I have had PTSD, the result of severe and prolonged domestic violence, for over nine years. I am actively in therapy; I attend both one-on-one counseling and a peer support group every week. I regularly engage in mindfulness practices like yoga, exercise, intentional breathing, or mindful cooking and playing. I know how to use grounding practices to help myself out of a flashback. I am learning how to ask for help when I need it.
Nonetheless, I get triggered, at least slightly, almost every day. I expect this will be the case for the rest of my life. The experience of being triggered, for me, ranges from slight passing discomfort, to total day-long (or even week-long) debilitation.
The last time I was triggered was yesterday. My husband, in a fit of boisterous energy, slapped a paper cup that had been left on a garbage bin, knocking it to the ground. He wasn’t angry, and he wasn’t trying to trigger me; it was a benign, even playful motion. Just a random burst of energy that my husband, who used to train MMA religiously, turned into a moment of target practice. But it reminded me of a much darker moment when cups and cutlery were knocked to the ground.
I didn’t have a flashback; I guess the effects of this trigger could be categorized as an “intrusive thought.” I remembered, very suddenly, a date I went on with The Ex. We were having a late dinner at a Japanese restaurant. We’d ordered a fair amount of food, which amounted to a pretty hefty bill; Japanese-American food is not known for its low prices. About midway through the meal, a young waitress approached our table and informed us that the restaurant would be closing soon. I smiled, said okay, and resumed eating. She hadn’t kicked us out. As I recall, she didn’t even deliver the bill. But The Ex laid down his fork and began to stare. Not at anyone or anything; just a blank, inscrutable gaze. I would see it again, in my apartment, before he threw sour cream across my good friend’s hair and body just for the crime of holding my son. It’s the expression he makes when contemplating whether or not to give in to rage.
I have never seen him decide against rage.
After a moment of staring, of deciding, he swept his arm across the table, sending almost every cup, bowl, and plate shattering onto the floor.
“I’m sorry,” he said, in the bumbling ‘good-guy’ voice I’m now seeing him affect in court. “I’m sorry,” then sweeping what was left on the table to the floor. “I’m sorry,” the last few plates, the last cup, to the floor.
My husband didn’t mean to trigger me. And he hadn’t done anything wrong; the cup was discarded, empty. He put it in the trash after. He just wanted to practice his aim, to play around. Nonetheless, it triggered me.
And that’s one of the reasons I don’t believe in the use of trigger warnings.