May 22, 2014

Triggers

By definition the word trigger is:

Noun: a small device that releases a spring or catch and so sets off a mechanism, especially in order to fire a gun.

Verb: to cause (an event or situation) to happen or exist.

On March 11th, 2011 a trigger was pulled that sent my life into a whirlwind. I had never thought much before about the power of a trigger. It is an important mechanism for a gun to function properly. The gun cannot fire unless the trigger is pulled and the gun’s power is useless without that little mechanism.
     
After any traumatic event or major moment that has negatively impacted your life, you carry around memories of that event. Whether or not you are even aware of them, they stand ready to re-ignite a state of fear or panic. For me, I have learned that the memories themselves also have triggers. Some of those triggers have been surprising and others have not been at all. For example, I had no idea that such a simple thing as a doorbell ringing could send my body into a state of shock.
   
Each individual in my household has had a different experience with his or her own personal triggers. For one, it has been a boy with a fake gun in the front yard. For another, it has been something as simple as flowers sent by a friend.
   
One night, I had to be in a building not far from the Walgreens where Emmett had died. I had always parked on the other side of the building, almost without even realizing it, but this evening I decided to take a leap. I parked closer to the Walgreens and went inside, feeling very brave, as if I had finally overcome my personal battle.
   
When the night came to an end, I said goodbye and started out to my car. As I opened the door and exited the building, I stepped outside to a view of Walgreens with sirens and lights flashing everywhere. My body went into a state of shock, and I felt as though I were standing and witnessing first-hand that dark night my life had changed dramatically three years earlier. I ran back inside, shaking and crying. Luckily, I was greeted by familiar faces who didn't even have to ask any questions about my state of panic. They finally calmed me down and talked me through it to get my breathing normal again.
   
I had no idea those emotions were still so easily accessible inside of me. I’ve been through many similar situations in the last three years, but somehow I thought I was over the extreme reactions. As I lay in my bed that night, I thought about all the triggers that have stopped me in my tracks during the past three years. It all started with the trigger of that gun being pulled . . . and now I am still being paralyzed by the triggers in my mind.

A trigger changed my life back then, and triggers continue to disrupt my life when I least expect them. And unfortunately, it seems like there is no way to prepare for them. That night I was next to the Walgreens, I had no idea that a trigger would be pulled for me. It was just an average night, but walking into that one scenario sent me spiraling back in time.

For a long time, going into grocery stores and preparing meals were triggers for me. I have spent many moments in my pantry hyperventilating . . . completely stuck, because flashes of the night Emmett died would sink down deep inside of me. I would picture myself preparing all of his favorite food that night and just waiting for him to come home.

Every time a siren whirls by my house, I freeze. So many triggers. Fireworks. Babies crying. My security system going off. Lights flashing on the ceiling when a car drives by. Knocks at the front door. People whispering when I walk into a room. A song on the radio. Smells. Lockdown at the kids’ school on Valentine’s Day, and no way to be let inside to make sure my babies are safe.

A while back at church, we were having a lesson about when Joseph Smith was killed in Carthage Jail. Someone was reading in our manual about the men who came and shots were fired. It was like I actually heard the gun go off . . . my heart started racing and every rational thought was erased from my mind. I grabbed my purse and ran into the bathroom. I sobbed and shook in the bathroom stall for the rest of the hour, unsure of how to get rid of my panic. Nothing was wrong, but there was no way to logically talk my body out of the state of shock it had gone into.

I have no idea why our bodies have such a drive to bring back to our minds the fears of our past, but they do. These triggers are like mechanisms in our lives that set off fear or a remembrance of pain.

A few days after Shawn and I were married, we were sitting in our giant bathtub. We were talking about the kids and the events of the day. I was trying hard to relax and enjoy the quiet hours in our home. All of the sudden, an ambulance turned on its siren nearby.

Another trigger. I had not fully prepared Shawn for these moments. He had no idea of what to do to help me. My panic attack lasted a few minutes, and the whole time, Shawn just held me. I didn’t have to say a word. He just let me cry.

