Trigger

The Tightrope Walker. Portrait in The Haunted Mansion.

The Tightrope Walker. Portrait in The Haunted Mansion.

Being triggered doesn’t happen to me often anymore. When it does, I often feel like this girl, standing on a frayed tightrope over an alligator that I’d forgotten was there.

A Few Notes:

  1. This post has a trigger warning. I don’t usually use them, but I felt that I should as what I’m writing about is a trigger – my trigger – which got pulled not long ago. I’m going to touch on sexual, psychological and emotional abuse, shame and the lasting damage they cause, so if you feel like it would be better to skip this one, please do and consider yourself hugged.
  2. I neither advocate for trigger warnings nor do I oppose them. It’s a complicated issue that deserves objective consideration. This essay  is not that.
  3. It’s important that I explicitly state that consensual D/s play is not abuse. Unfortunately, my trigger overlaps this territory, which means that I have to take certain things into consideration when I play with power dynamics.
  4. Everything in this post is specific to my experience. Nothing I say is intended as prescriptive. I’m not even sure there’s any general wisdom to be had. I’m just feeling my way through.

On to the post….

A few months ago I had a panic attack. I haven’t had one in nearly eight years. It’s been so long that I didn’t quite realize what was happening until an hour later when I still wanted to throw up. When I realized I’d been triggered, the shame was immediate and intense. There is always shame, but even more so in this case.

There are a few reasons for that. The first has to do with ego—this damage was done so long ago that I should be over it by now…right? Well, while I know, intellectually, that that expectation isn’t fair, my feelings feel differently. Shame and egos aren’t interested in fair.

The second reason is a little more basic—the act of falling apart feels shameful because I never want to be an emotional burden again, and panic attacks level me to such a degree that I fear I’ll become one. And then, there’s the serious, primal reason for the shame—the fact that I have a trigger to begin with. But I’ll get to that.

Shame is not something I enjoy feeling, but I’ve accepted it because I know that, for me, it’s part of the triggering mechanism. Complicating this episode, however, was something I’ve never felt before—a deep, panicked resistance.

I didn’t want to be negatively affected by what I’d read. I don’t mean this in a wow-wish-that-movie-hadn’t-made-me-cry kind of way. What I mean is that I didn’t want this piece, very specifically, to affect me negatively. I didn’t want my history to shadow something that would usually turn me on, particularly given my relationship to, and feelings for, the author.

But that’s the thing with triggers. They are intensely specific. The piece that triggered me could have had warnings all over it, but it wouldn’t have made a difference. I’d have read it anyway because, regardless of the warning, I wouldn’t have seen it coming. Change any number of external factors and I’d probably have been fine. In fact, six months ago, I may not have triggered at all. Six months ago, I hadn’t received an email that I never wanted to get. I was getting more sleep. I hadn’t just finished a difficult piece…. There was just no way to prepare for the very specific, collective effect that all of those factors had on me right then. There’s never any way to prepare. At least, not for me. And it’s for that reason that I stand by the piece that triggered me, because it’s really good and in no way at fault for affecting me in that way. It’s just one of those things….

This is going to seem like a random transition, but bear with me.

I’ve written before about the fact that, while I’m not a Domme, I am sexually dominant, and that my dominance formed, (in part, at least), in response to several traumatic things in my history. That’s where triggers (warning!) come in.

When I was very young, I was sexually abused. As a result, I learned that my will could be supplanted. I learned that I couldn’t rely on my parents and that love doesn’t keep you safe. I learned that I had to protect myself. And I also learned that I couldn’t. In other words, at four years old, I internalized that I was powerless.

This led to all sorts of borderline abusive situations as I grew up. Eventually, I graduated to a genuinely abusive relationship. My ex was charming and intelligent. He made me feel strong. He loved my anger and my hunger and my insatiable sexuality. He wanted me to own the world. And he wanted to own me. He taught me about power and how to use it, and then he flipped the tables and showed me how powerless I was.

