A Survivor’s View on Trauma Triggers

This blog is the voice of a survivor sharing what triggers are like, based on her experience, and how the public can show sensitivity. It is my hope that this will help those who really care for victims but have no understanding on how to be sensitive to the things that trigger them when they are learning to speak out.

***

FROM THE AUTHOR:
My prayer is that (this blog post) will help bring light to the often volatile conversations, where people cannot seem to fathom why they get such strong responses to certain seemingly innocent questions.

I left the way I had been raised in the Old Order Amish church, at 21 years old. I am a survivor of physical, emotional, spiritual, and sexual abuse. God has faithfully taken me on a 13 year long journey of healing through counseling, inner healing ministry, & personal revelation. It will be a lifelong, ongoing process, but I rejoice in it and in the overwhelming goodness of God to me through it all.

I am at the point in my journey where I am becoming more and more aware of what my triggers are and how to process them in a powerful way. So from that personal experience I want to try to address and possibly bring clarity to the readers, whether they are survivors or not.

Trudy’s platform has thousands of abuse survivors from Anabaptist communities. From what I understand that is who her platform is for. Among the abuse survivors are others: some have not experienced abuse, but they are here with true empathy and support, some are here out of curiosity, (who is this “Jezebel!? Ha!) some are here to challenge what she’s doing, (honest hecklers!) some are here to troll, and some are here who haven’t yet come to grips that they were abused and possibly don’t want to come to grips with it. And some are abusers.

It’s the non-survivor group that I want to address first. If you are just learning what abuse is, there’s a good chance that you are not familiar with all the terms that you see being mentioned. Gas lighting, triangulation, triggers, just to name a few. I’m going to do my best to explain triggers to you.

I’m going to use a hypothetical situation to illustrate. Let’s say that you had the traumatic experience of being held hostage at gunpoint. Possibly you were even shot, but by a miracle of God you escaped with your life. Now your physical scars are mostly healed, but you are left having flashbacks, nightmares, ptsd… You are trying to pick up the pieces, heal and put your life back together.

One day you stop by to visit a friend who by mere coincidence is cleaning his gun while you’re there. You tense up, anxiety rises, but you battle it back. You remind yourself that the gun is not loaded and this is your friend who would never hurt you. You maintain composure but you are on edge. Suddenly he picks up the unloaded gun, points it straight at you and says he wants to test the sights.

Now even though you know in your head that the gun is not loaded and that your friend means no harm, you react as if you were fighting for your life. Raw terror. Because in that moment, the traumatic memory took over and you were right back in that moment when you were shot. You can’t help it, you are triggered. He is shocked by your reaction at his innocent (although very stupid in real life!) gesture. Why would you react this way when you know he would never shoot you?

This is what happens with abuse survivors. I see the scenario played out in the comments on Trudy’s posts. I will use a quick real life example from the other day on a post about the horrendous abuse that has been done in the name of spanking. A gentleman dropped the misinterpreted and abused Proverbs 23 verse in the comments and responses exploded. He could not understand why he got the angry responses he got.

For survivors who were abused by people who used this verse to justify it, (spiritual abuse) this verse is a gun being pointed at them and they will respond accordingly. Especially for those who have just become brave enough to use their voices for the first time. Immediately they go back to being a powerless, helpless, little child who had no voice. Now they have a voice, so don’t be surprised when it screams back at you in pain and furious rebuttal! You have unwittingly stepped into the role of their abuser.

If you are among the ones who can’t understand why you get the responses that you do at times, here’s a few suggestions: On social media, it’s crucial to remember what kind of platform you are on. (Yes, it’s a free world. It seems it’s a free for all melee, because everyone thinks it’s THEIR free world.) For instance, Trudy’s platform is for giving Anabaptist abuse survivors a voice. So her first priority is to keep that a safe place for those voices. So when you are on her platform, respond with that in mind. If you do respond, please be as articulate and concise as possible. Don’t be in hurry to respond to hot topics. A well thought out response goes so much further than a hurried, heated reply.

Remember that you are on a platform where people have suffered horrific abuse from perpetrators using scripture to justify the abuse. So using scripture to prove a point might not go over well. In my own personal journey, there was a time when I simply could not read certain scriptures without being triggered. I have loved Jesus and followed him all these years. It took years of healing before I was able to read certain scriptures for what they really are, rather than reading them in the way that was used to oppress me. When scripture has been used as a whip instead of as keys to freedom, you will flinch automatically when the “whip” is raised.

When you use scripture are you using it to bring about healing and encouragement or are you using it to manipulate and coerce? Those are questions everyone should ask themselves before commenting.

All survivors are on varying degrees of healing in their journeys. There are varying levels of abuse for each one. What will trigger one, won’t trigger another one. Some will trigger harder and more quickly than others. Some will trigger even when you have “done everything right” and you had zero intent to harm. Communication on social media is a challenge in the best of scenarios and when you have a lot of hurting people crying out in pain, it will be even more challenging if not impossible at times. Everyone’s pain is too loud to be able to hear what others are saying even when they are saying the exact same thing. Keep this in mind when you engage on social media and refuse to take offense when you are taken the wrong way.

