If you don’t know what a trigger is, it is an event, smell, sight, or sound that causes you to flash back to the traumatic event that you suffered. You never know when it is going to hit you or how it will affect you when it does. You may not always react when you find yourself around that trigger, but it is good to be aware of what triggers you, and how you can soften the effects.
Before I learned about holistic approaches to healing from sexual assault, I would often find myself anxious and fearing things that didn’t make sense. I could not figure out why I would be afraid of the things I was afraid of. I had no idea what was setting off my flood of emotions. I had never been taught awareness – I had only been taught to bury the event and the feelings deep inside, because it was over, all in the past. I truly believed that I was ‘over’ the events. I didn’t realize just how deeply my life was affected.
Twenty-five years later, I found myself re-living everything. Every detail of the assault, and then other memories of other events began to surface. I was totally unprepared for the flood of emotion and my mind and body shut down on me in defense. I had absolutely no idea how to cope with the memories because I had never been taught the tools. It takes more than just talk therapy and medication (though these are both very important) to help you get through triggers.
In my experience, the quickest way to heal, and to avoid being triggered in the first place is awareness. You need to be fully aware of what triggers you so that you can change the memories. For example, if you are triggered by the scent of grass, re-train your mind to associate the smell of grass with happier memories. Tell yourself that it is ok to feel what you feel, but the feelings are not allowed to control you. Change the way you perceive the smell of grass. When you go outside and sit in the fresh cut grass, really feel the sensations that you experience now. Notice how warm the sun is, how soft the grass is beneath you. Allow it to create a sense of peace for you instead of panic and anxiety. Use visualization to create a new image in your mind that you can go to as soon as you feel yourself heading back into the dark.
Meditation can be a form of self hypnosis as well. You can have someone guide you, or you can just read a meditation script yourself. Create a space in your mind that you can quickly visit if you are triggered by an event you see on TV or in a movie. Go to that place and remember that you are a Survivor – not a victim. It is not happening to YOU, you are an observer and are able to lend support from your experience. Use meditation to visit those dark times in your mind, and change the outcome. You can use many different scenarios in order to let go of the past.
It is not a short or easy process to have to re-live certain events, but I assure you that having the tools to cope and change your perceptions will most certainly make your future journey less bumpy!