Handling Triggers With Care

"Frustration" by Mark von Minden (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) Unaltered image; Not endorsed by icensor

Frustration” by Mark von Minden (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) Unaltered image; Not endorsed by licensor

“Hey!” a woman shouted from the other side of the bus stop.

Amanda’s head whipped to the left to look at who shouted, triggering Amanda’s heart to pound between her ears.

“You have no right to be here; you’re breaking the law! The only reason you’re here is ’cause you’ve been drinking!” the woman’s bony arm fired back and forth with her knife-like finger directed at the paunchy, staggering, and middle-aged man. “You’re a rapist! You’re a child pedophile!”

Her words, venomous and her firing arms, murderous.

A small hand lightly grazed Amanda’s side, and she took a deep breath, looking toward that touch. Her three-year old son.

“Oh, Luke. Let’s get back in the car. Your grandma should be here any minute,” Amanda whispered in her son’s ear, directing his steps back toward the car. The woman’s bile continued to spew, and Amanda’s head continued to throb, spin, and tingle.

“Mommy, what’s happening?” little Luke managed to say. Car seat buckles click and snap. A yellow bus passes. The woman’s tirade drowned in the engine’s thunder.

“A mommy and daddy are having a fight. Are you scared, sweetie?” Amanda said, pressing her trembling lips against his forehead.

Pulling her dizzying head from the car, Amanda sees a child run toward the paunchy father, only to fearfully pivot and run toward the screaming mother. Amanda takes a deep breath, realizes her body is tight and her teeth are clenched. Breathing has become painful.

It must be the mother’s day to pick up the son, and this must be their bus stop.

Amanda recalls the woman’s words: rapist, child pedophile.

Imagine you are Amanda and a survivor of childhood sexual abuse.

  • What would you have said to your son?
  • How would this encounter have impacted your emotions, your mood, your interaction with the grandma you were soon to meet?
  • Would you have shut down? Key up? Numb-out? Rage?

Maybe you’ve felt that twist of panic in your bowels and the head-pounding rush of fear from a traumatic-trigger.

This past week provided several triggers.

It’s exhausting, and, at times, there just aren’t words or pictures to articulate the pain and terror one feels, but I’m learning and growing.

Vocalizing pain while re-experiencing terror, without thrashing others around you, requires a strength that extends beyond human wisdom.

Before you ascribe to any notions that I have perfected this process–or am even the slightest bit successful–know that I am a sapling in this process. I’m still rooted in truth and love, but my growth depends upon my willingness to respond to the kindness of a gentle Gardener, Our Lord.

My trigger-laden week provided growth opportunity for me. Like the good Gardener that He is, He stabilized me with a stake of truth: His everlasting love (Jer. 31.3).

Genesis tells the story of Joseph being sold by his brothers into Egyptian slavery. Years later, by God’s direction, Joseph governs Egypt as Pharaoh’s right-hand man.

I don’t know about you, but being sold into slavery by family sounds out-of-this-world painful and traumatic. Yet, part of me identifies with Joseph’s sale through the sexual abuse I’ve endured, as a different kind of sale.

When Joseph’s brothers show up for the second time with Benjamin, Joseph’s youngest brother, I nearly choked when I read this:

And he said [to his youngest brother Benjamin],  ‘May God be gracious to you, my son.’ Joseph hurried out for he was deeply stirred over his brother, and he sought a place to weep; and he entered his chamber and wept there. The he washed his face and came out; and he controlled himself and said, ‘Serve the meal‘ (Gen. 43.29b-31).

Like the overwhelming emotion Amanda endured through her trigger, Joseph must have experienced a similar intensity, and how he models for us a healthy rhythmic response to emotional triggers is breathtaking: pull away, weep, recollect, control, and re-engage.

Joseph eventually reveals his identity to his brethren and expresses gratitude and thanks through truth-telling:

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive (Gen. 50.20).

It is with great awe and great hope that I recount Joseph’s words of exultation, especially juxtaposing to sexual abuse–we are not all in the same place in our journey.

Joseph’s joy followed internal healing by God’s hands. Also, he didn’t speak these words immediately after the offense; it wasn’t until decades later.

Some day, I desire that with a pure heart I could–with boldness and sincerity; truth and love–declare that what was once meant for evil, God has always meant for good to bring life to many.

In the meantime, with each trigger I choose to release my emotional burden and all its intensity to my Father, who loves me, so that I might re-engage with my loved ones. Re-engaged as safer, more compassionate, and more restored.

What’s your next step?

Think about your last trigger experience. Have you been able to identify what causes you to shut down? To lose your cool? Trust in His gentleness toward you. Ask Him to reveal the hindrances to your ability to re-engage.

As a shepherd carries a lamb, I have carried you close to my heart (Is. 40.11)

Join me on the healing journey.

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One response to “Handling Triggers With Care

  1. Pingback: ‘Enough’ Belongs To Our God | She Dares to Voice

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