About a week after that, Shawn surprised me by bringing home a movie he had been told was amazing. He brought home dinner as well, and we had a quiet date night while the kids were all asleep in their beds.

As the movie began, one of the first scenes was of a murder. A trigger fired again, spiraling me back to the night of the trauma. It was getting embarrassing, and I began to feel sorry for this poor man who had married me.

That night, after my heart finally stopped racing and we lay in bed, I turned over to him and said, “I gave you a chance. I warned you I was broken . . . you should have run away when we were sitting at the waterfall, and never looked back.”

He reassured me, calming my fears as he kissed my forehead, and whispered, “NO, I am right where I belong.”

A few weeks later, I decided to surprise Shawn at work. I grabbed him one of our favorite strawberry lemonades from McDonalds and headed to his work. His car wasn’t in the parking lot. Another trigger fired.

I pulled into a stall and began to sob. He wasn’t at work? Then where could he be? My thoughts went to the worst case scenario, which for me was: he’s either cheating on me, or he’s dead in a parking lot somewhere.

I grabbed my phone and dialed his number. He didn’t answer right away, which only helped confirm my worst fears. Once he finally did answer, with all of the anxiety built up in my heart, I let him have it. “Where are you? Why aren’t you at work! You said you were going to work . . . and I finally get brave enough to come and visit you . . . and you know how hard this stuff is for me, that you even have to work with other women . . . and I am here, and you aren’t even where you said you would be. You told me you were going to work. So where are you? Am I not enough for you, or what? Can’t you even call to tell me you aren’t going to be at work, so I don’t have to worry? Do you not want to be married to me anymore? Is there another woman?” Every possible insecurity I suffered from spewed out of me in one breath. I didn’t even wait to hear where he was, or what he was doing. As the words were leaving my mouth I was embarrassed for myself, and yet, there was almost no other alternative to handle the fear boiling inside of me.

This wouldn’t be the first time Shawn had to pay for my having one of my triggers go off, but in that particular moment, instead of him trying to make his case defensively, he just listened and reassured me. He calmly told me about the errand he had run and from which he was returning, and he reassured me that he loved me.

My heart calmed down after hearing his kind words. I apologized for taking out on him all the pain from my past, and I ended the call. My head fell into my hands, and I sobbed hysterically. What was wrong with me? Shawn had never done anything to lose my trust, and yet here I was treating him like he was the bad guy in my life.

The poor man! Anytime Shawn did anything that Emmett used to do (AKA . . . being a man) it set off a trigger of fear inside of me. If he came home with an energy drink, like Emmett used to drink, my heart would start racing as if he had come to tell me he had found another woman. If he took Nyquil so he could sleep when he was sick—which was the reason Emmett had given me for running to Walgreens that fateful night—my head would pound with memories of the past. None of the triggers ever made sense to me, or to Shawn, but they were so real.

One summer day, Shawn asked me and the kids to come down to a car show he was participating in. When it was over, we parted ways and I told Shawn we would meet him back at home, since we had come in a separate car. I assumed he would beat us home because I had all the kids and had to spend the time loading all of them into the car.

A few miles from our house, the traffic had come to a stop, and I tried hard to see what the hold-up was. As I veered my car over to the side, to look past the line of cars waiting in front of us, I could see that there had been an accident and that one of the cars involved was a black SUV that looked just like Shawn’s.

I called his phone. No answer. I called again. Nothing.

This time the trigger that went off inside of me was not just pulled, it was blown! I threw the car into park, knowing that my panic attack was going to leave me light-headed. I could see ambulances creeping up in my review mirror, and I could hear sirens coming from all around us.

My heart sank, trying to brace for the truth of what I thought was happening. Shawn had been in that wreck. He had left a few minutes before us, and now this was going to be my next hill to climb. I began sobbing, working the kids up wondering what on earth was making me freak out.

Bailey could tell I was losing it and suggested that we say a prayer. Her tender voice began to quiver as she spoke to God. She prayed that mommy would be able to calm down and get us home safely. She prayed that Shawn had not been in that accident in front of us, and she asked that we would all be blessed with a feeling of peace.

