post-post-Trigger Mind: to Kole

This post began as a reply to Kole’s comment on the last post, but it’s long and builds on posts of the last year, so I’m adding it here. You may want to read her comment first.

One thing I must say, thankfully, is that I’m not triggered that much anymore. It’s rare. I was triggered most usually on the subway, and honestly, sometimes we are under attack. People can be extremely aggressive and we live in a society that promotes and valorizes winning and violence. The most important thing I’ve learned in all this is to get the hell out of the situation at the very first hint of possible trigger so I don’t have to go through it. It’s not worth it. Get space.

This has helped me remarkably. Before, I made up reasons I shouldn’t get out, but I get the need now, and I get out. Sometimes I thought it’d look bad or not nice and that I should stay put. Another, heavier, reason was a strong, righteous feeling of “but I have a right to be here!” undermined by a stronger suspicion that I didn’t, which increased my rage and enmeshment with the trigger. “FUCK YOU! I’M NOT GOING ANYWHERE! I HAVE A RIGHT TO BE HERE!”

When I learned to screw that, when I learned that getting space was the tunnel to freedom and clarity, everything changed.

I realize from the bit about your sister and cousin that you may use trigger more loosely than I do, kind of like a mindstorm of sorts that demands exploration, but not all out terror and panic. Either way, my words here are in no way meant to be condescending or negating of your experience and I hope they don’t come off that way just because my experience differs a bit—everyone’s does. I appreciate your candor more than I can say.

One thing I hear about “responding” to difficult situations in all sorts of modalities, from Buddhism to psychoanalysis, is to take space. Find the gap between trigger and reaction.

This is maddening for the trauma survivor because as anyone with the scantiest knowledge of the neuroscience of trauma can tell you, hyperarousal (trigger mind, aka, fight or flight) hijacks the possibility of such space. The brain literally turns off the prefrontal cortex and “lower” brain regions take over (see Herman, van der Kolk, or Perry). There is no “Let’s think about this rationally.” There is no space. There is only “pure survival savagery” as Kole so aptly put it.

No one who teaches “the gap between” particularly wants to hear this (yeah you, Nasreddin), so I taught myself to be very aware of how I feel at the earliest stages of possible trigger, and I get out. Then there can be a gap.

For me, I’ve never been triggered when I feel safe enough to go down into the emotion underneath the rage. In a way it’s a catch-22. If I feel that safe, I won’t be triggered in the first place. I’ve sensed it, the chaos and grief beneath the rage, as I mentioned in that post, but had to shut it down.

Yet I don’t need the “visceral experience of attack and trigger to remember the original environment of attack.” For me, trigger mind is totally negative and damaging (like dissociation is for you. I know my “trigger mind” is a little ambiguous, as I use it to mean fight or flight mode, but we can also be triggered into dissociation). As I mentioned in the comments of trigger mind, I’m well aware it’s not the trigger against me, that it’s me against me. But honestly, in a triggered state, this is even harder to face down. We are fighting against ourselves, always. It’s a battle we can’t win, so I try now as best I can not to enter it.

When I practice yoga, I work with the sensation and affect held in my body. This is where I meet the past and rewrite it. Because—did anyone ever tell me this? did I not believe them? or was not ready to hear it? or was it simply never said?—you can rewrite your flashbacks. You can neutralize horrendous flashbacks, and you can rewrite them. It is possible and sometimes even fun.

I love your mention of letting yourself be the age you were at the time of trauma, and before the trauma. Absolutely. This sort of regression, the tending to this inner part of myself, is incredibly rich and healing. She is alive in places I am shut down. Like most children, she teaches me and gives me a sense of wonder, strength, and faith in life. We heal each other.

There are different therapy modalities that deal directly with dialoguing inner parts of ourselves, like Internal Family Systems Model, but I’ve never done any formal work. She kind of presented herself one day without prompting, maybe after seeing some childhood photos, and we went from there. But yes, she’s very present in my analytic process, and she’s often there when I practice as well. If she wants to be.

“STAYING on the boat and braving the waters instead of going in the cabin and locking the door.” This is true for me in life at large more than in moments of trigger. Very difficult but must be done.

