Trauma, Triggers and Moving Forward

When I was growing up the idea of ‘trauma’ was something that happened on a battlefield or landed you in the trauma bay of a hospital emergency room.

These days trauma is more widely understood – in large part because of the work of people like Besel Van Der Kolk. Van der Kolk notes that,

trauma is specifically an event that overwhelms the central nervous system, altering the way we process and recall memories. “Trauma is not the story of something that happened back then,” he adds. “It’s the current imprint of that pain, horror, and fear living inside people.”

And because of the way that trauma alters the way we process and recall memories, it also changes how we understand and respond to the everyday experiences of our lives days, weeks, months, years – even decades – after a traumatic experience has occurred. These responses are called triggers.

Back in 2011 I was given the opportunity to expand my birth work to include working with women who had experienced sexual abuse. In doing the training for this role, I began to read more and more about trauma and especially about triggers.

And the more I read about triggers, the more I realized that they explained the experiences I was having – overwhelming fear coupled with completely ‘over-the-top’ responses to everyday situations.

I was ending up in a fight-flight-or-freeze state over things like whether I was going to be two minutes late to meet up with someone, or whether my kids were properly behaved, or whether my husband came home a little late after work.

The only thing was that – unlike the clients I was working with – I had no knowledge of having been sexually violated.

So I started to dig deeper. 

Eventually I realized that along with physical abuse and neglect, emotional abuse and neglect and sexual abuse, there were also such things as medical trauma and spiritual abuse –  both of which I had experienced.

But knowing this and knowing what to do with it seemed miles apart.

I felt trapped between my triggers and the shame that seemed to keep me a constant prisoner.

Then I discovered the work of Brené Brown. I discovered her incredibly well-researched work on shame, and in the process discovered that there was a way to move forward through the shame – and consequently through the triggers – to something better. The solution was vulnerability.

I had to get really, really honest.

So that was what I did.

I got started by going back to my values.

By taking the time to identify who I was at the core of my being, I created a way of determining which messages going through my head were ones that had come from me and which ones had come from my trauma experiences.

And then, message by painful message, I got super vulnerable with myself and my coach about the often horrible, slanderous, painful messages that went through my head on a daily basis.

I got super vulnerable about the (sometimes all-consuming) shame I felt about my triggers and their impacts on my partner and my children, my friends and my colleagues.

But in each and every case, instead of flailing over whether maybe these voices in my head were telling the truth or not, I had a foundation to come back to in my values.

And with each and every message processed, it was as if I could feel myself shifting and adjusting slowly back into the person I was made to be. The pieces of myself that had shattered through spiritual abuse and medical trauma were gradually brought back together again, until I began to feel at peace – to feel whole.

I’m not 100%. I still have this residue of messages that I find I need to wash off of myself on a regular basis.

I’m still practicing the fine art of balancing over my values – of leaning in to the person I was meant to be and operating out of that set of instructions instead of the ones I worked under for so long.

Yet slowly but surely it’s becoming easier.

Slowly but surely I feel myself coming into alignment.

And slowly but surely as I work coaching others who have been through similar hard places, I become convinced that moving forward from trauma and triggers is actually possible – for me, and for you.


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