As her prayer ended, I knew we had to get home. I did a U-turn and went down the nearest road I could find to get us home, all the while praying that I would be able to breathe and get our car home safely.

We pulled into our driveway, but no Shawn! I called his phone again. No answer. I called his parents who had been at the car show with us to see if he might still be there, but they said they hadn’t seen him since we had all left.

Worst case scenario. Was I living it again? The kids ran inside, and I stayed in the car. I continued to pray, this time out loud. “Please, let him be safe. Please bring him home to us. I am so scared.” I begged and pleaded in the quiet of my car, hoping with all of my heart that Shawn had not been in that wrecked SUV I had just seen.

I tried his phone again. No answer.

I said one last prayer before I got out of the car. “You know I may seem strong . . . it may look to some people as if I have myself all put back together, but I am so broken. With all my heart, I pray that Shawn is okay today, but Father . . . if he isn’t, please help me to be strong again. Please help me to stand . . . I feel like I am falling. Please help me to know what to do.”

As I opened my car door, Shawn pulled up.

This time, I wasn’t mad. I was just plain relieved that he was okay. As he got out of the car, I ran over to him and jumped into his arms, “I am so glad you are okay. I am so happy you are home.”

Progress. This time, my trigger had been pulled . . . but I had won the battle. I didn’t have to yell and scream just because I was scared. Even though I was upset, Shawn hadn’t done anything wrong. It didn’t matter where he had been, or why he hadn’t answered his phone . . . I was just glad he was home. (It turned out he had stopped for gas, and his phone was in his bag in the back seat.)

Triggers. They are not just mechanisms on guns, they are mechanisms we each have inside of us that bring forth fear and anger. We cannot control when they are fired, but I have learned that I can control what I do with the emotions that follow.

I have seen others’ triggers go off when they are cut off in traffic. I have read stories about shaken babies who have died because of their parents’ desperation to have them stop crying. We have all seen fights happen over something that later seems insignificant.

When triggers fire, the aftermath can be devastating. A gun may fire a bullet when a trigger is pulled, but what trigger inside the man went off first to have made him pull that trigger?

We have to learn to control our fears and our pain when our own personal triggers ignite. Acting on them never brings peace, and carrying out their plan never brings happiness.

There have been more triggers in my life since that gun’s trigger was pulled, but I have found that I can determine who I am in spite of their power.

When those situations arise, and the dark cloud envelops your entire being . . . pray for the power that can help you win. We do not have to fall victim of the triggers in our lives. Rob’s gun had a trigger. It was pulled in anger. Emmett fell victim to its power. I fell victim to that trigger in my life, but I will not fall victim to its power in my heart.

I chose to stand up to the triggers that have tried to destroy me. I will not be a victim, but a survivor of the powerful triggers that have brought me to my knees.


Whatever dark triggers have been pulled in your life . . . it is not your fault. Whatever triggers have ignited in your heart . . . you are not broken. We may seem like victims to the world, but each time we stand, despite our pain . . . we are survivors of all the triggers that have tried to make us fall.

31 comments:

Anonymous said...

Another well written part of your life that I can relate to. Most of the time I don't stop to pray when my triggers go off. Thank you for reminding me.

Mari said...

It has been almost 2 months since my 37 year old husband unexpectedly passed away, leaving me a widow with 4 children. For me, music is my trigger. Why is it that every song is a love song? It happens almost every morning when I am driving my daughter to school. If I turn the radio on -- which I need to stay awake in the early hours -- it never fails that a song comes on that triggers strong emotions to come pouring from my eyes. One morning the music lineup was, "How do I talk to an angel?" and, "Live like you were dyin." Often songs that meant nothing to me before, are torture now. But sometimes, most times, I WANT to listen to them, because I want to feel the emotions, even if it is hard. Tears feel healing somehow, so you just cry all you want, and let your sweet hubby hold you! May God continue to be with you on your journey. You are above and beyond amazing. May you always remain standing, until the day you kneel before Jesus! He loves you! (I know you know that!)

Krista burgoyne said...