The Inferno! Perfect. Too perfect. I can’t believe it. If you haven’t, you must read Kalsched. In his second book on trauma, Trauma and the Soul, he writes extensively about the unconscious sadistic figure in a traumatized person’s “self-care system.” He calls the figure “Dis.” I almost reread the Inferno after this, but it’s been so long since I’ve been triggered into full hyperarousal, I didn’t want to encourage that mind state. But I know it’s there if I need it (come winter). He also writes about our addiction to it and reliance on it as part of our “self-care system.” I just finished note-taking his first book on trauma (The Inner World of Trauma, not as good but worth a read) as it was due at the library, and I want to share some lines with you that speak to your comment, but it’s late now and I can’t fit it in. Soon.

I’m not sure what to say about yoga, other than I get absolutely get not being ready. I’ve always been a physical person, always needed to move to release the tension. I did not start doing it to heal, but because it felt good. I didn’t really believe in “healing” back then. I thought I was over it, thought I was tough and together and had processed as well as anyone can process such a life. The yoga and meditation are what unraveled that armored self and the belief I’d gotten over it. Not the other way around.

When you feel ready, I’d probably recommend a class specifically for trauma survivors so you can avoid being the “special” one, though the accessibility and quality of the classes out there I can’t speak to. You may do well to find an excellent teacher who can give you a private lesson and design a home practice for you. The book Overcoming Trauma Through Yoga is a bit odd though probably helpful—the exercises are barely yoga, more similar to calisthenics I did in elementary school than what you’d find in the average yoga class. I’m not sure why we have to call any healing body movement “yoga” these days, but it seems to be the case. The West has traditions of healing movement therapies as well.

So, thank you Kole, for your amazing comments. They are really wonderful. Hope the sister/cousin processing went well, and I look forward to hearing more. xoAnastasia

14 Responses to “post-post-Trigger Mind: to Kole”

  1. Kole says:

    Omg YES rule number one: GET SPACE. Soooo important and vital to being able to go on. In response to that need, I face a similar yet different dilemma too– I wonder if I’m being a cop out by not facing what’s there by not staying put. But that’s just mean, it’s cruel self judgement disguising itself as strength. It’s the voice of the past.

    I agree with basically everything else you said. It’s so a catch 22 to the point where it just seems impossible to reconcile the past and present. I’m not sure of the nature of your trauma, I see from what you wrote it has different ramifications than dissociation like mine, but this prose helps me insanely when I’m going through a lot of shit. Like right now I kind of feel like if this next phase of healing doesn’t work then I’m done here. The possibility of healing and feeling my body is the only thing keeping me remotely fucking interested. But there’s only so much u can put up with without seeing change. The next phase for me, contrary to what works for you, is to feel every single feeling in my moment to moment awareness, trigger or not. To suck all awareness I have of the world and channel it into my emotional experience. Much like you mention you do with yoga, where you rewrite your past in your body. In both our cases, there is nothing outside us, nothing outside your body in yoga and nothing outside my consciousness in my new awareness. We are switching from the time and language based self system to the moment to moment body based self system, as bessel puts it. Yet for me, I have to treat my triggers like honored guests it just feels right for me. Here is the prose:
    THE GUEST HOUSE
    This being human is a guest house.
    Every morning a new arrival.

    A joy, a depression, a meanness,
    some momentary awareness

    Welcome and entertain them all!
    Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
    who violently sweep your house
    empty of furniture,
    still, treat each guest honorably.
    He may be clearing you out
    for some new delight.

    The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
    meet them at the door laughing,
    and invite them in.

    Be grateful for whoever comes,
    because each has been sent
    as a guide from beyond.

    – Jelaluddin Rumi (Sufi poet, 1207-1273)

    Thank you for the book recommendation and also for the yoga recommendation. I didn’t even know there were specific instructors like that so that is amazing to hear. Sorry this response is kinda scattered I’m just not in the mood for life, don’t take it personally. I look forward to your next post.

    P.S. Have you ever done EMDR?

  2. anastasia says:

    Kole, thanks for this. Do not give up. Do not. This works. There are always bad patches, and in the beginning they are unbearable, but over time they become places you can really see clearly, learn, and heal. They are the times you build your soul. I have been doing this work for 15 years, and I definitely still have my days, but hang on. The one thing I can say is that you *must* have someone you trust and love, who sees you and believes in you, and lets you be you in all your good and bad, with no drama or manipulations. This will get you through the hard times.

