Friday, August 3, 2018

Triggers, Trauma and Healing

Morgan woke me up at 3 am crying.

She has done this the past two nights. There was no nightmare, she was not in pain or sick (thank goodness – I dread when that one gets a stomach virus). She was scared to the flush the toilet in their bathroom.

My family can all attest to the fact that at 3 am I am not the nicest person.  I have difficulty maintaining a patient tone in my voice and my nurturing skills are still fast asleep. My children know to yell, “daddy”, in the middle of the night, but Matt has been out of town.  I am taking the time to tell you this because at 3 am when Morgan was crying over flushing the toilet I did not lunge into, “Just FLUSH the toilet! It’s 3 AM!!!”.  I totally got why this simple act was causing her so much stress.

Earlier this week Morgan’s older sister, Bekah, simply flushed the upstairs toilet and quickly ran down the stairs trying to get her words out in the middle of her panic. “It’s overflowing!” Matt and I snapped right into “they’ve overflown the toilet mode” because due to our plumbing and having young kids this is a normal occurrence – unfortunately.  I quickly turned the water supply valve behind the toilet, but the water didn’t stop. I thought, “lefty loosey, righty tighty, yep I am doing it right”, but water continued to gush out of the toilet bowl onto the floor. 

As I looked at Matt with panic in my eyes to say, “it won’t turn off” I heard, “There is water coming out of the ceiling!” from the floor below.

And this, my friends, is the point where I caused trauma to my children.

I left Matt in the bathroom as I rush downstairs to see water gushing out of our air conditioning vent, across the top of our entertainment center and running perfectly into the back of our probably paid too much money for oversized flat screen television.

Commence the panic.

I ripped the plugs for everything in our system out of the wall. Then proceeded to yank the TV off the entertainment center while unplugging the cable box and speaker cords. Matt was headed out to turn off the water at the street, Bekah was crying, and Morgan just stood there stunned. I just kept crying “no, no, no!” in complete disbelief that the water was going nowhere else but into that very spot.

We did get the water to stop, we did calm the girls and reassured Bekah that this was not her fault.  We will have to eventually be adults and replace the subfloor in the upstairs hall bathroom.  I did rearrange my living room, but I have not dared plug that TV back in yet. I am waiting for it to completely dry and for Matt to be home.

Last night at 3 AM I did not lose patience with my child. I flushed the toilet for her, patted her on the head and told her that everything was fine. I understood her trauma and her trigger.

I understood the tears because a couple of months ago I was reminded just how strong triggers could be.

In a small town about an hour away from my home, I was pulled over after stopping at a traffic light.  When I saw the patrol car veer into the lane behind me I knew I had not broken any traffic laws, but still, his lights came on and I pulled to the shoulder of the road. As he pulled in behind me another squad car pulled right in front of my minivan blocking my ability to leave.  I looked in my rear-view mirror to see an additional local police officer and a state trooper. If you are counting, that is four patrol cars.

I had not been speeding, I was not intoxicated, I had not been texting and driving – I had done zero that was considered illegal, so why was all this necessary? They actually did exactly what I wanted them to do, they were pulling over a vehicle with a stolen license plate – at least that is what they thought.

“Ma’am, do you know that your license plate was reported stolen?”

My mind traveled back a few months when a very inconvenienced acting sheriff’s deputy stood in my driveway collecting information to file a report that the Depart of Motor Vehicles asks for in order to replace my stolen license plate. He quizzed me about the possibility of me forgetting that I removed it or the possibility of one of my family members removing the plate without telling me.  He never mentioned or warned that I should get this matter resolved quickly or I would wind up blocked in on the side of the road in a small Texas town by four officers.

The small-town officer who initiated the traffic stop was so nice and he fully understood. He even apologized for making such a scene as soon as we began our conversation. I had no reason to think I was in trouble and after the first three minutes of our interaction I had no reason to be sitting in a tidal wave of fear. That kind officer even stopped traffic so I could safely get back onto the two-lane road that ran down the center of town.

I hear Brené Brown’s voice reminding me that “should equals shame”, but all I can say is I should have been able to drive away saying, “dang, that was crazy” and go one with my drive.

Instead, I crumbled. My hands shook as I whipped the tears from my eyes. Matt thought I had been in a wreck as I called him (using my handsfree blue tooth) crying.

Trigger: something that sets off a memory tape or flashback transporting the person back to the event of his or her original trauma.

Triggers have been the most frustrating part of my healing, they make me feel crazy (a statement my therapist is so tired of hearing me call myself). But when sheriff deputies show up to end a domestic squabble that has taken place between my neighbors (unfortunately an occurrence that has happened multiple times this year) and I panic due to the irrational thoughts filling my mind that I will be arrest - it’s difficult to call those thoughts anything but a bit crazy.

And when I am repeatedly triggered by the same visual item (ie a police car with lights going) I know my healing isn’t done. I know that I need to continue my work with EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) to help reconnect my thought pattern correctly. I will probably share more about this treatment in the near future.

Now, I am not saying that Morgan will need a full course of EMDR treatment to move past the trauma of the bathroom flooding, I am saying I understand her irrational fear of flushing the toilet. I get it – therefore, for now, I will stand by her when she flushes or even flush for her on occasion. I get the fear. Just as I need to remember to be patient with myself when triggers appear, I will remember to be patient with her. 

Click here to read more about the exact trauma related to this post or read my full journey by clicking here


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