I’m not talking about Roy Roger’s stuffed horse that rests in the Smithsonian either. I’m talking about those emotional triggers that stun us, slap us upside of the head when we least expect it, pulling us right back into the powerlessness of the moment. Unfortunately for most of us that moment is usually negative, bordering on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
For at least four years after I left the toxic environment of my old church it wouldn’t take much to trigger me, a snub by a former friend in the dressing room of the local gym or at the grocery store, certain hymns or songs, or places. One minute I’d be pulled together, moving and grooving and the next I’d be shaking, trying not to vomit or a weepy mess.
It got so bad about a year after I left that church it’s a miracle I didn’t take my life. I remember a ride home in the dark from work the night before Thanksgiving listening to the local Christian radio station. I started crying hard, that type of crying that you feel like you cannot catch your breath and you just know you have huge unattractive snot bubbles forming around your nose. Crazy crying.
Turns out that many of the same people that had tried their hardest to torment me because I dared leave were calling in to say what they were thankful for. Sure, others did too, but it seemed like the overwhelming majority were people I knew all too well from my old church and the other like-minded local churches. Hearing those sanctimonious people with pompous piety spouting out how grateful they were for some pretty self serving things. Lies upon lies tumbling out. I wanted to die but restrained myself to beating on the dashboard and shrieking. Thankfully there was little traffic that night because I’m sure I was driving like a maniac.
I shook, stewed and fumed for days. This radio broadcast triggered me so severely it was sort of like being victimized all over again. It robbed me of the joy you usually have gathering friends and family together for the holidays. Thanksgiving was glum and the Christmas season was headed that way before I did two things that finally broke the spell of the trigger.
First I went into therapy with a very empathetic caring psychologist who helped me own my feelings, who told me they were wrong to treat me that way. She helped me start to heal and move past some of what I was experiencing. We talked a great deal about triggers. I would recommend treatment to anyone having troubles dealing with the triggers of walking away from toxic religion of any type. It does make a difference.
The second thing I did was kind of nutty. But it helped me. During December this particular radio station had a special evening drive time listener thing where you could request three songs to be played during the evening commute. For weeks I heard people write in with some of the same sanctimonious language that triggered me so badly at Thanksgiving. But the rancid cherry on the ice cream sundae of fakery was that they all started signing it cutesy, like Mary Christmas or Jenny Jingle Belle. Gag.
I wrote in as if I were the Grinch, pointing out a few things that were making my heart grow three sizes too small and if they didn’t want me to arrive in my sleigh with my little dog Max they should heed me. I signed it Barb Humbug.