That’s my trigger. Powerlessness. Helplessness. That’s where the shame comes from—the uneasy knowledge of what I allowed to happen after a lifetime of trying (and failing) to protect myself. And no, I’m not blaming the victim (although the word doesn’t sit easily with me). What I am doing is acknowledging that I made choices. I chose to stay for longer than I should have, and that decision installed a trigger that was pulled because I read something beautiful, written by someone brilliant, that was too much like something my ex had done to me.

My trigger unmoors me from the strong foundation I’ve built. It reminds me that I can be leveled by things that are out of my control. It makes me feel like I can’t protect myself. It makes me feel like I have to, and it’s that last part that’s especially hard. It’s my vigilance that saddens me most. I feel most like the self I might have been in those rare moments when the vigilance drops…when I am soft and relaxed. Those are the sweetest moments. And to that end, my trigger is also a gift.

What made this episode different, and especially disturbing, is that it didn’t stop. I remained unsettled for weeks, so much so that I finally went to a therapist for what has always been diagnosed as depression. This time, I came away with an additional diagnosis. PTSD. And now, thanks to the awful discomfort of being triggered, I’m doing the work that I wish I’d done years ago.

The only way I know to recover is to get stronger. That used to mean making myself invulnerable. Now, it means the opposite. It means bending. I need to learn to accept the abuses and my vulnerability, and I need to learn to trust my strength. I can’t tell you how sweet it would be to feel that acceptance and trust. To drop the resistance and shame. Vulnerability can be such a beautiful thing. One day, I would like to experience it as such.

19 comments

  1. I am so sorry, Malin, that you had to experience abuse, and at such a young age. I cannot offer any words of wisdom, or advice, because I have not been in that position myself. All I can say is that I hope your recent treatment helps you to process and deal with the feelings that were internalised when you were young and never dealt with at the time. My very best wishes for the future.

    1. Thank you, Rachel. That’s incredibly kind of you. I held this post for quite some time so I can honestly say that things are going very well. Even when they weren’t, it’s always been fuel for my work, which isn’t the worst thing 😉
      xx

  2. I think you know that reading this would make me want to hug you and sing your praises. I hate that you have this to deal with but I have absolute confidence that you will not only get through this, but come out stronger with the beautiful resilience of flexibility.
    In my case, I have come to understand that I am not a problem to be fixed, but I am a powerfully complex creature that needs to be understood – by me primarily. By understanding myself more, I can make those small changes that have a huge impact on my resilience.
    You know that I think you are awesome and I wish you every success and energy as you explore your journey out of the mist of being an abuse survivor and towards the vistas ahead. Xxxxxxxxxxx

    1. “In my case, I have come to understand that I am not a problem to be fixed, but I am a powerfully complex creature that needs to be understood – by me primarily. By understanding myself more, I can make those small changes that have a huge impact on my resilience.”

      Yes, yes, yes to all of this. Honey, this perfect. I’m in very much the same sort of place. Respecting and working with those complexities, rather than persistently seeing myself as the problem (particularly after years of doing so) is proving to be one of the keys to addressing all of this compassionately. Thank you so much, for this comment and your unflagging support. You are a remarkable woman and I’m very grateful to have you in my life Xxxxxxxxxxx

  3. Malin, you are beautiful and amazing! I am sending you *so* much love right now. I know this can’t have been easy to write — it reads so honestly and powerfully. A really deep, truthful, courageous piece, and one that moved me greatly.

    To write like this about your triggers, your past traumas, your truths, your emotions, with such honesty and courage, is an act of great love for the world. I hope that you pamper yourself today, dear Malin, as you so deserve. Thank you so, so much for having such a big heart and for sharing it with the world, with *us*. You shine so brightly.

    Much love! Lana xoxoxoxoxox

    1. Oh, Lana…thank you so much for that. You’ve written on your own personal history with such grace and courage, I can honestly say that you very much inspired me as I was writing this post. It’s been so tempting not to address any of this publicly, to stay quiet and allow myself to feel embarrassed. But there’s nothing to be embarrassed by, and shame is not something that I want to nurture in myself. You’ve brought this home to me on numerous occasions in your own beautiful writings, and for that, I’m incredibly grateful, my wonderful friend.
      Much love right back. xoxoxoxoxox

  4. Oh, Malin. I hate to read of people having undergone abuse. I hate that it’s the secret messy burden it is that gets in between people and their own lives in such a pernicious joy. I hate that humans have this need, to corrupt and destroy small children instead of the urge to protect.

