TRIGGERS and WALLS
A wound is an injury to living tissue; that is until it heals, then it becomes a scar. A scar is a mark (fibrous connective tissue) left after injury.
Until the wound has healed, it’s painful, open and possibly infected and we protect it during the healing process. God help anyone who touches it because it hurts and we react. It’s a wound and it needs attention. We can’t bury it, forget it, get over it, and pretend it doesn’t exist; or indeed, run from it. It’s a wound and wounds hurt and they take time to heal.
Likewise, when a person has been abused, the wound needs to be protected until it heals. When it’s touched, by a memory, it hurts and we react. This memory is called a ‘trigger’ and happens in the present, yet when past scars are touched the unhealed wound reacts. It’s a normal reaction to an abnormal event that has touched our lives.
Every bullet needs a trigger; indeed, every trigger needs someone/something to pull it. When we get ‘hit’ sometimes we need to hide, sometimes we need to fight back, and sometimes we just need to go into hiding until we feel safe again. In fact, every wall we build around ourselves to self-protect, or to keep others out can be breached or can become a prison. Consequently, when a ‘trigger’ has penetrated our walls, we become vulnerable and we need to find a safe place until the threat has passed or the breach has been repaired.
It’s normal to find/create a safe place until the threat has passed. The ‘safe place’ you create depends on the severity of the threat.
Similarly, we build storm shelters when we are confronted with a threat. With a survivor of abuse, the shelter they build is in direct proportion to the threat, or ongoing threat…
Storms come and go, they can cause anything from minor to catastrophic damage. We seek out a storm shelter, in our homes, community; or indeed, if we are lucky enough to have one, in our back yard and we sit out the storm until it has passed. If there is damage to our homes or property we start to repair the damage and rebuild, with or without support. Usually, other people have weathered the same storm, so you're able to compare stories and help support each other in the community.
When trauma is ongoing and repetitive, we learn behaviours to survive within our environments.
We start building our fallout shelters to survive in an ongoing abuse environment. Whether we are child sexual abuse survivors, domestic violence survivors or war veterans, we have built a place in our minds and hearts to survive horrors we should never have been subjected to.
The difference between a storm shelter and a fallout shelter is that in a storm shelter you know when the storm is over. In a fallout shelter, you never quite know when it is safe to come out.
In a storm shelter, there is communication with those around you. In a fallout shelter, you are alone and there is no communication because of the isolation and the sense of being locked in.
When we are in this place, we are at our most vulnerable and most tormented. Many times, the ‘rescuer’ becomes another abuser who will send us back into the fallout shelter.
We built our shelters and we are the ones who must dismantle them.
How to Rebuild
I believe the first and foremost skill is to learn how to self-protect. We need to learn self-protection and self-preservation skills, so we don’t give that power to another person. In other words, we rescue ourselves and not look for a rescuer.
We need to be aware of what is happening to us when we go into our ‘fallout shelter’ and plan for it, so we are empowered to cognitively work our way out, instead of being overwhelmed by the pain of it.
Create a plan for when a ‘trigger’ hits. Create another plan for friends and family members that feel powerless when you are in pain. Communication is the link between the survivor and those who love them.
Set up a network of healthy people that understands the destructive power of PTSD/CPTSD, and allow safe people to support you when a ‘trigger’ hits. Create new survival skills and write them down, have them in a safe place, before a ‘trigger’ hits.
It took a lot of skill and personal resources to survive being abused as a child. Likewise, it takes similar strength and resilience to learn skills to rebuild our lives.
How do we rebuild our lives when we have built survival strategies into our lives on an unconscious level? How do we let go of them when we don’t need them any longer?
Firstly, we need to recognise the walls we have built around our lives by taking notice of our reactions to people and situations when we are stressed or challenged.
We might do that by writing a diary and noting our triggers and feelings. Like, when we get hurt or threatened where do we go? What is the thing that sustains us once we are triggered and retreat to our ‘shelter?’
Get the support you need. Let the people you love and trust know what happens to you when a ‘trigger’ hits, and also let them how they can best support you. Get professional help with someone who understands the complexities of CPTS.
You can be free, I am and you can too. It will take a bit of work but you deserve freedom.