living with triggers

March 25, 2013Karen Courcy

PTSD message conceptual designI don’t talk too much about triggers in my writing. It’s not an easy thing to talk about, but honestly I am finding that the more I talk about them, the less power they have over me.

In the 3 years I have been writing in my blog, I don’t think I have really talked about living with triggers too much. I tend to shy away from that – maybe it’s because for a while it felt like a sense of disempowerment for me – shame for going through it, maybe even embarrassment?

It’s not an easy thing to talk about, and for the simple reasons it’s a fear of triggering myself talking about triggers; its like walking on egg shells.

I didn’t start experiencing triggers from my past until I got married and had kids; when I had a chance to move out and away from the place I was abused in, and started to slowly allow myself to feel a little more without the emotional wall in front of me.

Triggers are hard because you never know when they are going to happen. They hijack you out of your sense of self and it’s incredibly hard to bring that sense of self back.

Sometimes when they happen it’s hard to differentiate between the “past” and the “now”, and it’s emotionally draining.

Triggers can be anything from the sound of something, to the smell of something. It can happen when the lighting is just right, or to the quick flashback of a memory. It can happen out of nowhere, and there doesn’t have to be a reason; sometimes it just happens.

It can happen in the smallest  unexpected ways – Like Sometimes when sitting in my therapy room talking to my therapist, if it’s windy outside I can hear the wires rattling against the window, and every time that happens, it takes me back to a moment when I was 4 years old sleeping in a crib near a window where I was left alone and abandoned!

EVERY time I hear that noise, it takes me back to that moment, and with years of work I have learned what that noise means and where I am, and my therapist will hear it and ground me right away.

I could be driving down the road and if the lighting is just right outside, it could bring me back to a day when the lighting was exactly the same way a at a moment I was being abused in my bedroom.

Some of my triggers come in small movies of flashbacks that hit me out of nowhere and it brings me back to the moment and sometimes I have a hard time getting out of the “past” and into the “now”.

Years of therapy has taught me how to ground myself in those moments, and most of the time I catch it, but other times I fall short to ground myself in time, and it’s hard! I wont lie, it’s VERY hard to be stuck in a trigger. It feels like I am in the abuse all over again.

My biggest triggers sometimes happen as I am drifting off to sleep, and I wake up crying/sobbing in my sleep and I have no idea why! It takes me an hour or so to ground myself and get back to sleep – it leaves me shaking like I am cold until I fall back asleep.

Last night at 4am I woke up in a trigger of crying and I had no idea what the trigger was – I had no idea why I was crying, and it stopped as soon as I realized “wait, I just woke up, what happened?

When this happens I find ways to ground myself.

– I will listen to a message my therapist keeps on my voicemail for those very moments, and his voice guides me into grounding.

– I will go upstairs and wake my husband up, get a hug, and have him ground me to the now and remind me where I am.

– If I feel an anxiety attack coming on, I will drink water, wash my face with cold water and ground myseld to the now.

– I will sometimes take a walk around the house and touch things to remind me that I am in the now, and nothing is here to hurt me.

It doesn’t happen all the time, but when it does, it’s incredibly hard! It sucks the life right out of me – sometimes for days if it’s a bad one.

Last night I moved through it, and fell back asleep as soon as I realized what had happened, and I was okay.

Learning how to deal with the triggers has been a part of my healing for 6 years, and I have learned so much of my past from the triggers as well. I sometimes take these triggers and try to heal something from it; something from my past that needs to be understood.

I read other writers, healers, survivors about their struggles with PTSD and Triggers and my heart goes out to them, because I KNOW, I understand.

The best thing I can do is to keep talking about it. I saw this saying yesterday on a PTSD website and it said”

“Put your fear in the light so you don’t have to fear it”  – Dr. Robin Smith

That to me means – talk about it, put it out there, talk about the triggers, talk about the dreams an let it be heard – into the light not the dark.

Today I did that in therapy and told my therapist about the dream, about the trigger I woke with, and I feel grounded -because I shared – enough to write about it tonight.

The more you put it out there to be heard and seen, the less power it has over you; a lesson I am still learning.

For those who struggle with triggers, you’re not alone, I am right along side of you, and although it’s scary and hard, sometimes just knowing you are not alone is helpful in those moments of despair.


  • Lauren

    March 25, 2013 at 10:28 PM

    Karen ~
    Great sharing tonite. I’m struggling with triggers right now so this hit me in the heart. I’m thankful to have you along side me. Thankfully we are NO LONGER alone in this journey!

    You give strength,courage & HOPE!


  • KarenBeth

    March 25, 2013 at 10:33 PM

    Lauren!! I thought of you many times writing this, because I know you struggle with triggers. It’s hard! it’s a HARD HARD life.

    THere are times people say to me “Karen you are such a strong and vibrant woman, so full of power and strength” and sometimes that gets me so mad because it’s not easy being ME.. I dont know who would want to be me or live my life, because behind closed doors, it’s a struggle to be who I am.

    Triggers are NO FUN and there is nothing you can do about it but to learn about it, talk about it, move through it as best as you can.

