After my former life imploded with a tsunami divorce, there were some situations that I knew would be difficult to face. In order to avoid being triggered, I drove the long way to avoid seeing my former neighborhood with the entrance sign that my husband fabricated the letters for. I was cautious not to go to “our” restaurant alone or when I was feeling low. Looking ahead, I knew that I would struggle with any hints of abandonment. And I studiously avoided any media that dealt with the subject of affairs or fraud.
But then there were the unexpected triggers. Those seemingly innocent events or circumstances that sucker-punched me to my knees, my head swirling with flashbacks instead of cartoon birds. In hindsight, these seem innocuous. Silly, even. Yet they were anything but at the time they occurred.
In chronological order, these were the ten unexpected episodes that left me feeling triggered:
A Tap on the Shoulder
It was just an innocent and perfectly acceptable tap. A student needed my attention while the class was testing. Not wanting to make any noise and coming up from behind me, she simply tapped me on my shoulder. Three months earlier, it would have been a non-event. But that day?
Oh, it was an event.
You see, my ex and I had this little game where we would tap the other on the shoulder at random times as a way to request a kiss. So when that student tapped my shoulder, I felt my stomach take an express elevator down as I again realized the enormity of what I had lost.
The Words, “Dear Reader”
My ex used to write creative fiction when he was in high school and he often shared these stories with me. He had this habit of occasionally addressing the reader directly which always got under my skin (although I never said anything).
Years later, after he abandoned me, was arrested and released on bail, he attempted suicide after emailing my mom and his other wife a suicide note. The tone reminded me of those youthful stories with its undercurrent of “dear reader,” as though he was doing us a favor.
I made it several months before I encountered those words in a book written by some completely innocent author. The text was flung across the room before it found its way back to the library.
A Traffic Jam
Years ago, I read a scientific article about how traffic jams are actually related to fluid dynamics and how understanding the latter has led to unique strategies in major cities. Excited about this information, I shared the study with my husband. He laughed at me and soon “fluid dynamics” became a joke whenever we were stranded in Atlanta traffic.
Since I stayed close to home after the tsunami divorce, months passed before I was impacted by traffic. As my car came to a stop behind miles of red brake lights, I automatically said the words, “damned fluid dynamics” as tears poured down my face. I would never again have someone to share that joke with.
Getting Picked Up at the Airport
I knew to steal myself for the hazardous materials sign at the entrance to security since that was the last place I ever saw my husband while he was still my husband. But I didn’t expect to have a panic attack on the other end of the trip.
My now-husband, then-boyfriend promised to pick me up after a visit back to Texas. As I stood at the curb waiting for him to arrive, I realized that I half expected him to not show, which is what I believe my ex husband had originally planned before concern for the dogs changed his approach.
When my boyfriend’s car pulled up as promised, I shook with both relief and release of stored trauma.
Small Lies of No Consequence
I teach middle school. And middle schooler lie. Often. About stupid things.
In the past, I could laugh off these stupid lies even as I made it clear that I wasn’t going to fall for it. After all, I knew that these fibs weren’t personal. They were just the excuses offered up by teenagers with partially-formed brains and a desire to avoid consequences.
But something changed after I learned that I had been living a lie crafted by my ex. An allergy of sorts. Any exposure to falsehoods and I would have a severe reaction. For the first time in my entire career, I would have to excuse myself so that I could calm down before responding to a kid.
The Air Blower at the Entrance to Home Depot
I walked through the entrance of Home Depot, the rush of air drowning out all of my senses. When I came to on the other side of the blast, I found myself transported to the past.
Money Moved From One Account to Another
This was a silly one. My now-husband and I had a gift account from our wedding and we had agreed to move the money to our joint savings account. But apparently my emotions didn’t remember this agreement.
I’m proud of how I handled this one.
A Basement Theater
I’m not so proud of how I handled this one. My ex husband built himself an office in the basement. In reality, it was command central for his other life. Needless to say, I developed a bit of an aversion to basements after this.
So when my now-husband wanted to build a theater downstairs, I responded in a pretty poor manner, letting fear do the talking for me.
Ugh. I’d like to forget that particular outburst.
This one was a surprise. After all, they’re just flowers. But when I saw them – and appreciated them – I suddenly realized how much I had allowed my ex to be my voice.
Winning Teacher of the Year
I received the honor of Teacher of the Year towards the end of my first marriage. My husband was gone at the time (allegedly on a work assignment) yet he had flowers delivered to my classroom before he even knew that I won. Months later, he attended the awards ceremony with me. The professional photos from that night were the last we had taken of us as a couple.
Exactly ten years later, I won again. My husband was out of town.
I had to remind myself that I married a very different man this time. Which soon became evident. My ex sent expensive flowers to my work where they would be sure to be admired by others. My now-husband made an immediate Facebook post talking about how proud he was of his wife. The flowers came, but to the house. They weren’t meant for public adoration.
The triggers came fast and furious in the beginning. Over time, they lessened in both intensity and frequency. It’s been over a year-and-a-half since I was last triggered. I’d like to say that I’m done with them, but I also know that life likes to keep us on our toes. Luckily, I trust now that the feelings will fade and the event will lose its power to impact me.
The best things about triggers is that once they are defused, they are harmless.