I walked into my therapy session today feeling content and mildly happy. I left feeling very content and definitely happy. In between coming and going there were tears and emotions felt. The tears were from sadness. That elusive word “trigger” came up again today. It’s a tricky word for me because I constantly need the reminder that I actually have “triggers”. As a concept, it just hasn’t registered in my mind yet. I know what my extreme triggers are, and how to stay away from them, such as watching self harm videos on YouTube, but the subtle ones are difficult to catch.
We started talking about my day. I told my therapist that my bosses at work are putting pressure on me for a project I’ve been neglecting. That project encompasses about 20 boxes of client files, actual physical, non-digital paperwork, and it is my task to scan in all of the paperwork so that we can become paperless. Among my other daily duties. This is a collection of over a decade of client files. I’m allowed to start by scanning five files a day. That is certainly doable. My therapist explained to me that this is what we do, we make it a bigger project in our minds, we tell ourselves it’s overwhelming or “too much” or “I just don’t want to do it”. But the task itself is not difficult. It is the stories we tell ourselves.
We proceeded to go through the steps of what it will take to scan this mountain of files. You start with one file. You pull it from the filing cabinet. Open it up. Start removing staples and binding. Start scanning. The scanner is of great quality and scans both front and back at once. I save the PDF file of the scanned document. I repeat this process. Then I upload the digital documents to the client file, collect the paperwork, place it in the pile of documents to be shredded. We have a shredding service which comes once a week for pickup.
See? It’s not that difficult! It’s like washing the dishes. My therapist uses this example often. You start washing the dishes. Then you think, “why isn’t he doing the dishes? He’s just sitting there watching TV. Why doesn’t he do the dishes?” Then you build up resentment and all the while you could have just been washing the dishes without the burden of these stories.
Where did my therapy session progress to next? Oh, yes, we talked about the weekend. I actually did something for the Fourth of July. I got out of my house and spent time with people I value. It wasn’t difficult being outside of my house. I enjoyed my time. I did not feel stressed. I got to do everything at a relaxed pace, in my own time. There were no expectations of me from anyone. Again we went through the steps. I open my front door. I close it. I turn the key and lock it. I walk to my car. I open my door, climb in, put my foot on the brake. I start the car. When you break the action down into small steps, not one of those steps is actually difficult. Why, then, is it difficult for me to get myself out of bed on the weekends? It’s not difficult, he says. “Is it because I don’t think I deserve to be out enjoying my weekend, or that I think I am not worthy?” I ask. “No, I don’t think it’s that,” my therapist replies. “I think it is because you don’t give yourself permission,” he continues. “You haven’t had enough practice yet.”
So I need to continue practising being kind and gentle to myself. And slowly allowing myself to do things on the weekend, getting out of my apartment, going for that walk by myself. I have thus far relied on external motivators, invitations out from other people, and the motivation has not come from within. This needs to change. It won’t change overnight.
“In your marriage you weren’t permitted to do the things you wanted to do.” You weren’t allowed to be yourself. My trigger point. My lower lip starts to quiver and I look away to the side. My brow furrows. I start taking shorter breaths. Before I know it my face is turning a shade of red, and the first tear trickles down my cheek. Followed by another. And then it’s difficult to hold a straight face any longer and my lips turn downward. I start to sob and little noises escape from my vocal chords. I am crying. My therapist speaks soothing words to me. He allows silence to let me cry. He always asks when this happens, “do you know what is happening?” It takes me a while to process that he asked me a question, and then more time to be able to find words to attach to this process. “You talked about my past,” I whisper. “Yes, and I triggered you when I spoke about it.” He states gently. “You feel sad?” “Yes.” I sob. “It was sad, what happened to you,” he emphasizes, “but it is no longer happening to you. These are just the memories.” He rephrases that same last remark. These are just the memories and it is no longer happening. I feel more reassured, and I allow myself to cry some more while he waits for me to do what I need to do. I wipe my tears with the back of my hands. My cheeks are wet and my lips taste salty. I take a tissue from the Kleenex box and hold it in my hand. I stare at it for a while. Then I wipe my lips, and then my cheek, and one eye, and then the other. I crumple up the used tissue and hold my fist closed over the ball of tissue. I am ready to move on.
I am no longer experiencing trauma. It has been a long time since I experienced those things, the oppression, the suppression of who I really was. At times the memories come back, usually prompted by a trigger. “I have a red scratch on my arm. I ran a knife on my skin. I wanted to see how sharp it was, the knives my roommate got. It didn’t hurt.” I tell him. He doesn’t say comment on this revelation because he knows it’s not necessary for him to say anything. I know I must not do it again, he knows I keep my promises to not harm myself, and I know it wasn’t a healthy thing to do. It was a curiosity, and I experienced it, and it’s over. It’s important to remember that the memories are memories, and that nothing bad is happening to me right now, in this moment or the last. I am safe and okay and I am allowed to be happy. I will practise giving myself permission.