    The one thing that I struggle with the most is knowing no matter HOW much I heal, it will NEVER take away the memory of the abuse, the sexual daily abuse, and the rape at 12 .. no healing can ever take that away! I can only find strength through the moments I go through ..

    I love you Lauren, an you are not alone.. I am right here with you THRU and THRU

  • Hanna D

    March 25, 2013 at 10:45 PM


    PTSD triggers are hard Karen, I hear about it everyday from clients who suffer from the same, and it’s heart breaking to read about something that takes control over your body and mind from something that already happened.

    Something I tell my clients is to write about the triggers in a notebook when you are safely out on the other side of it, because sometimes the triggers are trying to tell you something.

    When you wake crying, it’s a part of something inside that is trying to tell you something, and that something needs an outlet of healing.

    I am sure Andy knows about this, but try writing them down and taking the notebook into therapy and talking about it, you would be surprised at what can come out of a trigger that is another part of your story that needs love and gentle care.

    I am proud of you for writing about your trigger – not an easy admittance.


  • KarenBeth

    March 25, 2013 at 10:49 PM

    THANK YOU Hanna!

    Oh yeah, Andy is great about this kind of thing – we are actually going to start working on this “art book” I was telling you about to where you talk about the feelings you are coloring in. It’s supposed to draw out things like triggers and feelings memories.

    Maybe it’s time to start working on that book …

    it’s also scary to know that you can get in touch with the reason – it’s like preparing yourself to see something you may not want to see.

    Thank you Hanna and great idea, I will start doing that – give it a try.

  • Gel

    March 26, 2013 at 4:14 PM

    I’m seeing more courage in your sharing lately, in what you are expressing and sharing about your self. I appreciate that.

    Triggers are a subject that confuse me. I came to recognize a trigger about intimate touch that I had not seen as a trigger before. I used to think of it as something about myself that is negative. I don’t like to be touched certain ways. And I’ve thought it meant I am very picky. kind of in a limited way. But I’ve come to recognize that particular touch is how I was sexually abused so I have a built in recoil or cringing feeling in response. Longer ago I used to think when a guy touched me that way that I didn’t like HIS touch, like it was his fault when I had that reaction.

    It’s interesting timing that just today I worked on this in a counseling session. I’ve been feeling kind of hopeless about it though. I don’t have a lot of energy or hope for healing it. I hear myself just saying ” I don’t want to deal with it, I can get along with out very much touch anyway”. However this is not good for my marriage.

    I think there are lots of triggers for me that have long ago lost the original source…so that i have taken them on as just something about me that isn’t right….It adds to my feeling of being irrepairably broken, and unworthy. When I think about this it makes me sad that I have embodied my abuser’s abuse in a way that is so lasting.

    Or maybe I don’t understand triggers as you are using that term. That’s why I said I’m confused.

    I feel weird about this topic and would just rather work in the garden and pet my cat and tend my chickens where none of these issues come up.

    Sorry for such a downer comment.

  • KarenBeth

    March 26, 2013 at 4:33 PM

    GEL …

    no THANK YOU for a honest post. Not a downer!

    You make so much sense. I get it when you talk about “feeling as if something is wrong with me” ..

    Today in session I told my therapist he can’t touch the back of my arms. He knows what that means so if he hugs me, to just be careful. He knows that when I say “dont touch the back of my arms” that it means I am guarded!

    Something about the back of my arms triggers by touch, and it’s a feeling that is gross, or unworthy about it.. so I understand how you feel and what you are explaining.

    People who were abused like us try to move through life without touch, but in real we need it.

    Keep working with it Gel.. Andy and I have been working on touch for years and I am able to hold hands, get hugs, and accept touches a lot easier than I used to. BUT then there are times like today when the back of my arms just can’t be touched, but in healing I have learned what my boundaries are.

    Maybe you need to work with this more .. we can easily say “well I dont need it, I will go on without being touched” .. but the human soul needs touch .. a holding hand, a hug, a rubbing of the back in support.. it’s what feeds us emotionally..

    don’t give up.. keep at it, and if it’s hard, well HAH it means its working because healing is NOT easy.

    Thank you for sharing your comment.. I didn’t find it downer at all, in fact I loved it.. your honesty is really nice

    1. Gel

      March 29, 2013 at 7:56 AM

      Hi Karen,
      Thanks for your supportive thoughts.
      I just thought I’d add that I am not totally closed to touch. My husband and I touch daily and I love massage. I just notice it’s only within narrow parameters…meaning, touch that is sexual can trigger reactions and retreating away. That is the part i don’t know how to deal with yet. Especially because I don’t want it to hurt my husband.

      And I often feel tired of ‘dealing with’ this stuff….but I know that is part of my ‘depression’ that’s talking.

      What you share here is giving me more courage. So thanks for that.

      Love to you!

  • Sharon O

    March 27, 2013 at 1:30 AM

    sometimes when ‘this’ kind of thing happens one can say out loud, ‘THIS is now time … 2013… I am ‘{whatever age you are} and then say out loud “I hear you, I know you are fearful, I am here for you. I am not going away” and then repeat if needed as often as needed.
    triggers can be minimized by words and by assurance.

Please take a moment to comment! I love connecting with others!

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