Adventures in Recovery ~ Hi Ho Trigger!

Adventures in Recovery ~ Hi Ho Trigger! January 25, 2011

 by Calulu

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.

The DJs played my favorite Newsboys songs and they laughed and laughed and laughed over my email, asking me to call or email in. I did, pouring some of my agitation out but receiving what was clearly one of the nicest most supportive emails back from the station manager. It was the needed blessing, the right words at just the right moment. I realized that joy and humor had been missing in my life for a long long time.

It hasn’t been instantaneous but with therapy and hard work to logically examine each trigger with a little humor thrown in I can say that over the course of the last four years my triggers are fewer and the episodes are much less.

Now things that used to trigger me merely make me laugh and roll my eyes. Example: Last night my husband James and I were trying to decide if we wanted to go to the movies when we heard from a hardcore old former friend from PCCF. He asked what we were doing and James explained. When Jerry heard what movie we were thinking about seeing, “Black Swan” he immediately told James we couldn’t see it because…. wait for it… IT WAS FILLED WITH SEX. I had a hard time controlling my laughter as that old Patriarchal Boogieman, Sex, rearing it’s horny head.

Later as I was getting ready for bed I realized that sex was Jerry’s special trigger. He’s dealt with an addiction to pornography as well as issues of infidelity. It’s his trigger.

We all have them. Putting to death takes deliberate work and the courage to face them. Triggers lose their power when you realize you are not powerless.

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  • Congrats, it sounds like you have done a lot of hard work to get through the holiday season. Your friend Jerry sounds like a lot of people: whatever issue they are struggling with they project it onto others.

  • So good! I’m happy for you, and happy that you recall enough to describe for us non-post-fundies the triggers and your walk away from them. My favorite part had to be “Sex was rearing its horny head.” Hilarious!

  • dragonfly

    Thanks for this insightful post, Calulu. I especially like your example of how Jerry was projecting his own issues when he reacted to your movie choice. Knowing that we tend to do that can really help us understand ourselves as well as manage our relationships with others.

  • A sure sign of healing is being able to feel compassion for others (such as Jerry). It gets a little better every day (or every month, at least).

  • What they said above. I’m very glad to have found the site and look forward to reading more. Recovering from religion and trauma requires so much courage and honesty but it is always possible. Learning from others who have gone through similar situations has helped me tremendously. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  • nowisee

    Calulu, that is your best post yet. Everyone has triggers that cause immediate emotional responses that are usually self-destructive. The problem is, we’ve had them for so long we don’t even recognize them. Seeing them, facing them, and getting control of them is very freeing.

  • Emily Rose

    You’re making such excellent progress! I’ve only been followning NLQ for a few months but, wow, it’s great seeing how strong women can be when they wake up and smell the coffee. Also, you’re post about the triggers makes me feel so not alone. After a bad break-up, this whole town only twenty minutes away from my house was a trigger for me. Everytime I even thought about it, I’d feel angry, bitter and clausterphobic. And actually going there; for get about it! I’d spend the whole time fuming and looking over my shoulder.
    But, I’ve gotten a lot better about that particular trigger. Good luck taming your triggers and
    keep posting! You’re a great writer! Can really hear your voice!

  • Julia

    Calulu, the “crazy crying” is just known to me and all the women I know as the “ugly cry”. Because you ain’t purty while you do it. It isn’t the picturesque gentle sobbing of a movie starlet onscreen, it’s the snot bubbles and the red face and the scrunchiness and UGLY. The ugly cry. (And it doesn’t dehumanize those with mental illness. Bonus!)