I had a very interesting revelation about PTSD triggers yesterday. I know what the common triggers are for me. Some make absolutely no sense. I have wondered why strong smells are triggers. Sometimes the worst triggers. I completely get why men’s cologne is a bad one. I get why it upsets me if my husband comes home from work smelling like the tons of men’s cologne he has been around that have absorbed into his clothes. That’s pretty common sense right? I don’t want my husband who is my “safe” person to be a triggering person of men’s cologne. Thankfully he knows the drill and tosses his clothes directly in the wash and showers so I get MY husband and not the smells of other triggering men. Pretty cut and dry solution.
Last week something burned up in the house. We think it was my daughter’s TV. The entire house smelled of burned. I couldn’t sleep. I stayed awake all night. I felt trapped with this smell. I couldn’t escape it. I understood why this would be triggering. I don’t like to feel trapped with something I cannot get away from that I don’t like.
So what I am trying to say here is that I have some pretty understandable triggers to the PTSD that comes from a childhood of abuse.
BUT, some of the triggers I have not been able to understand until now. And I don’t completely understand it, I just recognize it and am aware of it. Those two things are the starting point of me understating myself better: recognize and awareness.
This happened after I had severe cramping in my legs and my husband rubbed my legs with lotion. After he rubbed the cramping out my legs were covered in tons of lotion and so I did not get it in the bed I put my PJ’s back on and got into bed. My legs then felt sticky. I got hot and started to sweat and they felt slimy. THEN….SAME triggering PTSD feeling as the smell feeling. Same reaction. 1. GET IT OFF 2. MAKE SURE IT GETS ON NOTHING ELSE 3. CLEAN IT OFF 4. SCRUB. This happens with all smells followed by my washing the clothing that it could be on or just all out throwing the clothes away (which is what I did to my PJS).
The common feeling was not the smell after all. The lotion had no smell. It was this FEELING that came over me. It comes over me with men’s cologne and other strong smells. I have to get away from it. I cannot be trapped by it. But the lotion. It had no smell. Yet the same reaction. I got in the shower and scrubbed my skin unhealthily raw. The towel i used to dry off with I threw away. I was SURE it still may be on me so the next morning the moment I opened my eyes I washed the sheets.
I started thinking about the feeling I get with smells OTHER than cologne that are triggering smells. And the predominant thought is GET IT OFF, GET IT AWAY, KEEP IT OFF OF ME, and then I think WHAT IF IT IS ON ME, HOW WILL I GET IT OFF ME, WHAT IF IT GETS ON OTHER THINGS AND I AM STUCK WITH IT. These same thoughts.
So it is not just cologne. It is not just strong smells. It is not just the idea of a man coming in my house that has cologne on or a strong smell. It is the FEELING it gives me that triggers the PTSD.
Here is the question though…what do I want off of me? What do I want to get away from? Is it as specific person, or event of abuse? I don’t know.
Last night I dreamed that I went back to the lake I grew up at where all of the abuse happened. I walked into the water of snakes like every other time I dream of this place. Then the boat with child molester pulled up to get me like he always did. But this time a wolf came out of the water and a walrus. I crouched down and put my hands over my ears and closed my eyes. I felt unsafe. I knew all the bad was coming. I knew I was not safe and would not be protected. I would be vulnerable and trapped….hmm so much like PTSD triggers. But the wolf and the walrus came both with sharp fangs and tusks and snarling and ferocious and the walked next to me and leaned next to me so hard that I was tucked away protected as they foamed at the mouth protecting me.
I woke up this morning and realized how I just NEED to feel safe and PTSD does NOT feel safe at all. Nothing about it.
I then went to an appointment and on the way we stopped to get a prescription and I see a man. This man in the parking lot was an integral part of the cycle of abuse that happened to me. I stared him down. Looked him in the eyes as he looked at me. We parked and my husband took my prescription in and I almost threw up.
Because PTSD is AWFUL and a new trigger is around every corner all because some men chose to sexually abuse me. And I find that incredibly sad but I also find myself incredibly resilient. I focused on the shell that I had in my pocked that I took with me to my appointment. One of my coping skills to vulnerability is to put something in my hand and memorize it. I held that shell instead of thinking of the man in the parking lot and refocused on it.
I’m learning still at 46 years old.
I will not always understand they why, because so much happened to me growing up that took so much of me. But I can be aware and recognize and try, just keep trying to, when I have the ability, remember the wolf standing next to me and realize…
I am safe now.