Last time we talked about how to help a friend who was also a victim, (click here for blog entry) This time we’re talking about how to help yourself; specifically, one way to begin to “thrive” rather than continue to be a surviving victim.
One of the hardest things for anyone surviving trauma—of any kind—is to deal with memories that come flooding back in an instant as a result of a “trigger”. It’s no coincidence that we call these sensory memories triggers. Whether a sound, smell, noise, or scene, they instantly remind us how much the trauma hurt. It’s like a bullet straight to the heart. And if you’re like me, living in Chicago, you understand about gun violence. It’s normally unexpected, usually swift, and can be fatal. It needs to stop. What a wonderful world it would be with nobody pulling a trigger!
Well, to extend the metaphor, our memories of trauma can come on in the same unexpected, often fatal way. Why fatal if they are just memories? Because they keep us from living the best life we can, full of joy and peace. They shoot us first in the head, and then the heart. So what can be done? Actually quite a bit, but only you can do it. It’s part of your recovery. And it’s worth the effort because joy and peace are worth the effort.
From my knowledge of guns, the only way to stop a trigger from being pulled is to have the “safety” on. So what can be your safety? The best safety may be redirection. Redirection of old memories, through new associations.
Let’s say you’re walking past a pizza place and the smell is wafting out to the sidewalk. You immediately feel alarmed, remembering that the night you were attacked you had gone out for pizza (or brought one home, if you suffered domestic violence). Your “safety” could be something like instantly telling yourself, “I will not let this deprive me of the wonderful taste of pizza. I will enjoy it for its delicious blend of cheese and spices, and the way the cheese gets ‘gooey’ and sticks to my teeth. I love pizza, and I will let nothing take it out of my life.” Your heart may still be racing, but now it will be racing with determination, not fear, as you think this. At that point, you need to congratulate yourself for keeping the safety on, and remind yourself that you just added another layer of strength to your recovery. Each time will become easier. Finally pizza will have regained its proper place in your head, and in your appetite!
Now I’m not saying that this type of thing is easy. It takes practice; and more practice; and more practice. But it works.
What if you had been attacked on the train on your way home from work? Chances are you must continue to work, and very few of us can afford town-car service. So you will have to decide what your safety will be. Preparation and mental strength will both be needed. The last time, you were caught off-guard. This time you won’t be.
You will sit in a populated car, not by yourself. You will carry a “weapon” (legal, of course) of some sort: a flashlight with two heavy batteries in it, a roll of quarters, a whistle, an alarm-like noise-maker. This will allow you to remind yourself that millions of people take the train unharmed. You are prepared, aware, and not afraid. Lie to yourself a bit about the ‘afraid’ part until it comes naturally! It’s called acting “as if.”
Try to enjoy the sound of the train’s clacking along because it is taking you home where you can relax at the end of your day. You will be alert as you walk from the station to your home. You will have your whistle around your wrist, and your flashlight at the ready. The train will eventually become only your transportation, not your nemesis.
These are just two examples of quick fixes for what is admittedly a large problem. But repetition is the key. Find a ‘safety’ for the things that act as triggers. Transform those triggers by redirecting them in your mind to thoughts that fill you with pleasure or peace, and confidence and pride in your progress. Keep the safety on.
Email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and let me know how you dealt with your post-trauma triggers. I’ll share the best suggestions. And if you are still unable to find a ‘safety’ when you need one, I would recommend seeing someone, whether it’s a counselor or a coach like myself. The important thing is to trust yourself to keep moving forward, however you can.
Till next time,
Coretta Dixon is a highly regarded businesswoman and sexual assault survivor. Her own traumatic experiences and exemplary work done through the healing process, along with her Master’s Degree and business experience in Change Management, equip her well to act as a coach to those who have done the work of healing and now wish to “thrive.” She can be reached at email@example.com.