Triggers – The Struggle is Real

Let’s talk about triggers.  Triggers are real, and they are everywhere, and they slap you in the face when you least expect it. There have even been moments I faced a trigger, and it caught me by complete surprise.

Even living with anxiety and PTSD, I never really experienced too many triggers until after Eric passed.   

Triggers are defined as flashbacks that take us back to a specific place, usually to when the original trauma took place.  There is no safe place away from triggers unless I stay home and never go out in public again.  Experiencing a trigger can be paralyzing and emotionally draining.

As hours, days, weeks, and the months past I had to learn tricks to help me go to the movies shop for groceries, listen to the radio, or listen to a truck with loud mufflers go down the road.  Everything was a reminder This is the last month of my first year of firsts. During the fist year a few triggers can be identified; the first birthday, wedding anniversary and holidays. It’s the unknown triggers that knock the breathe out of you.

When Eric and I first reconnected, we enjoyed going to the movies.  The one vice Eric had I disliked and always tried to get him to quit.  He loved to dip Copenhagen.  When we would get our snacks at the movie, the theater provided “spit cups” they were the small dixie cups. There was one date he asked me to grab a cup for him, and I looked at him and said, “no, I would be supporting your habit.” We chuckled, and he did get his cup.  Years later, I gave in and always grabbed a spit cup for him.  Recently I went to the movies and standing in line getting ready to pay for my popcorn I looked down and there they were.  Neatly stacked, ready to be picked up.  This time, I would pass it up like this little cup had never been a part of my life.  I cried through most of the movie that afternoon.

I knew the first year without Eric would be a difficult time for my children and me, especially around the holidays.  Eric loved the holidays, especially the part where he got to eat!  I knew the holidays were going to be full of triggers.  My anxiety increased even before the holidays hit.  I believe I started to look at the calendar daily in October and counting down the days till Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s.

Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

The other triggers I found that affected me were hearing the heart monitors on TV shows, participating in a CPR class, the song on Disney’s Frozen Two “The Next Right Thing,” and the movie Onward brought me to tears.  Don’t get me wrong; both films were and are great, but these are examples of triggers coming out of nowhere.  I’m sure I will come face-to-face with more triggers on this journey as there are days this journey has no end. 

My first public trigger not only took my breath away; it made my heart stop (at least that is what it felt like).  I felt a sharp “thud” in my chest, and I just stood there staring at the chocolate covered cherries.  Eric loved chocolate-covered cherries.  I would always get a box for him once the stores started selling them.  The smile on his face would go ear to ear.  He would recline in his chair with the box of chocolate-covered cherries watching whatever conspiracy show he could find.  From that day on, I would do whatever I could do to avoid walking past the chocolate covered cherries.

One of our many last minutes outings to the movies 2018

Triggers are very personal.  Not every widow or widower has the same triggers.  Knowing that a trigger may present itself can reduce the effect it has.  American Psychological Association state that triggers can be more stressful if they are revealed as a surprise, like seeing the chocolate covered cherries being sold be Thanksgiving.  It is important to remember that after the loss of a loved one, triggers are going to happen, so be prepared, recognize what the triggers are, and breathe, when a trigger is experienced journal about it.  Record what it was, how it made you feel, and the memory it brought back. Writing about it gets it out and helps with healing and allow for the next right step to be taken.

In the article “Dealing with Grief Triggers after a Loss,” the author, Louis E. LaGrand, Ph.D., created a list of what to know when you are faced with triggers:

  1.  Remember, the experience is normal.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with you. 
  2. To help reduce the impact of the sudden onset of grief, tell yourself that what you are experiencing is normal.  IT’S NORMAL.
  3. Triggers that lead to grief episodes also can have physical and emotional components such as headache, upset stomach, sleeplessness, fatigue, body aches, short temper, or endless crying.
  4. Let the experience happen and the pain you feel in your chest to move out of you.  My therapist shared this statement with me, and I share it with other every chance I get, ” You have to walk and be in the yuck to get through it.  Only you can do this, and no one can do it for you.” 

On the 16th of every month, I recognize how many months Eric has been gone, and in May, I will face my biggest trigger – the first anniversary of his death.  On May 16th at 3:24 p.m., it will have been one year since I heard his voice, his laugh, seen his big smile, or held his hand.  On this date, I am already feeling the anxiety of this anniversary.  The best way for me to face it head-on is to have a plan.  I did this for the holidays, and it helped tremendously.  Having a plan does not mean to hold a party or massive celebration (you could if you wanted), I am referring to be mindful of the day and know that emotions are going to be raw. 

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