I pray this helps to increase your understanding a little bit as to what triggers are and how they work. Thank you for reading to this point.

Now, to address my fellow survivors. First off, I commend you. I cannot put into words how much in awe I am of the strength and resilience I see in all of you. You have begun an incredible journey of healing. I know it took GUTS and GRIT to open your mouth and say: Me too, that happened to me too and it was not ok.

Your voice matters. Because every time someone gets brave enough to speak up, it encourages someone else to do the same. Keep speaking up. It’s been a most powerful thing to me to realize how much I am NOT ALONE! Yet heart breaking as well, because there are SO MANY of us. Lord, my heart breaks at the thousands upon thousands of stories coming out of our culture that are like mine and even many times more horrific.

But I want you to know something: when works of darkness are being exposed, it’s because God’s light is shining brighter. Make no mistake, He is uprooting the evil and making way for great healing, redemption, and restoration! It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the darkness, keep your eyes on the Light, dear brave ones, watch what He’s doing and join in with that. He is our pillar of fire by night and great cloud by day. We will follow Him to the Promised Land. What is The Promised Land for us? Freedom from slavery for us and for our future generations!

The desert to cross to get there will not be easy. It will be messy, challenging, overwhelming. But so worth it! You will see God part the seas, rain life giving manna from heaven, and shatter your Jerichos. Never give up on pursuing healing and freedom!

With so much love,

Ann Lehman

***

For my trauma course in fall 2016, I had to do a short PSA on some aspect of Trauma… something we want the world to understand. I discovered quickly that when it came to ‘explaining’ the impact of trauma – the nightmares, flashbacks and fears – there were no eloquent sentences available. I had only: Words, Thoughts, Feelings, Scenes, Sensations.

The following is the presentation I shared with my class.

Together, I pray, we can continue (or begin) to move toward a better understanding of what trauma survivors contend with. Sometimes daily. Sometimes rarely. We are all different. All on a journey. And all at different stages in the journey. Sometimes we loop back and have to regain ground.

For non-survivors to seek to understand is helpful. And the ‘more healed’ survivors to remember when they were in that place of trauma and triggers is crucial. Recently a survivor said to me, “The healed survivors can be the most cruel”. At first I agreed, and I still get the point that was being made. But in hindsight I had to ask, “‘then are they truly as healed as they say they are?” ….or are they possibly avoiding rather than healing.

In any case, we need a better understanding of trauma, collectively, if we are going to be effective at all in helping survivors and stopping the epidemic.

As always…

Love,
~ T ~

***  See below: early ‘concert only’ registration for abuse survivors Nov. 2, 2019. ***

NOTE OF THANKS FROM RAPE VICTIM:
After discovering that there are enough funds to cover approximately 17 sessions of counselling, the young woman who was assaulted at age 7 wrote amid tears of appreciation

When I gave you permission to share my journal entries, I never ever expected such kindness, understanding, and love from complete strangers. And certainly not monetary help for counseling. A simple “Thank you” doesn’t cut it. I believe it is, in part, an answer to my desperate prayer to be whole. I wish I could thank each person who contributed in person, but since I can’t, I will do what I can: I promise to pass it along to some other survivor some day.”

It has been encouraging to see ‘the church’ enter into her story and care for her well-being in word, prayer, and helping with costs. Thank you for contributing. Every bit helps, as this is will require ongoing support. If you wish to contribute, you may do so through the following link: Support for Rape Survivor.

Thank you! God bless you all!

***

ONLY 1 MORE WEEKS TO REGISTER WITH LUNCH AND CONCERT INCLUDED!
(ENDS AUGUST 1, 2019)
THE GATHERING, NOVEMBER 2, 2019, LANCASTER BIBLE COLLEGE:
One of the things we are working toward November 2, 2019, at  THE GATHERING, is creating a place where we collectively invite God into our grief.  It is exclusively for Anabaptist survivors of sexual abuse, and their trusted support persons to join together for a day of acknowledging the generations of suffering. We will cry out to God, together. The invitation is to ‘come as you are’ in your raw brokenness, if that’s where you’re at, or in your healed togetherness. The itinerary is simple. It isn’t about ‘who’ or ‘how’; it is about Jesus and a safe place to meet, to heal another layer, together.

NOTE: Anyone over 18 who sexually assaulted someone – whether child or other adult – is not welcome. This does not mean they are not forgiven if they have repented. It means victims should not fear being confronted with the source of their trauma on such a vulnerable day. Security guards will be present to remove any who show up and are identified as offenders by the victims.

Until August 1, 2019, registration for the day’s events includes lunch and attendance to the evening concert with Jason Gray, whose music had brought hope and healing to countless victims. Songs like “The Wound is Where the Light Gets In“, “A Way to See in the Dark“, Sparrows“, “Nothing is Wasted“, and many more speak a language we understand.

