Recent events have led me to become far more aware to my triggers. It is no secret to those who know me well, to those who have read some of my work, and to those who have shared late night conversations that I am the survivor of multiple acts of abuse over the course of my life.
Triggers can send someone into a flashback, force them to live a repressed memory, to be frozen in a traumatic moment until the moment has passed. I can stop these flashbacks just about as easily as a soldier can stop the images of war replaying on a sleepless night. A trigger can be anything from a smell to a scent to a word to a bodily gesture.
In the last two weeks, I have identified two flashbacks though the triggers have varied. The latter flashback is something that fully came about a day after the actual trigger. This is a bit disheartening and scary but something that I am learning to work with.
When I young, a movie came out by the name of KIDS. Back then, and even now I’m sure, the movie was graphic and explicit in it’s sexual content and drug usage. It stared HIV dead in the face and addressed the issues facing youth at the time. I was 11 years old.
While most kids were watching the movie in secrecy, against their parents wishes, my father said we would watch it together. He wanted me to get the message and we would talk about it afterwards. He encouraged dialogue and for me to feel safe in talking to him about anything involved in the movie. We talked afterwards and I had a million and one why questions. The sex didn’t seem important to me. I wanted to know if that was like real life and my father said, sadly, it was.
My mother came in after the movie ended and erupted once she found out what we’d watched. She snatched me from the floor of the living room and forced me to put on shorts and tuck in a shirt for my bed attire (normally, I wore a long shirt). She berated my father and called him a pedophile, a molestor, a rapist, a sick fuck, a disgusting pervert, a piece of shit, a no good piece of garbage, a pathetic man, a waste of air…and the list went on for hours. “He’s not even your real father,” she screamed, as if that would somehow make things understandable. She had me hide in my room and I was not allowed to talk to my father. She walked beside me from the bathroom to the kitchen and every room in between to “protect me” from the “pervert living in our home.” I watched my father cry each time she had me march by him, “you like that, you sick fuck, you like little girls?”
I didn’t get to talk to my father for almost a week. After a week, she decided she had punished him enough and life went on like “normal.” It didn’t elude me that if she really thought he was a pedophile, she’d just allowed him to stay in our home. It didn’t elude me that once payday came, she suddenly felt inclined to forgive him. Looking back, I find it ironic that she was quick to label my father, the one person who NEVER ONCE put his hands on me in any harmful way (he only cursed at me twice in my life and both of them were ‘damn its’), all the while I was being molested right under her nose.
I remember the pain in his eyes. The sadness for such labels. I remember feeling like I trusted this man more than any of my own blood and yet, I was being torn from him. He was being punished for the sake of my mothers insecurities as a parent. She wanted to drive a wedge between us because she knew I idolized my father. Her jealousy turned to venom and she tried to brainwash me that my father was hurting me. But I knew he wasn’t. He knew that talking to me was the best way to keep me smart. To keep me aware and safe. That if I could watch this movie with him and have no shame about asking questions, I would never have shame when it came time for me to face the world of peer pressure, teen angst, and sexual dialogues.
That was 18 years ago. And yet, it was crystal clear to me just a day ago. I relived that moment and could only respond with “oh my god.” I could not stop my father from being berated. I could not stop someone from being embarrassed. I could not stop a physical gesture that my body instinctively recognizes as a threat. Since I was five, when someone put their hands near my face…it was to punch me, slap me, pull my hair, or push me down. A hand near the face had never been a peaceful sign to me. And it never will be.
I am working through my triggers. I recognize myself as a person living with PTSD. As do the multiple doctors who have diagnosed me (I’m not a web diagnosed individual). I have about 24 years of therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists visits under my belt and with good reason. I’ve had some pretty ugly things served to me on a rusty platter. Sometimes, new things literally take me back to those horrific moments, those debilitating memories, those scary moments of programming. But I AM STILL a work in progress. And there is hope for me that I will be able to create new memories, new bonds, new moments of trust. I cannot control what other people do or say. I cannot necessarily keep every trigger silent. This should petrify me. I have to remain strong and remove all toxins from my life. No exceptions.
I may have flashbacks but I will not set up a zip code.
Pull the trigger but your bullets will not scar me anymore.