I'm so grateful I found your blog. I was in an accident 6 years ago this July. It was awful, and I developed post traumatic stress disorder from it. It is amazing the things that will trigger an episode, even though it isn't rational. Last summer I decided to surprise my husband for lunch as well, but I couldn't find him. I was convinced something horrible had happened and he had died. It didn't make a lick of sense but it terrified me. I'm glad that you have an understanding husband who helps you through it. Thank you for your writing, I look up to you and your example !

brocan said...

I love your blog! Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much. I have these triggers in me also. At one point I seriously thought I was going crazy. The panic, the anxiety just gets to me and it's so hard to control. I have felt so broken and have used those exact words to describe myself with my similar situation. I've learned in order for myself to completely heal, I have to forgive ALL in my situation. As hard as it is, I have too and need too. Again, thank you for this blog. Every time you write and I read that's the emotions I'm feeling at that time. You give me comfort. I thank you for that. Heavenly father has a hand in everything and there is no doubt in my mind that he helped lead me to you and your words. I just didn't "stumble" upon your blog accidentally. Thank you !!!!

shelley said...

I have had panic attacks and anxiety and it was so so debilitating. I've been able to overcome a lot of it because of healing from Heavenly Father and a needed antidepressant . I'd like to share this TED talk that I thought was so insightful and a helpful perspective.
http://www.youtube.com/embed/RcGyVTAoXEU?autoplay=1

Anonymous said...

"We can't control what happens to us in life, but we can control how we choose to respond to it." It's hard to have PTSD and triggers that set off a wave of emotions and irrational thoughts, but you can't freak out in front of your children like that! If you realize that a trigger has been set off and your thoughts are irrational, then you need to focus on that and not feed the dragon. If you're having panic attacks every time an accident happens, it's not safe to be driving a vehicle. I'm sorry, but calling that a battle with your triggers that you'd won is not true because what about the effect it had on your kids?! You had a panic attack, were on your cell phone in traffic, freaking out w/kids in the car to the point that your child had to take care of you then pulled a u-turn to race home hoping that you could make it safely when you were emotionally out of control. It's understandable that you did all of those things, but calling it progress and that you'd won is what's concerning. This had impact on your children's safety and emotional well being. Isn't that more important than getting mad at your husband based on fears?

Anonymous said...

Please be considerate and don't chastise someone on their own blog. Ashlee's posts are inspiring and honest. she doesn't pretend to be perfect, but you can't judge her parenting as an onlooker. she is the best mom her kids could ask for and they will learn strength from seeing her rise above her circumstances.

Please don't post mean things on someones blog, surely your parenting isn't 24-7 prefect, so please dont criticise others in their efforts.

Joanna said...

I think one of the biggest problems that has arisen from the internet culture is for people to feel they can say whatever they want under the title of "anonymous." If you can't say something with your own name behind it and if can't say it to a persons face you shouldn't say it. Making a critical remark, especially when your assuming your opinions are correct, make you sound ignorant and cruel. Learning how to truely handle real emotions is what children should see as opposed to repressing them and critzing what a person feels.
Thank you Ashlee for expressing your true feelings emotions which is something greatly lacking in a culture where people pretend to be something they are not.

Anonymous said...

It's a blog set to public, and comments are allowed. People will have different opinions when personal things are shared publicly, it comes with the territory.

Kyle Gardner said...

She said she pulled over and put the car into park when she felt it coming on... I'm pretty sure that means she did exactly was she was supposed to do. Is she never supposed to drive again?? It IS a public blog and comments are allowed- but the golden rule still applies too.

Anonymous said...

