Self-care is a critical component of any trauma writing practice, but in order to implement self-care, you must first know your triggers. So, what is a trigger?
A trigger is something that sets off a memory tape or flashback transporting the person back to the event of her/his original trauma.
Triggers are very personal; different things trigger different people. The survivor may begin to avoid situations and stimuli that she/he thinks triggered the flashback. She/he will react to this flashback, trigger with an emotional intensity similar to that at the time of the trauma. A person’s triggers are activated through one or more of the five senses: sight, sound, touch, smell and taste.
I began having flashbacks when my first child was just past six months old. I would put him down for his nap and, as I left his room, I would relive some terror of my childhood. The memory would more than consume me. I would shrink into it, become a child again, and when it let go, I would wander through the rest of the day disoriented and in a state of high anxiety.
It took several weeks for me to admit to myself what was happening. Inevitably, I would lay my child down, turn my back and hear him. He was a noisy breather. He made soft, sucking sounds. And there was a hum in the hall that comes with a house not yet weighted by furniture. I still don’t know why that sound combination is a trigger for me. (A therapist shared our minds may protect us from forming memories during particularly difficult periods.) But recognizing that it is a source for the sudden onset of stress has been invaluable in my healing and parenting process.
For more on triggers, see the rest of the quoted article by the University of Alberta, Sexual Assault Centre.
Much of the trauma I carry is overt, but it was not always obvious to me. The flashbacks prompted me to seek psychological care. I pursued both traditional and nontraditional paths, finding success with both. With my traditional therapist, I discovered words for the way I experience life. Post traumatic stress disorder. Anxiety. Depression. Taking ownership of those terms gave me power over them. With my nontraditional therapists, I learned first hand the power of positive thinking, compassion, self-forgiveness and acceptance of myself as a whole. For me, that last bit revolved around my aversion to being angry and a resulting feeling of persistent rage.
Once I embraced my anger I found what I believe Anakin Skywalker would have found if he hadn’t been emotionally stunted by an awkward assembly of men in robes who wanted him to distance himself from love and deny his nature: my inner Jedi. She’s the writer I always envisioned myself being: happy, confident and honest.
Whether you are journaling for inner peace or writing novels for publication, a part of your safe writing practice will be anticipating the road blocks. Encountering a trigger can either cause a small detour or throw you wildly off course. The following links are excellent resources for helping you stay on track.
You can create your own source by jotting down a list of triggers or suspected triggers. Whether its a story in a newsfeed or a smell, recording it will help you to identify the stressor the next time it pops up in your life.