One of the many “joys” of having PTSD is that we can get triggered by events and situations which have nothing to do with our initial traumas. Depending on levels of stress one can be more susceptible to activation of their PTSD symptoms and behaviors. Such has been my life of late. O’ Joy, O’ Bliss! Lucky Me!
Let’s say, for example, someone once broke their leg playing football. That fracture, even if it occurred years ago, can be re-broken by other stresses that have nothing to do with football. The leg remains vulnerable even if our hero no longer plays football.
If we were in the military, raped, assaulted, or otherwise traumatized at some point in the past, we will have obvious potential triggers from new situations that are reminiscent of the original trauma.
But, since PTSD is so “giving,” we are now vulnerable to other stress situations that are not directly related to the original traumatic experiences.
In these situations PTSD symptoms and behaviors can manifest and proceed to ruin our day, week, or even month. This can be really frustrating and confusing both to ourselves and others.
We, and others, may ask how or why should an unrelated event trigger our PTSD.
Bottom Line: It Happens.
We need to understand and respect that PTSD can act this way upon us.
We do not choose to let it to happen. It is not what we want to have happen.
Our loved ones need to understand that it is not a choice on our part to be triggered into symptoms by a surprise set of stresses.
This can catch everyone off-guard if the stresses had not previously triggered our PTSD.
The necessary solution is an extra dose of compassion. We need to be compassionate to ourselves as we discover a new trigger or stressor.
Our loved ones need to find a similar compassion both for us as we suffer and deal with the aggravation this vulnerability generates within us … and compassion for themselves. After all, it’s not easy loving someone who has PTSD.
It’s Not Hopeless.
It’s never hopeless (don’t forget that).
Discovering an unrelated PTSD trigger is always a difficult surprise … kind of like finding a fried shrimp in your snow cone (How’s that for an image?).
The new unrelated trigger is not necessarily a permanent addition to your personal PTSD Trigger Collection. Some triggers may only be seasonal, temporary, and indicate we are more stressed – and thus, more vulnerable – than usual.
In that sense these unexpected triggers serve as a sort of barometer and even provide us a service by warning us to be a bit more cautious than usual. In these cases, we may discover that as other stresses decrease we then become less sensitive to these unrelated triggers.
In other cases we may discover we have a new (possibly) permanent trigger that activates our PTSD, even though it has no direct relation to our initial set of traumas.
In either case, whether the unrelated trigger is temporary or permanent, we now are a bit smarter about PTSD.
We know we need to be more careful around that trigger. We need to keep it cataloged in our list of potential or ongoing triggers. If we are fortunate enough to have people who care about us, it helps to let them know as well.
It’s never hopeless. When we get smarter, we optimize our chances to heal and thrive. As we become more self-aware about out PTSD and our triggers, we increase our opportunities for healing and meaningful relationships.
Booze or Hot Dogs?
Regular readers of PTSD Spirituality know that my mother recently passed away and that I have ended my medically prescribed chronic narcotic therapy. My health situation did not allow me to attend her funeral … that still eats at me and makes me more susceptible to PTSD.
Intellectually, I know I can’t travel. In my gut, I ask what kind of son does not go to his mother’s funeral. It’s corrosive and makes me more susceptible to PTSD triggers.
On the brighter side of things: As of yesterday, I have been totally off OxyContin for ten, Count ‘em! TEN Weeks! Hooray for Our Side!
In spite of my real and absolute joy at being off of that medication and its side effects, I am still going through the adventures of opiate withdrawal. The withdrawal pains are nowhere near as bad as the first several weeks, but they keep reminding me I am not totally past the withdrawal period. Plus, my chronic physical pain has been higher as it is no longer masked by the opiates. It can get intense.
Grief (even when you know what to expect from grief), medication issues (either going on or off a medication), and physical pain can all heighten our sensitivity to both our known and unknown PTSD triggers. Yeah, that sucks, but it’s the way it is.
The saving, healing, power comes from knowing this is the case.
When we know and understand more about PTSD and our personal version of it, then we are less likely to succumb to it.
My Latest New PTSD Trigger
I discovered one additional stress event that has made me more vulnerable to my PTSD: The Presidential Election.
Every presidential election is billed as the one that really counts, the one we need to vote a certain way or democracy, mom, apple pie, Studebakers, and life as we know it will end.
This time, that may actually be true.
And that really stresses me.
The casual disregard for the sexual safety and dignity of women as expressed by one of the candidates has really eaten at me. The indifference of many of his supporters, including elected officials (!) and so-called Christian leaders(!!), to the ramifications of sexual assault and general boorishness towards girls and women frightens me.
The daily poo-pooing of women’s sexual safety and dignity by people who used to be respectable, combined with my ongoing grief, opiate withdrawal pain, and heightened physical pain have made me more susceptible to my PTSD. It sucks, but it’s true.
So Where Do the Booze and Hot Dogs Come In?
I was in a grocery store a few days ago. I walked past a liquor display going from one section of the store to another and golly! Golly!! GOLLY!!! was I ever tempted to buy some booze, go home, and get drunk.
I used to drink way too much as part of my PTSD.
Drinking made my PTSD worse, even as I tried to drown memories, symptoms, and problems with booze. I discovered memories, symptoms, and problems can swim … in fact, they dared me to try and drink enough to drown them.
And, like a scared, confused, fool, I tried … and failed.
I don’t drink anymore. Hooray for Our Side!
But, the other day in the grocery store,
I almost bought and drank a bottle of booze to deal with my PTSD and my discovery of my latest unrelated PTSD Trigger: Political and public indifference to sexual harassment and sexual assault.
I had to make a decision. At the moment it felt quite reasonable to buy some booze and get drunk. Instead, I got physically away from the booze section and then I bought a package of hot dogs and some corn on the cob.
Not too much red meant crosses my plate anymore … getting older … cholesterol … but some hot dogs became my comfort food and distracted me from doing something really stupid that I would certainly regret. I enjoyed the hot dogs, had no hangover, and did not have to clean up any vomit from getting drunk … everyone’s a winner!
What Did I Learn?
- I learned I am more susceptible right now to known and unknown PTSD Triggers and need to be aware of that.
- If suddenly challenged with a PTSD Triggered Temptation, be ready to buy some hotdogs.
I usually don’t crave alcohol anymore as a reaction to stress or triggers. But the craving hit me hard, fast, and unexpectedly. It slammed me due to my PTSD and my various ongoing stresses and triggers. That self-destructive craving almost got me. But I wiggled out of its grip by creating an immediate, less lethal, alternative: The Hot Dogs.
If we are triggered and tempted, it helps to have an alternative plan already in mind. This alternative plan helps us to not dwell on the false positive that the PTSD wants us to engage in.
If you have already considered an alternative plan to a tempted PTSD behavior, it is easier to avoid the PTSD behavior and engage in something that, while it won’t help your cholesterol, neither will it imperil your soul.
Don’t be surprised if this election triggers you.
We are never beyond hope.
Semper Pax, Dr. Z