    You can’t really reconcile past and present when you see with a mind built on the past. It’s a daily, minutely, process of taking in the present as it is now, and not as you tend to frame it. Over time, building trust for life becomes interspersed with the chaos and fear. You will have difficult times and unkind people in your life always, but they will impact your life (and mind) less and less, and become a smaller a part of it very gradually–so gradually that sometimes it is hard to see the change.

    Yes, yes, absolutely, you work with what works for you. Definitely bring awareness to triggered times. You are doing the right things. You really are.

    I’m not sure by what you mean by there is nothing outside us. There is, certainly, and putting yourself out there and interacting with it is an important process. My shrink doesn’t believe in projection, in that there is always a hook, and I get what he means by this. When, say, someone is cruel, it’s not like you are just projecting your inner sadist onto them–they are also there being sadistic in real time. It’s both: an interaction, an interconnectedness (more on this later). It’s not just me or just them. But there’s also a separateness, and that’s where the freedom comes. But I think I don’t totally understand what you meant there.

    Yes–treat them like honored guests. Absolutely! I never recommend rejecting emotion or experience–just get yourself to a safe place asap. But also not indulging them. Cause this is a big one. Don’t work the negative emotions, just feel them. Easier said than done. This is a beautiful poem and spot on. (Also reminds me, again, of a wonderful book I just read, and a quote I just marked out in it: The Road Home: A Contemporary Exploration of the Buddhist Path, by Ethan Nichtern, one of the best teachers I’ve ever studied with. May post the quote later, am getting super hungry now. :))

    No need to apologize at all. It’s a great comment.

    Yes, I’ve done EMDR. I think it helped tremendously, but there are a few things to be said about it. More on that later too!

    Oh, also, I hope (again) I don’t seem condescending. I get the feeling I’m a lot older than you are and I’ve been doing this a long while. Plus, I’m a teacher at heart. Plus, I’m a know-it-all, which can be super-annoying. ;)

    Hugs,
    Anastasia

  3. Kole says:

    You have no idea how much that helps to hear someone say “You are doing the right things. You really are.” It is SO encouraging, thank you.

    “You can’t really reconcile past and present when you see with a mind built on the past.” That’s also very clarifying. It’s like you can’t let go of the past without wanting to let go of the past via doing it right now in your minutely interior. My take on that for my situation would be:
    Live from rock bottom
    Not from dissociation.

    Because rock bottom is liberating in a way. It’s pure destruction, but after the annihilation, it’s silence. In rock bottom there is no where else to go but death so if you make it past death, there’s life. It’s a silence which is disengaged with the past because you give up. It’s over. I don’t know..it helps me reset myself. I just learned this as a result of the past month especially last week.

    When I say there is nothing outside us, it’s a way for me to realize I’m in dissociation. When I flee myself and have no inner authority, which is almost always except for when I’m writing, I don’t realize the difference between when I’m not inside myself versus when I am inside myself because it’s so natural to me that I don’t feel it changing. So I tell myself “there is nothing outside me” or “there’s no reality except my emotional experience” in order to go home to myself, to stop walking on the road that exits me and to turn around and begin to walk on the road that comes into me.

    Looking forward for more on your EMDR experience like you said.

    You don’t seem condescending, I think you just have a lottttt of information and experience in the spirituality culture and it’s spilling over, you’re teaching, which is what the point of studying spirituality is..to fill up your cup and let it overflow. So there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. I’m glad you said that tho, it makes me feel more trusting of you. ; )

    I appreciate your post so much it helped me carve my way through the dark depression of last week. <333

  4. anastasia says:

    Are you for real? :)

    What does Kole symbolize?

    More soon. I can’t think in this heat.

  5. Kole says:

    Yeah I am…or at least I’m trying to be lol
    http://m.sevenreflections.com/name-numerology/kole/

  6. Kole says:

    Actually more honestly, the name is a spin on one of my favorite poet/rapper J.Cole
    I just thought that website was a coincidence haha

  7. anastasia says:

    Oh. I see. When you first commented I looked it up as I saw from your email it was a pseudonym. I thought it might be a pop culture thing I should but don’t know, and I think an anime thing came up.

    Intuitive indeed. Your comments can be so spot on, heartful, and just what I need to hear at the moment that I do not believe. Life works in mysterious ways. Thank you.

