I’ve heard this said before, but it’s true; trauma lives in the body. I thought about this a while after getting triggered today.
I come from a background of abuse, and unfortunately it’s left some scars that are still healing. I’m well aware that some of them never will entirely, but I’ll have to learn to live with the impact of them without it causing any additional problems to my future.
It started while I was wrapping up my shift tonight; my roommate was in the room with me, keeping me company and benefiting from it in return. They’d wanted to show me a funny tweet they’d seen earlier in the day, and I complied, seeing as I’d completed the majority of my tasks. All that was really left to accomplish tonight was the final report of the day, which one of my testers was taking a crack at doing (on a positive note, she did very well on it).
The video portrayed someone acting out a prompt; What if you did everything aggressively?
The concept of it, in and of itself, was amusing. The guy acting out the prompt would do very mundane tasks, but aggressively. Exaggerated in the noises and movements he made. While we watched it, my friend laughed.
One of the things I don’t think you quite understand until you’ve lived through it is how attuned you need to be with someone else’s emotions when you’re in an abuse situation. The survival mode doesn’t ever really leave you – It shocks me sometimes when people don’t take someone clacking dishes together while washing them as a clear sign of anger, or “you better watch out, one wrong move and you’ll be the target of my emotions.”
I had to stop watching, and we’d nearly finished it to. They tried to coax me to finish the video, cause it was so funny.
It wasn’t so much seeing the actions, because the expression on the guy’s face was obviously one of humour. He wasn’t “mad”, he was pretending to be mad. It was the sounds, though, that really got to me, and I ended up tearing up, feeling the need to run with nowhere to go. It took about 5 minutes for me to calm myself with a mixture of slow breathing and self-encouragement.
Still, it was a trigger, and I was well aware it needed to run its course. It’s the same way you sometimes need to let your anxiety run its course, or your depression. On my darkest of days, which come around fairly often, I’ve come to find that all I really need is to sob out my emotions and take a nap. It doesn’t fix the problem, but it does keep it in a more “stable” state (please note; everyone has different coping styles, this is just my own.)
Even after it was over, though, I couldn’t exactly explain what it was that had triggered me. My friend said “He isn’t mad at you.” It clicked to me there just how little they understood of how abuse triggers work.
No, he was not mad at me. But once, I sat on my bedroom floor next to the door, my back against the wall as I listened to the sounds downstairs. How sharp they were, how they immediately made my body tense in preparation for what could possibly happen. Whether I needed to go protect my brother, or stay out of it. What the potential weapon of choice would be, if it would be used at all.
He wasn’t mad at me, but once I missed the signs too late and paid for it. He wasn’t mad at me, but the one time I thought I’d be hurt, I wasn’t.
And I think that was the worst part of the whole affair – You never know WHEN it’s going to happen. Some days, you hear the signs, and you prepare for the worst, and somehow the worst never comes. And, sometimes, when it doesn’t come for a while, you start to think you don’t need to be on alert all the time.
When that happens though? It turns out to be one of the moments you should have been on guard, because it comes, and when it comes you don’t have the emotional or mental cushion to say “Oh, well at least I was expecting it that time.” It makes it hurt all the worse.
Years of that, it doesn’t just leave you when the abuse stops. It stays in your body, and even when your mind starts to feel like it can be safe again, your body doesn’t. It remembers every time you relaxed and paid for it. It’s a defense mechanism, and it stays. For how long? Well, I haven’t figured that out just yet. I still have tension from always being alert. It’s exhausting, having to protect yourself 24/7. The reverse is also true; some people likely feel physically safe, but their minds are screaming the entire time.
I think the main takeaway from this is, we need to learn not to question one another’s experiences. We can ask about them, we can try to understand them.
But it doesn’t help anyone when you minimize what they’ve gone through.