Sunday, September 25, 2016

An Unexpected Trigger

Honey suckle. What do you think about whenever you smell honey suckle? If it elicits a memory, that's a trigger.

You would think, after all this time, I would have learned to deal with triggers. And for the most part I have. Every now and then something will remind me of the barn loft, a smell, or if the sheet comes loose and I feel the contrasting textures against my skin, I will remember. But it doesn't last long, and it doesn't frighten me. I simply acknowledge the sensation and return to reality.

But something happened a few weeks ago that triggered me to feel 6 years old again, and forced me to use some serious mindfulness to get my head back to where my feet were.

I have a few memories of a certain man, a relative of the bastard, a man whose eyes pierced my soul. From the very first time I met him, I was afraid of him. He had this look, this demeanor, this swagger of sorts that just gave me the heebie jeebies. I felt like every time he looked at me he knew; he knew that I was a target. He knew that I had been preyed on before. I felt like he wanted to do to me exactly what had already been done. It was the most intense fear I have ever felt.

And it was easy to excuse. I didn't notice it at first, because I was so focused on the man's eyes, but this man had been in some sort of accident, and had
a prosthetic hook.

I could only see a  little bit of it peeking from the sleeve of his black leather jacket. It didn't bother me at all, after all I had an aunt with glass eyes. And she would remove them at the dinner table. Yet my parents were convinced I was afraid of his hook. But no, I was just afraid of him.

A few weeks ago I attended a funeral in my hometown. I didn't know many people there, a handful at best. I sat on a couch in the funeral home parlor contemplating how the life of the woman we were celebrating had truly impacted so many, when something caught my eye.

A man. A very friendly, smiling, weaselly looking man entered the parlor. He did so confidently. Almost working the room, like a politician. And he had a hook.

"He has to be dead. He has to be dead," I started telling myself. "There's no way it's him. That was 40 years ago."

I watched him intently as he greeted several mourners and then the family.

And then I watched him interact with a few of his family members. One woman, about my age, and her daughters in particular. I watched as the woman clung to her older daughter's arm, then wedged herself between the man and her younger daughter. I watched the woman's face, her expressions of fear, anxiety, horror. And I was paralyzed.

I waited until he was gone a few moments before asking her who he was.

It was him.

I couldn't breathe. I excused myself quickly and walked outside, and paced. "I'm safe. He can't hurt me," I muttered to myself. He has no idea who I am. I am safe. I cried. I took some time for deep breathing and prayer, and went back inside.

On the way home that evening it truly hit me. It was real. The look on that woman's face vindicated my fear as a child. She felt, as an adult, exactly what I had felt so many years ago.

We can't control triggers. But we can develop strategies for coping with being triggered. Sadly, this was a conversation I had to have with John early in our marriage. I had to tell him that certain actions reminded me of the barn loft. He was very careful to not say or do certain things (there was a list) for a long time. Now, it's not such a big deal. After twenty plus years of marriage I feel safe and that list isn't nearly as long.

And the honey suckle? I will always let that trigger take me back. I will always relish the memories of my friend and me, walking along the fence row, harvesting the sweet nectar. Not all triggers are painful. And that's a really good thing.

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