    More on the previous conversation sooner or later in the week. I’m suffering an air conditioning crisis at present and have to get to a/c before I melt. xo

  8. anastasia says:

    Hi. I’m still a little behind on the basics, but the topic of home reminded me of this: http://kirtiklis.com/2007/08/12/love-after-love/ and I wanted to share.

  9. Kole says:

    That is EXACTLY where I’m at now. Exactly what I needed to hear, “the stranger who has lived you your whole life, who u ignored for another”.
    I love it thanks for taking the time to share it with me <3
    And dang, how many blogs do u have lol.

  10. Kole says:

    Also do u know about mindfulness and pilates? I’m waaaaaaaaay more into Pilates than yoga just idk why. Maybe I haven’t given yoga a fair shot but is that a thing? Mindful Pilates ?

  11. anastasia says:

    Kole!

    So, EMDR. I did it last year. It was very helpful. I’m not triggered​ ​into hyperarousal that much any more, and I thank EMDR. If there’s a training clinic near you, try it. It’s cheaper and​ EMDR​ doesn’t take that much training. Everyone has to be licensed to be​ ​trained, anyway. I did it with a therapist ​(not in training, but have always found my analysts through training programs) ​who was super flaky and​ ​kept canceling on me (WTF? It’s, like, the very basic shit with trauma​ ​survivors. We need consistency and predictability to trust. If you​ ​haven’t figured that much out, how are you a therapist doing trauma​ ​work?) so I didn’t finish all the sessions. Only did 4 or so, but they​ ​helped.​ ​But it can be pretty intense. Just make​ ​sure your regular therapist is very on hand (not there, but​ ​reachable).

    ​The home quote I mentioned awhile ago from The Road Home: A Contemporary Exploration of the Buddhist Path, by Ethan Nichtern: ​”The best way I’ve found to describe this space [unconditional​ ​awareness] in my own being is in relationship to emotions. This kind​ ​of openness and​ ​accommodation is a space where it no longer feels like​ ​our own emotions are attacking us like space invaders. Emotions, from​ t​​he standpoint of ultimate bodhicitta [unconditional awareness], are​ ​simply guests in our home, very welcome guests. From the standpoint of​ ​sensory and bodily experience, emotions are just a sixth type of sense​ ​perception, containing their own information and beauty that don’t​ ​need to be either indulged or rejected. When we are open, our own​ ​feelings are no longer attacking us, which also means that other​ ​people are not threatening us. After all, the only way another person​ ​can ever threaten our consciousness on this fundamental level is to​ ​make us feel something we don’t want to feel. If we are no longer​ ​resistant to our own awareness and what enters it, we don’t have to​ ​feel threatened by emotions, and we can relate to anyone. Ultimate​ ​bodhicitta [unconditional awareness] doesn’t take sides; it doesn’t​ ​create emotional cliques” pp 116-117.

    You​r​ comment about rock bottom a bit back was intense, and we all​ ​(trauma survivors) go there from time to time. It reminded me of​ ​Marsha Linehan’s story, the psychologist who created DBT. ​Because you​ ​always wonder: Are you a shrink or teacher because you want to heal​ ​yourself or because you healed yourself and have something to share?​ ​(Or the sadly frequent worst case scenario: you need a venue for your power trip and can only handle the easiest targets.) She healed​ ​herself, via rock bottom, with a spiritual edge (of course). She never​ ​​revealed this for the longest time.​ NYT thing about her that’s worth a read.

    So you do write! I wondered, noticing the lovely cadence in your​ ​prose, even when you compose ad-hoc on your phone​ (yeah, I checked out your IP)​. Keep writing.​ ​Deepen your inner authority. Keep​ ​going. It’s valuable. You’re​ ​valuable. I like​–no, love–that you speak up and say what’s going on for you​, esp, e.g., when you reiterated your need to feel the sensations of hyperarousal​. ​

    Can​ ​we really be the only two people experiencing these things? No way.​ ​Just no way. And before you first commented, it was just me, plodding​ ​along, with only my shrink letting me know he gets it,​ ​friends nodding politely.​ ​You’ve knocked things open with your​ ​honesty. Very few have the mind to do that. ​You have what it takes to​ ​heal this, Kole. You just need to turn it in the right direction every​ ​moment you can.​ Which won’t be always, but that’s ok.​

