Triggers Can Change
“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10
Triggers are a sensory reminder that can cause painful memories to resurface. They can be extremely debilitating and be a contributing factor to isolation when dealing with stressful life events. While they can have a powerful impact on us, they don’t have to control our lives forever. Their intensity can change.
In the days and years following Jamie’s death it felt like everything was a trigger for me. The end of summer was particularly hard to survive. August and September contain a lot of birthdays for our family. After his death they were only painful events to endure. The joy of being with family was overshadowed by the emptiness of his absence. I was thankful for the ones that were still in my life. But being thankful didn’t diminish the devastation I felt. My emotions were all over the place and people felt that I should be “over it” and be completely in the moment. Staying home and isolating from people was safer – I lacked the mental strength to manage other’s emotions as mine were too overwhelming.
Walking into a store at the end of summer brought on full fledged panic attacks. Just seeing a pack of pencils, or paper or glue sticks – a reminder of back to school would cause my heart to start racing with such intensity I just knew I was having a hard attack.
“I wouldn’t get anymore back to school shopping days with my boys. It was all over for me.”
Other times walking into a store and seeing book bags or school supplies would reduce me to a puddle of tears that would cause me to run out of the store. At 16, Jamie was driving with his learners’ permit. He would drive me to the grocery store and shop with me. He was tall enough to get things off the higher shelves for me. And strong enough to bring in all the groceries when we got home. I not only saw him everywhere in the store – but all his favorite things. Every single part of grocery shopping was extremely triggering for me. I struggled with being able to go into a store and shop at all for years.
But somewhere over the years, those triggers have diminished. Yet, I don’t miss him any less.
In August of this year, we had a house full of family celebrating several birthdays and anniversaries. I would have loved for him to have been there. But I was fully in the moment with the family. I wasn’t triggered by everything that was said. Nor overwhelmed by his absence.
In August, I also found myself walking into a store to help purchase school supplies for a young girl whose living with us. And without even thinking about it we went through her entire list successfully. Both smiling, and happy as we left. No panic attacks, no triggering reminders to derail my plans.
We grieve over the person we lost in death. But the triggers manifested from that grief can cause us to lose even more of our lives. If we don’t make a conscious effort at some point to deal with those triggers.
Just as the intensity of grief can change over time – so can triggers.
You may need to avoid certain situations in the early days of grief. But long-term avoidance will not help you rebuild your life after death.
Wherever you are at in your journey, let me encourage you to learn some healthy coping strategies for lessening the impact of triggers.
Some of my favorites include:
- Spending time in the Bible/meditating on God’s promises and His truth
- Exercising (I love being out in nature)
- Deep breathing
- Staying connected to family/friends
- Allowing myself to have downtime (disconnect from others/social media, etc.) to process my emotions in private so they don’t spill out in public
- I give myself permission to say no to things
Healing is possible my friend with Jesus by our side.
My Hope Endures,
Director Ephraim Ministries