That is the name of the game for me. That is the thing I crave most and the thing I have the least amount of. Feeling out of control sends me in to sheer panic. It’s why I rarely drink and prefer to be the designated driver – I need the illusion of control to feel centered in my life. I say the illusion because I learned long ago that none of us can truly control much of anything. Me being DD won’t stop a drunk driver from hitting me or a semi-truck to weave into my lane. I see control as being the driver rather than the drinker but any number of things could happen on my way home that could end in tragedy – I simply choose to believe that my superior DD skills is what will keep me and those I love safe.
I’m the fun one, can’t you tell?
My need for control extends to pretty much everything in my life. Dave Hollis (yes, I’m quoting him again because he drops nuggets of wisdom on the regular) says “people only get angry when they are surprised” and I felt that to my core when I heard him say that the first time. And, well, every time. I hate surprises. I’m not talking surprise parties or a surprise gift from my husband; it’s more one of my living kids or husband not communicating where they are/what they’re doing. It’s abnormal test results from a doctor that end up being fine but there’s a window of time where there’s ambiguity. It’s not knowing exactly what is going to happen next with my job or my husband reacting to something in a less than predictable way.
I dress rehearse tragedy a lot. A. Lot. Do you do that? A situation is presented, and you immediately envision the worst possible ending and feel the need to take immediate action to keep it from happening? In my family of origin we call it gangrene. My mother operates at expert level in this particular family trait whereby within a millisecond of hearing a piece of information, she can determine the worst possible outcome which typically ends in death. When one of us would get hurt she would always say that we’re going to get gangrene and lose a limb. It’s a running joke in my family and we’ve simply shortened it to gangrene.
I do this incessantly in my post loss life. Example. When I was about 7ish months pregnant with Caleb, Scott came home and said he felt something weird in the back of his throat. I immediately thought he had strep but as he described it to me, I began to ask Dr. Google and WebMD what could possibly be wrong with him. I became his mother and doctor in about 2 minutes and after a few articles on WebMD I burst into tears because I believed he had esophageal cancer and was going to die before Caleb was born.
Yes, this is a true story.
No, I’m no longer able to use WebMD for any symptom checking – Scott banned me from it that night because it was a freaking canker sore.
Yes, I feel your judgement.
Non-predictable triggers cause the “gangrene” reaction in me because they come out of nowhere. I’ve become adept at foreseeing and navigating predictable triggers. Halloween, pregnancy, people being unkind to Grief Warriors – these triggers are well known to me, 11 years into my grief journey. I’ve done a lot of work around them to manage them and put boundaries and plans in place for when they arise.
What throws me for a loop are the unpredictable ones – the ones that gut punch you when you least expect it. Feeling as if I don’t have control is a big trigger for me and it manifests in one million tiny, bullshit ways. It’s rarely the same thing and I rarely see it coming. It’s oodles of fun. Example. I’ve shared before that my older two living kiddos were adopted and that adoption is beautiful and incredible but also really freaking hard and born out of loss. My middle kiddo has a lot of challenges that has required endless amounts of research and advocating on my part, attempting to find root causes and diagnoses that explains what’s happening due to very limited information about his early life. When he exhibits behavior that frustrates me I immediately become angry because I see it as me having no control over what is happening, why it’s happening, and how to “fix” it or parent in a way that will help resolve it. This behavior isn’t always the same each time and pops out of nowhere so it can knock me off my axis pretty quick. My go to response when I’m triggered by feelings of not having control is anger, which does nothing for my relationship with my son. It’s a repetitive cycle that brings heaps of shame and frustration to us both and I’m left feeling helpless and alone. It. Sucks.
My living kids tend to bump up against my control trigger the most simply because they’re kids and I don’t always have control over the shenanigans they get into. My toddler is fearless and gives zero effs what anyone has to say to him about whatever dangerous stunt he’s trying to get into. My poor heart is perpetually palpitating because he flies off of furniture like it’s nothing and gets hurt and I just want to wrap him in bubble wrap to keep him safe. My oldest has the audacity to be an actual grown woman and with that comes driving cars and working in the field of security with tasers and such so, you know, easy peasy for this mama bear’s control issues. Then there’s my middle who comes home from school with inexplicable bruises and looks at me like I’m bananas because I want to know what happened and if there’s a piece of recess equipment I need to protect him from. My husband is an avid skier and every time he’s up on that mountain I’m panicked that he will die because there was an avalanche or he hit a tree or any number of grim fates will rise to meet this man who is my sun and my moon.
Again, my brain is loads of fun.
What makes me laugh at myself is that either way, predictable or not, triggers are inherently uncontrollable. Even though I know some of my triggers intimately, they can still present in different ways causing me to feel out of control, thereby triggering yet another trigger. I can control avoiding the aspects of Halloween that trigger me for the most part. But just yesterday I stopped by a friend’s house to find the very things I avoid and had no idea would be there. Even the predictable triggers can be unpredictable at times. This dichotomy does nothing but magnify my disdain for surprises.
Grief Warriors, triggers are tricky. Even the predictable ones. All any of us can do is give ourselves grace, learn some healthy coping mechanisms to reach for when our triggers appear, and learn from the experience each time. Keep hope alive, y’all. We can work it through together.