Riding the Wave of Triggers

Triggers…I’ve come to a place of acceptance. I can’t prevent or halt a trigger that has arrived, but I’ve learned to embrace these moments. I have learned that my triggers and emotional flooding have a message for me. They have something for me to discover about myself , about the trauma of infidelity, and about recovery. My psychologist occasionally says, “Pay attention to your visceral reactions to things.” Self discovery 101: why am I so deeply feeling, freezing, and flooding? What is in front of me, behind me, and beside me that my mind fiercely believes is a danger to me?

Before Counseling

Before counseling, my triggers and flooding were absolutely overwhelming. As someone who hasn’t experienced this since childhood, and never with any sort of education to understand what I was experiencing, it was really frightening.

That first month after D-Day was the hardest month of my life. Bar none. And I’ve had some hard months in my life, as I’m sure everyone else has, too. I think it is possible I was flooded around the clock for at least 5 weeks. I rarely slept, didn’t eat much, had constant diarrhea, and couldn’t concentrate at work. It took some time to get in to see a psychologist, (who came highly recommended). Sitting on the couch for the first time, he asked me a series of rather simple questions and I really couldn’t answer them. I still remember how odd it felt to say, “I don’t know”, and “I don’t remember”, so many times. It really surprised me. At the end of the appointment he said, “I think you’re very smart”, to reassure me after an hour of unanswered questions. I don’t remember anything else about that appointment. I only have the gist that he explained to me I was in a crisis, and that there was help to get me through this.

The first 5 weeks after D-Day is marked with frightening feelings I’ve never had before, to this degree. My heart raced around the clock. My heart felt like sometimes it skipped a beat and then pounded to catch up. I experienced a constant feeling that I was free-falling down an elevator shaft. It felt exactly like the feeling of falling in a dream. It was often hard to catch my breath. I couldn’t sleep more than a few hours at a time; three or less, with an occasional 8-hour catch up night.

Triggers and flooding were overwhelming me. They pulled me under water. They held me there. I struggled in vain to find air and get my feet under me. I was in the middle of an ocean of feelings, being pulled under by a current of physical responses to an emotional trauma.

Today, After Much Counseling

Today, I still have triggers and they still cause me to flood. I’ve worked hard for a full year with a qualified and skilled psychologist. The fruit of that time and effort is acceptance and peace. I accept that I will continue to have triggers, and those triggers will cause me to flood. I am able to pay attention to what I have a visceral response to, journal about it, and talk about it with my husband and in counseling.

I am no longer feeling overwhelmed with the concept that this will continue to be a part of my life.

Mona Tuiles

I still have a long way to go. I made a new friend at a weekend counseling retreat about 6 months ago. She had been working her own recovery for a few years. When I said I thought I’d be done with this in about a year, I noticed she didn’t agree. She just listened. I’ve come to realize my recovery work is probably just starting. I’m at peace with that, too.

Riding the Wave

Today when triggered and flooding, I hop on an imaginary surfboard, and I ride it out. My surfboard represents the skills I’ve learned and the tools I use to safely ride the trigger to the shore and get my feet back under me.

External Triggers

When I’m triggered by something external, like a song or a person or a conversation topic, I work to quickly change direction. Turn off the song. Walk out of the store that’s playing the song. Excuse myself from the person and step away. Ask to change the subject of a conversation, and insist if the request isn’t honored. I will still likely flood, but it won’t be as severe or last as long.

Internal Triggers

I’m much more likely to be triggered by something internal. “Bad event” type anniversaries, haunting memories, and trauma experienced from infidelity are my most common causes for flooding.

Switch gears. I try to redirect my mind. If I’m at work, I’ll walk over to a colleague and have a conversation about tasks or projects. My daughter made a funny cat video that’s on my cell phone — which is fun to share with my coworkers and laugh over. If I’m driving, I will turn on the radio and sing along, or turn off the radio and make a mental grocery list. Switching gears this way, (move to a different spot, start up a conversation, laugh about something), can often move my mind on to something else.