    My sister said to me this morning when I apologized to her for my mood, “That’s okay. At least it’s ​not happy horseshit, which I really cannot bear.”​ Ditto. And sadly, that’s much of what is promoted in “healing” circles. Love, light, eat, pray, wank. Happy horseshit. Or, when that inflation pops, massive indulgence in self-pity and working the ‘story’ (which is most usually a bullshit cover for what’s really going on). Thank you for some honesty and breaking the mold. ;)​

    “And dang, how many blogs do u have lol.”
    I’ll never tell. ;)

    I know nothing about pilates. I saw some classes taught in a​ ​studio before ​I taught and they seemed so dreadfully repetitive i never​ ​wanted to try, and wasn’t really looking.

    Yoga works with the energy system of the body, which is part of why i love it. As Jodorowsky​ ​said, “healing” is moving stuck energy in the body (always valuable to​ ​have a working definition. i like this one. i feel it).

    That doesn’t mean that pilates isn’t good, i just don’t know anything​ ​about it. You can do anything mindfully. Sewing, biking, writing, hula​ ​hooping, swimming, etc. You just have to learn how to be mindful and apply it. 97% of people aren’t doing yoga mindfully anyway. Let’s say​ ​it’s 70% physical and 27% spiritual bypass. ​I’m not sure if you ask because you want a class in this specifically or you want to give it a go on your own or what. But yeah, I know nothing about pilates. :)

    Very glad you enjoyed the Walcott.

    xoA

  12. anastasia says:

    Also, this:

  13. Kole says:

    I LOVE your words of encouragement and direction like ” You just need to turn it in the right direction every​ ​moment you can.​ Which won’t be always, but that’s ok.​” you know what that does to me? Its like I’m a completely out of focus camera that’s sees muddy light blobs in my lens and all of a sudden I see the crisp edges of things and a spectrum of colors and 3 dimensions. Thank you, this, knocks things open for me so I’m glad that I can return the gesture for you like you mentioned I do for you. I don’t know if we’re the only ones experiencing it, but it does take some serious balls to face the truth behind denial so maybe we’re the only ones inviting it and maybe we’re the only ones feeling the pricklyness of the new blades of grass under the manure of dissociation.

    And yes happy horse shit. I learned the hard way how that backfires and boils.

    I love that quote you sent me I screenshotted it and read it multiple times a day, thank you for sharing it. I love your bookshelf of quotes you send me so on point to my life I swear.

    I have more questions about your emdr such as what kinds of questions they ask during it, but I don’t want to pressure you to over share if you don’t want.

    I’m excited about your next post, I’m curious where you’re at now. Emotionally. It’s probably synchronistic with me so looking forward.

    Take care babe <33

  14. anastasia says:

    Nice photog reference. As if you weren’t already enough my alter-ego. :)

    We aren’t the only ones working with this. We might be the only ones talking about it here, but we aren’t alone. Aren’t you in a group of sorts (referring to the journal bit you shared) or was that work with someone one on one? You don’t have to answer that here. There’s just such a massive cultural backlash against realness, I think most people keep quiet. And a lot of survivors are so desperate for the little attention and help they do get, they are afraid to speak up about the truth of their process for fear they’ll be punished for it and/or labelled too difficult or deviant. And they’re right—they often will be.

    But at some point being honest and real becomes more important than pleasing others just to keep the crumbs coming. This is an important and central part of the shift from fantasy to reality (eg the fantasy that those crumbs could somehow, someway, someday amount to nourishment). A true helper-healer-teacher-whatever can and will contain that. They will support you though it, not punish, so it’s not as scary as it first seems. Ya follow or am I rambling?

    Very glad you like the quotes. Will keep them coming. :)

    Email me if you want more info on EMDR. I don’t want to get into it here, but am happy to tell you more about it personally.

    Not sure when the next post will happen. I’ve been writing a lot, but not for the blog. I will say I’ve been discovering a million new, unimagined facets to meeting the real and letting go of fantasy. There have been some rewards for this of late, and there’s ground. It’s all scary and beautiful at once. Thanks for asking. :)

    Drop me a line if you want to talk about EMDR. & hope your weather has been as nice as ours of late. xoA

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