me I am on the right path.
The horror of my next thought drains the color from my face and causes him to perk up as he watches me concernedly.
"I'm the abuser now." I whisper. and look slowly down at the bandage on my arm. "I am safe now...but I still keep the pattern cycling."
"P, " he says reaching for me with his voice. "You are the abuser right now, but you are also the abused. We can work on that."
I focus on his hands, as my head swirls, and the room spins. "Together?" the small part of me asks.
"Together." he affirms.
The weight of the task seems too great, and the numbing dissociative state sweeps over me, and I shut down.
We did work on it together and were successful in separating the two. It took time and effort. As the years passed, I grew and learned to co-exist peacefully with feeling safe and not feeling the need to injure. That is okay to go long periods without waiting from the rug to get jerked out from under me.
Most importantly, that I don't have to be the one to jerk the rug. I have learned that it is safe to feel safe
To acknowledge that the feeling of safety and relaxation is a trigger to watch out for.
For a long time I had to verbally coach my self with stuff like, "It's okay to feel safe", "Safe can equal safe, and not impending trouble." Also notes were hung up to visually cue me too. "Safe here"
Heck, even to this very day a part of me will whisper to my husband as we spoon, "safe here?". It been a long road to fix the damage.
To name and face the invisible trigger that was so hard to recognize, helped me along the way in my healing journey. I hope it helps others to know its there too.