(More information for potential attendees is available under THE GATHERINGRegistration and for non-attendees at THE GATHERING Information.)

EARLY CONCERT REGISTRATION FOR ALL SURVIVORS OF SEXUAL ABUSE:
If you are a sex abuse survivor – Anabaptist or not – and are not a sex offender, who wishes to attend the ‘concert only’ portion of The Gathering, we will allow for early registration before tickets are released to the public, August 1, 2019. For link to register for the concert only, email AslanHasHeard@gmail.com. Subject line: “Concert link for survivors”.

***

If you are able to contribute to Generations Unleashed and our work with and for victims, you may donate via PayPal or e-transfer to info@generationsunleashed.com. Or visit Generations Unleashed Donate.

© Trudy Metzger 2019

 

Amazing New Therapy: Press Face Against Aquarium!

A few weeks ago I chatted with a friend and fellow writer, and in the course of conversation we got to talking about facing our fears and ‘triggers’… I’m ADHD with sporadic OCD tendencies and he is OCD (and, i suspect, with ADHD tendencies), which made for an interesting conversation. It started out with discussing anxiety and personality ‘disorders’–something I consider a dreadful misnomer, in most cases–and somehow ended up talking about my fear of water. Specifically, water in my face. As someone who studied neurology, he offered the following advice, which came through like ‘popcorn’ in Facebook messages:

“Exposure response prevention: you’re afraid of water, so swim. Do it again and again until your rewire your brain. Your brain is highly plastic, and you can change it. One of the great discoveries of neurology! ….In other words, the more you face a fear and endure it, the less power it has over you. Pretty awesome. Probably even works in Canada…. You should just press your face against an aquarium every day for a while….. Or tie a water bottle to your head.”

canstockphoto18837760

I guffawed, at one point, when I read about pressing my face against the aquarium every day for awhile, but he makes a good point. I’ve observed in abuse victims that those who invest most of their time and energy trying to avoid every trigger end up being enslaved to the past, probably more so than those who face fears and triggers at manageable intervals. There is something to be said for starting with a water bottle on the head, progressing to the aquarium and eventually ducking my head under water. (I am able to do this, actually, so the whole conversation was a bit of an exaggeration.) There would come a time, if I would gradually expose myself more and more to this fear, and with a qualified guide/trainer, when I would be able to swim. But, to talk about swimming will never get me there. I have to decide I’m more interested in learning to swim than running from fear, then book the appointment and, finally, actually show up and put in effort. Each of these steps is part of the process of overcoming fear.

In much the same way, abuse victims who live in constant terror of some emotional trigger, and therefore avoid even a potential confrontation with the past, will never learn to swim. If I am afraid of looking at pictures of water,  then that is my starting point. The first time I look at pictures of a lake, especially with someone swimming in it, I may want a friend with me who has overcome the fear of swimming. From there I will need to develop the courage to enjoy water scenes. Next I may go to the lake with someone, just to walk a distance from the shore. Eventually I may be comfortable dipping my toes in the water… And so on…

While this is an exaggeration, in the case of abuse it isn’t. It can be that difficult to face the past. I have had people–some of my siblings included, back when I first troubled out family waters with the reality of sexual abuse in our home–who say they were never abused. It didn’t happen. They lucked out. Sorry for my tragic luck, they tell me, and hopefully I’ll be able to get through it with a forgiving spirit. But later some of these very same people come back and ask for help to work through memories from childhood that were blocked and resurfaced. (This is a controversial topic, among Christians and psychologists and other professionals alike, but I stand by it with 100% confidence.) When we have confronted the abuser, or other victims present, in all cases but one, the memories have been confirmed, so we know that the memories are not some warped imagination triggered by a question.

Where, at first, fear held these individuals captive and they couldn’t even look at the water–or the possibility of having been victimized–with time, they were able to acknowledge it. Contacting someone for help was the next step. ‘Walking through’ the memories, and confronting them, while painful, in most cases proves to bring release, as victims see they are able to face the past and not stay caught in it. In fact, most times victims have lived in fear, anger, and denial, enslaved by the very thing they didn’t want to acknowledge. Then, having faced it, and releasing ‘control’ of their pain, choosing rather to feel it and allowing someone to simply love them through it, and forgiving the offender–not releasing from responsibility/accountability–they take authority over it. And the moment they take authority over it, they are no longer victims.

canstockphoto14230364

…and it all begins with that first baby step of tying a water bottle on our heads, or pressing our face against the aquarium, or whatever that first step is for us in facing our fears.

© Trudy Metzger

To Donate: Generations Unleashed, and Help Victims of Sexual Abuse in the Church

(Tax Receipts will automatically be issued for all donations over $20)

Trudy’s YouTube Channel

Return to First Blog: September 2010, “Running on Empty”

Return to first post in Sexual Abuse Series

Return to First Post in Spiritual Abuse Series

Return to the First Post in ‘Abigail’s Story’ Series