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Triggers & Meltdowns


Let's just put it all out on the table right now: most of us are not what one would classify as "normal." Spare me the "speak for yourself" rhetoric and blah, blah, blah... I'm not talking about the general public, but more so to survivors, because if you are reading this blog, either you are a fellow survivor or know someone who is. As a community, we tend to "feel" things on a completely different level. We have the ability to empathize on a deeper human level than most due to the extreme amount of emotional pain that we've lived through; on the other hand, we can cause serious havoc in our daily and familial interactions when a trigger decides to rear its ugly mug and we explode like the freakin' Hindenburg. The latter is what happened between myself and my family this past weekend, and I'm going to share what happened because it's a great lesson on triggers and what can happen when faced with one.

My mother is currently fighting breast cancer and is receiving chemotherapy. My brilliant brother is a comic and works for an equally brilliant organization called Funny for Funds. Comics throughout the area often perform for different charitable events, and the company is with those putting on the fundraiser from start to finish. They provide the event a Facebook page, share invites, print tickets, etc.; its basically a one-stop-shop for anyone looking to raise money for a cause. My brother often hosts these events and we decided that in order for my mother to pay the outrageously exorbitant co-pays associated with cancer treatment and the lost wages from its fallout, we would plan a Funny for Funds event to raise money. The night was a complete success as far the amount we were able to raise. The part that didn't go so hot was my meltdown towards my mother's sister.

Having PTSD/RTS (Rape Trauma Syndrome) is no picnic for anyone, but its even less wonderful for those around us who can't understand why we act the way we do sometimes. Some of us often turn to substance abuse to counteract what we feel inside and I too am an alcoholic and addict (I have been clean and sober since September 8, 2008, but I will never stop identifying as one; the moment I stop identifying will be the day I drink again and that cannot happen). Being in strange environments are extremely stressful to me, so I tend to only leave my home to go to work, or I have my husband with me to help. Sometimes a trigger can still occur, even when I'm not in a different locale or my husband is next to me. The prospect of seeing many, many people that night, most of whom were strangers to me, plus the prospect of said crowd of people drinking, had me anxiety ridden and terrified before I even walked into the banquet hall, but not attending a benefit for my mother was out of the question.

As the night went on and people continued to drink, some becoming quite intoxicated, my anxiety continued to grow, even after taking frequent breaks outside for air. My aunt was drinking as well, and whether she actually was drunk is now irrelevant, but for a reason that I still can't understand, all my triggers decided to make themselves known at that moment and I snapped at her for drinking. My anxiety, when triggered, tends to manifest as anger or rage and even worse, when I do lash out, I also sometimes have little blackouts where I don't remember all of what I said or did. It was never my intention to hurt one of my family members, but I did, and now I'm left with the inevitable shame spiral we all face when triggered.

For those of us who suffer from PTSD/RTS, we often lash out when triggered by something due to the feeling of the loss of control. When we are first victimized, the trauma of being victimized cements itself inside of us so deeply because of the control being brutally ripped away. Being faced with the amount of triggers that surrounded me that night must have forced my brain to interpret a loss of control and my aunt just happened to be in the firing line. This past week has been very difficult because of what often follows these episodes. I always feel horrible and want to harm myself, then I verbally accost myself for being stupid, disgusting, pathetic and a monster that deserves no love or happiness. Yup, my shame spiral is awesome.

So, why am I telling you this? The reason is simple: odds are that another survivor somewhere is either going through or feeling the exact same thing right now. My goal in this was not to confirm that triggers will happen and the inevitable meltdowns suck, but instead that I understand whatever may be happening right now and know how hard it is to accept that these behaviors will happen and to forgive yourself. That's probably the hardest part of being who we are; forgiving ourselves does not come easy due to many years of self-blame for being victimized and I certainly haven't forgiven myself yet, but I will in time. I would encourage you to seek help from a counselor proficient in treating PTSD/RTS and I'm doing the same. Healing comes with many bumps and roadblocks, but I created this network so that we could get through this together. My brother told me today to not focus on whether my aunt will understand why it happened and whether she'll forgive me, but instead first focus on getting treatment and help for it and get better. I think that's pretty good advice and I'll extend the same to anyone reading this that needs help. Don't give up on yourself when this happens, but instead work through your meltdown the best you can and reach out for help.