Life is triggering. And that’s life.
When I say this, I’m not making light of people’s triggers. Quite the opposite, I can fully empathize with triggers, i.e. the words, smells, visuals, etc. that can take someone from feeling like a happy functioning member of society…to careening through a wormhole to paralyzing anxiety and despair. Because I have those triggers, and they were put into place by events, unavoidable and otherwise, in my lifetime.
Do I think we’ve gone a little nutty with Trigger Warnings? Yes, I’ve stated this in the past, but again, that’s not due to my lack of sympathy or empathy. I just don’t think it’s realistic to put a Trigger Warning on every aspect of life. You can disagree with me, that’s cool, I probably disagree with you, too. Good fun.
Triggers are fascinating though. How something that has absolutely no bearing in your current reality can sneak in and slap you in the face.
I mean we have that with good things, too…a smell, a sound, a picture…these things can suddenly flood you with nostalgia, a glowy feeling from being taken back to that happy time and place, to a loved one, and so on.
It is amazing how, when confronted with, for example, someone whose appearance is similar someone who has mistreated you over 20 years ago can trigger an emotional and physical response in you. I was at a restaurant a few weeks ago having breakfast. I looked up and damn near dropped my fork because sitting in front of me was a carbon copy of a man who, back in the summer of 1990 when I worked at a used car lot, found it entertaining to trap me in the sales office, blocking the only exit with his body, and telling me exactly what he planned to do with me while he smiled, backing me into a corner.
Fortunately, it never came down to a 58 year old bear of a man attempting to have his way with my 19 year old self because one of my coworkers came around the corner and spoiled that fun, but there was something very jarring about being trapped by this white-pants-wearing, silver haired fuck that made me feel like a rabbit being stalked by a fat coyote: I was terrified. When I left that office, I had an adrenaline dump of epic proportions and went home early.
When I saw his doppelganger at breakfast that day, my blood ran cold and I froze for a few seconds…I wanted to leave. Immediately. Fight or flight kicked in, and I wanted to fucking fly.
I regained control of myself and forced an internal conversation. This was not easy, I’m not saying, “Hey, why doesn’t everyone do this!” But I knew that, FOR ME, I had to do it.
This is not the same man – he was at the age now that the predator at my workplace was back then.
This is not the same man, no matter how eerily similar he is physically to the other man.
I am not that 19 year old girl trapped in that office and crawling out of my skin.
I am not in danger.
I’m not in danger, I am safe, this guy can’t help the way he looks.
He’s probably someone’s loveable grandpa. In a too tight polo shirt and fucking white pants with a white patent leather belt that matches his fucking white patent leather shoes (Why, grandpa? Jesus…)
I forced myself to stare at him. Some sort of self-instructed (inflicted?) immersion therapy.
I hated him.
I didn’t even know him, but I wanted to throw up, and I wanted to leave.
I stayed and ate my breakfast. I got on with my day.
And I’ve thought about this every couple days or so since, but more in a “that was fucking weird” way and not in a “fuck, I’m paralyzed and I need to get the fuck out of here now” way.
I prefer to avoid the latter…so I’ve decided that head-on “immersion therapy” is the way to go. For me.
Why am I sharing this? Because it’s not the first time it’s happened, and it won’t be the last.
I used to have a pretty big wall built up that rendered me mostly unaffected (denial is cool) by shit like this, but I took that armor off willingly a few years ago to try out this normal human feelings thing – and that’s worked out pretty well. But the downside is that it’s rendered me vulnerable to triggers that were once less raw than they are now that I’m not behaving as a fucking cyborg.
I had something stop me in my tracks just the other day when I was visiting my hometown. This one threatened to ruin my lunch (please stop ruining my meals). But, goddammit, I was eating some fucking delightful calamari with fucking delightful people and enjoying my day. No. I will internally flip my shit for a few minutes, breathe in and out, and continue to enjoy my day. You can’t have me.
Triggers are powerful as fuck. And I’ve got a few because life is interesting. But I’ll be goddamned if I’m going to let them dictate my happiness. That’s mine.
Will they affect me? Yes. Obviously.
Will I get blindsided at yet another meal out in public and enjoy my adult beverage a little less (but a little faster)? Yes I will. I’m sure of it. Because that’s fucking life. Life for me due to how my past experiences have dictated it to be. I expect more emotional gut-punches as I make my way though the world.
Life is triggering. Sometimes that’s unavoidable because you can’t – and shouldn’t – expect life to be predictable. A large part of how it affects me is up to me. And maybe that goes for you, too.