While I can somewhat understand your opinion on the safety matter, I think you missed the part where she was already stuck behind stopped traffic and she deliberately put her own vehicle in park when she felt her emotions get out of control. I would count that as a win in my book. And I disagree that she is having a negative impact on her children by allowing them to see her during weakness. I grew up with a mother that NEVER showed emotion. I have not one time seen her cry or show any form of raw emotion and vulnerability at all. She didn't break down when my father left, I didn't see any sign of sadness when her father lost his battle with cancer, there has truly never been a moment that she has broken down or even sagged with emotion. Obviously that type of behavior is something I learned to emulate in my own life. And it has had some severe repercussions in my own relationships. I know that my husband thinks I can be cold toward him because when I start feeling emotionally vulnerable I shut down. I have a hard time showing empathy even though I feel it because I just can't bring myself to let any "weakness" in. I intentionally distance myself from activities that would get to me emotionally because I don't want to have to fight to conceal my true feelings throughout them. By Ashlee allowing her children to see her break down and handle her emotions she is teaching them how to process their own emotions. Yes, they may be a little young for some of the heavier stuff that life has thrown at them, but in the long run I truly believe that their emotional maturity will far surpass many of their peers. It is not a bad thing to let your children see you cry, it is not a bad thing that sometimes others (even a child) will have to take the reins for a few minutes while you compose yourself either. It is life, it is messy and you have to deal with it as it comes to you. The alternative would be for Ashlee to lock herself away to avoid hard situations. No driving, no going out, no living because she couldn't risk facing her demons in front of her children. All they would see would be an empty shell of a person that was too afraid of life to hazard living it... What kind of message would that send to the children?
I'm not a blogger, but I read yours faithfully Ashlee and I think you are inspiring. I wouldn't always handle myself the way that you have (honestly, I probably would do a much worse job) but I respect you for the way that you always put your children as your top priority. It's not going to damage them to see you cry, it's going to help them heal. Keep the good work up!

Anonymous said...

FEAR: False Evidence Appearing Real I learned that from a Bishop that counseled me after being cheated on by my former husband. We have a lot of similarities in our stories. My first husband was also handsome, charismatic, and had a great career with a good income. I found out about my husband's infidelity very shortly after my twins were born. I know you wish you had the chance to work things out or at the very least confront Emmett about what he did and that your children were deprived of the father they loved. I had that chance...but let me say, it's over-rated. I begged and pleaded for my former husband to break up with her and recommit to our eternal family, went into counseling,etc. His substance abuse worsened, flirtation and chatting/texting other women continued, and I became a shell of the woman I had been with the terrible soap opera I was living. When he cheated again (and again) over the course of three more years, I knew our marriage was over and we had a very painful and contentious divorce. He remarried two months after it was final to a woman with very different morals and it was torture watching my children be brainwashed by their father and new step mother. A year later I got a call at 1am from my hysterical 10 year old that her dad was dead...committed suicide. My heart broke for my children, also deprived of the man they looked up to and loved but part of me was so grateful they were safe with me and able to be free from his madness. I have since remarried too and have definitely had triggers of the hell I experienced but the atonement heals. I too have now married a very patient and loving man. Love and best wishes to you as you continue to heal with a wonderful husband and family that loves you! HUGS!!!

Anonymous said...

I love your Blog also. I look forward to the words you write also! You speak from the heart and I feel like I can apply them into my life!

holly said...

Methinks her kids are a lot better off for being allowed to view their mother and her triggers - and, ultimately - to see how she has worked to overcome them. What an example of faith her daughter is to her, and to all of us. Families are strengthened by working THROUGH problems together, not hiding them from one another and making each other wonder why someone seems irrational, etc. Thank you for sharing, Ashlee.

Veronica said...

Good grief, some people just don't get it. Ignore them if you can.

I haven't been in your shoes, but I have been in very difficult, painful shoes of my own. You shared some insights that I hadn't ever thought of. I have trigger meltdowns every once in a while and it is a serious, physiological impairment at times. I'm so sorry this happens to you. Again, thank you for your boldness in sharing!!

Kris said...

Thanks for writing this public blog, I am reading along and learning from it. I don't understand how some think that because your blog is public you are "asking" for rude comments. Everyone should behave nicely no matter where they are and if they don't like what they see, they should move along.

Anonymous said...

Thank You Ahslee!!!!

Shane, Liz and all the Crew said...

I was impressed that your little girl immediately thought to pray. That little girl has been taught to love and trust the Lord and THAT is impressive!!

Melissa said...