    I’m so sorry you’ve been through all this.

    I’m really glad you went to a therapist for help – PTSD is no small thing to deal with. I’ve a friend on year 3 of his PTSD journey that also stems from childhood abuse.

    You deal with it when the time is right, though, I suppose?

    Lots of experiments are going on with psylocibin, at the moment, which re-organise the bits of the brain PTSD affects – early stages because studies are being blocked, of course, but … well… a thing of interest!

    Also floating! Can I send you the article I read on it and PTSD last night?

    1. Thank you, Vida. I would *love* to read the article. And yes – I feel very much the same way about people who hurt and abuse, especially children and people who are especially vulnerable. The amount of damage that carries forward, compounding itself over years, is extraordinary. Thankfully, you’re right – lots of research is being done, and more is known now about PTSD than even ten years ago. I just wish there weren’t so many people in the position of benefiting from it. xx

    1. Thank you so much, for the hugs and the comment. I wish there weren’t so many people with abuse(s) in their pasts, especially as the experience of abuse tends to lead to more abuse. Talk about a vicious circle… I’m so happy you got out of that marriage and that you and Jolynn found each other. It can be such a lot to get past. Makes me all the more grateful for the healthy relationships I have now.
      xx

  5. Beautiful, wonderful, strong Malin…we have shared many conversations that circulate around this topic, and what you have done here is write about something so painful and difficult—but in such an eloquent, powerful, and thoughtful way. I am so sorry you have gone through this, and also that triggers happen (they fucking suck, little bastards!)—but you remain an astounding beauty for both your strength AND your vulnerability. I believe that when they happen, one has the ability to fuel the other, and vice versa—and together, they make us something even more graceful, powerful, and real. I LOVE YOU, woman. XOXO

  6. Malin, you are so strong and so beautiful. While it was difficult to read at times, (and surely difficult to write) I’m so glad you shared this with us. Every time you write something personal like this, you teach me how to know myself better. The way you think and analyze and dig to the heart of things is so important and so huge. Thank you for always being so thoughtful and so honest.

  7. Thank you for writing this, Malin. I echo much of what everyone else has already commented. I admire your intelligence and self-care, your bravery and eloquence. I’ve learned from your words here. Again, thank you.

    This line stood out to me…”I feel most like the self I might have been in those rare moments when the vigilance drops…when I am soft and relaxed.”…. It’s such a sad world where we cannot take feeling safe for granted. And yet, I don’t think we can. Nonetheless, it sounds like you’re moving towards and through stages of recovery. I wish you all the best.

  8. I don’t get triggered often, but it is soul crushing when it happens. My husband, who understands the why, doesn’t understand why – after all these years – I would be triggered and therefore is slightly impatient with me when it happens. Which, again, is thankfully rare.

    I’m sorry the words tripped into your world and created havoc once there. I understand. I’m also glad that you’re doing the work to help heal some.

    1. Thank you for this comment. It’s true – still being triggerable after many years is one of the hardest parts. It’s so easy to feel like (or for others to feel like) you should be over it after X amount of time. In a way, it would be lovely if that were possible. It just doesn’t seem to be the way this sort of thing works, and that is a very unfortunate thing, but also just the nature of trauma it seems.

  9. “It’s my vigilance that saddens me most.” I know that all too well. Also not wanting to be a burden.

    The act of writing this and sharing it is strength personified. Kicking sand over your most uncomfortable feelings is the easy path and you chose to share it. This post only cemented my feeling that one day you’re going to write a non-fiction book that will be life-changing.

    1. I’m really late in replying to this comment, mostly because what you said meant a great deal to be and I didn’t know how to respond. I kicked sand over uncomfortable things for a great many years. It’s a slippery, tempting slope sometimes, but writing about these things honestly feels far better than letting myself slide back to where I was.

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