"You can't heal while triggered"
M said this the first time we met and I didn't know how to react. Frightened it might mean I would never heal. Irritated I was being stopped from talking. Confused at the idea I could engage with my issues and not cry, shiver and space out. In fact the idea I could talk without triggering seen coldly out of touch with reality. I'd seen many therapists before M but she is the first to stop me mid flow, mid sentence if she has to and always when she thinks I am triggering. It seems she regards triggering as a waste of time at best and completely destructive at worst.
This was heavily out of sync with my own experiences. Triggering felt like extreme emotion sad, angry, scared, lonely, confused and lost. Remembering the past had always come with these emotions and always to the point I lose control. M told me I needed to engage with the memories without triggering and this just sounded like I was being told to be numb and distant while remembering. How could I possibly heal without feeling?
So how was M right?
First off I wasn't being asked to heal without feeling. I wasn't being asked not to feel at all; quite the opposite. You see triggering feels like emotion but in practice it's much closer to numbness. The difference is so subtle yet it separates polar opposites. The difference is so subtle that at first I couldn't understand it and even now I struggle to explain it.
I've been trying to think of analogies to explain this and nothing quite fits but there are a few which are close. The difference between feeling and triggering is like the difference between:
- loud music vs a stereo turned up so loud it just distorts
- a picture with many colours vs so much paint there's just a muddy mess
- cold hands vs hands so cold they are numb
- a deer being scared and running away vs a deer frozen in the headlights
- the feeling of hot water vs scolding water feeling ice cold in the first moment
Over time in our sessions M has kept me from triggering. And despite the fact that I couldn't get near memories of the abuse at first I now have been able to speak calmly about the past. Despite speaking calmly I really feel the sadness, anger, fear, loneliness and confusion that's attached to these memories. That difference has been magical.
Have I Healed?
There's a long way to go yet but I've come a very long way in the last six months. I've been able to talk about what happened and remember what happened more clearly. The Confusion I've been struggling with for so many years is beginning to clear. I'm struck by how useful it's been to find a therapist who understands working with trauma and specifically sexual abuse. Therapists I've seen previously have dealt with depression etc. but PTSD and dissociative conditions need some specialist understanding.
It makes such a difference to be able to feel without fear.