I agree wholeheartedly that it is a beautiful thing for a child to be able to turn to The Lord for strength and answers. I grew up in a very difficult family and many times my only solace and stability came through prayer. I am so thankful now that I had those experiences so young, difficult as they were, because I developed such a strong relationship with my Heavenly Father. I believe that not showing your child real problems and resolutions sets them up for failure when they are older. Life is hard, but help is available. It's ok if parents are weak and let their children see that vulnerability, especially when that parent teaches their child that strength comes from God. And that's why we go through trials in this life. To become better. To build stronger. And to have faith and rely on our Father in Heaven.

boytrapped4 said...

Beautiful as always! Triggers don't make appointments! I believe you did the best you could do with the situation that popped up!!

Nat said...

You've done a brave thing and put yourself out there. After what you've been through a few rude comments on your blog probably seem like nothing. "sticks and stones..." Your brave actions, I'm confidant, have helped thousands. I'm continually surprised at the number of women who have been through similar, albeit less tragically ending, circumstances to you. The fact that you are putting your story out there, full of raw emotions, is so comforting and helpful to so many women. Women lift one another. We like to know we are not alone. You are doing a noble thing. You are a woman with such perspective. Your husband and children are very lucky to have you.

Becca said...

Birds Always pick at the sweetest fruit....you would assume sharing experiences about your late husband would be a judgment free zone. There is no wrong or right about the way you survived the last few years. I appreciate your honesty. The fact that you don't sugar coat how hard this continues to be for you and your sweet children - gives so many people strength. It shows you can be happy but not necessarily live happily ever after. You are a wonderful mother and I'm very certain your kids only benefit from your sweetness and tender heart.

Unknown said...

I commend you for having the courage to post your life experiences despite having to deal with comments of a judgmental and insensitive nature. I started posting my story (similar to yours- only my former spouse tried to take my life to try and escape being caught in his infidelity) on a blog. I was not as strong as you- I blocked all comments because I couldn't deal with the ignorant/rude ones. In fact, I stopped posting my story all together.
You are touching so many lives. This blog has been a blessing to me.
I understand triggers. Mine seem to be lessening with the years. For that I am grateful. I am happy to hear you are also making progress with your triggers. And I will say- it is obvious to me that you are an AMAZING mother to your children. AMAZING! They are extremely blessed to have you.

trisherann said...

Doesn't make your anonymous trolling any better. If you feel the need to criticize, please at least have the backbone I sign your own name.

Just only Angela said...

Mari, I am so very sorry for your loss. I can't even imagine what your shattered heart is going through. I pray you and your children find peace and comfort during this extremely difficult time. I am so sorry.

Crystal said...

I know all this too well. I remember feeling the embarrassment of having panic attacks with each little trigger, and I still do after 7 years. At first they took over my entire body, like you explain. I felt it begin in my core and then quickly radiate out to each limb leaving me shaking, trembling beyond my capacity to control it. The emotional transition was just as hard and gave me an even more foreign perception of me compared to the world who didn't understand me. Thank you for your honesty.

Caren said...

Thank you for the post, Ashlee. I hope that you know how many lives you touch with each post. I know you have said from time to time that you simply don't have time to respond to each post on here (understandable), but I hope that you know how many people see your strength and admire your courage. I hope that you realize some day how you are affecting people hundreds and even thousands of miles away with your wisdom, your courage, and your triumphs. I know you are writing things that occurred a while ago, but all of these wins you have had are clearly adding up! :)

Kristen Ann said...

You give me hope and I appreciate your blog!

Julia said...

I have been married to my current husband for 34 years now and I still have a few triggers left from the 6 year relationship with ex husband. I thank my Heavenly Father profoundly for second chances and for sending me a real man who is kind, compassionate, patient and understanding. After those moments of panic and irrational thinking, i always feel so embarrassed, but he is always my hero. Thank you Ashlee for helping us who have been broken in the long healing process. You are putting into words what many of cannot and it's helping in countless ways. I pray that you will continue to be blessed for all you do on this blog. Thank you, Thank you!!!

Lyndsie Miles said...

Thank you.

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