Breathing exercises. I work to regulate my breathing and relax when flooding is persistent. My Fitbit has a relaxation feature, with a choices of 2-minute and 5-minute session lengths. Watching a circle expand and contract, my focus is to make my breathing match the circle’s motion. This can happen right at my desk.

When I need more help, I have apps on my phone that offer longer sessions. Headspace and Calm are apps that have both worked well for me. They feature sounds from nature, guided meditation, and even meditation subjects to engage in for more specific help. I use the nursing mother’s room at work, which is almost always available. At home I let my family know I need some quiet time, and get comfortable sitting on my bed.

Journaling. It helps me immensely to write it out. My journal is a great tool for getting the emotions out; anger, fear, sadness, and grieving flow from my mind to my pen to the paper. It is a safe outlet. Journals are portable. I bring my journal to my counseling sessions and use it as a reference to talk through topics that are giving me the most trouble.

Conversation. Often my triggers and flooding point to an aspect of the infidelity trauma that needs to get worked out with my husband. We practice scheduling time, and soft start-ups to these conversations. I’m able to ask questions, receive empathy, or just share my feelings. Listening, body language, avoiding defensiveness, and communicating empathy are all a work in progress for both of us.

When we’re able to really listen openly, and respond lovingly, we win! In the meantime, we practice.

Mona Tuiles

Even when the conversation doesn’t go well, I feel better for having it because I’m proud of myself for trying, pressure is released, and the topic is out in the open for the both of use to deal with…instead of just me.

Self-Care Plan. I was recently in a state of freeze-fight-flight flooding for a four day stretch. It was overwhelming. Nothing worked to end it, not even the rescue meds I have for these situations. I worked through all of the above mentioned tools, and no change. So frustrating and concerning to be stuck for so long!

I have a support team of safe, stable, loyal girlfriends that are in on this trauma situation and have seen me fight my way through recovery. Three of these friends are “at a moment’s notice” safe places to land if I need to take a break from my own household. When the four days of flooding wasn’t ending, I let husband know what was happening. I told him if I couldn’t bring it to an end soon, I would need to pack a bag and go stay at a support team home until I could bring this to an end. He was already concerned, and he was supportive of this plan.

Eventually on day 4, the flooding came to an end. I don’t know how it came to end with certainty. However, I do feel discussing my self-care plan and receiving my husband’s support had a positive impact. It is difficult to create a self-care plan on the fly, in the middle of a crippling reaction to trauma. I’m so glad my psychologist pushed me to do do this, and super grateful for my support team.

Grounding. I haven’t tried this one, yet. There have been some panic attacks that feel a little “out of body”. It is hard to explain, but it is difficult to connect with what is happening around me. I feel like I am swimming, per say. The exercise my psychologist has given me is to connect myself to my surroundings.

  • Feel my shoes on the ground. Press into the ground with my feet.
  • Think about how my legs feel.
  • Notice how clothing feels on my skin. It is soft, scratchy, rough, etc.
  • Identify the different sounds I hear around me.
  • Look at the colors I see and identify other items in that color group.

Knowledge is power. Once I knew I could change a tire on my own, I wasn’t worried about flat tires anymore. I just made sure I had a good spare tire and tools on hand to change a tire.

I’ve done the homework from my counseling sessions, and it has equipped me to have a variety of choices to work through triggers and flooding. Instead of spinning in circles putting energy into preventing triggers and flooding — an impossible goal to achieve right now, my energy is in embracing what is happening. I use my tools to face it.

I’m not a failure because I flood.

Mona Tuiles

I can keep my toes planted on my surfboard. I might even get tossed into the deep by a rogue wave, but it doesn’t hold me down. I swim my way back to the surface, climb back on my surfboard, and find my way to the shore.

I’m not a psychologist, trained counselor, or even someone who has years of therapy under her belt. I share my story to inspire and remove isolation for those new to this trauma. I do not share my story to diagnose or give any medical advice. I you are experiencing triggers, flooding, or panic attacks, see a medical professional for help.

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