What. The. Hell. Is. THAT?
There are days where this phrase goes through my head more times that I’d like to admit. Sometimes it pertains to one of our animals making some crazy noise that I fully believe means they’re possessed and are plotting to kill me in my sleep. (we have a cat, you don’t know!) Perhaps one of my living children or grandchild have done or said something that came way out of left field and has caused me to either laugh inappropriately OR has caused me to lock myself in my recently re-decorated closet to woo-sah. What’s woo-sah you may be asking yourself? It’s from the movie Bad Boys II and it is something that, no matter how many times I’ve seen it, laugh hysterically at. Every. Single. Time. You should really pause reading this blog post and YouTube it. I’ll wait and you’ll thank me, I promise.
Seriously, one of my former co-workers had a picture of Martin Lawrence saying “woo-sah” taped up in her office. It made us laugh almost daily.
Sometimes things come way out of the blue and you need to wrap your head around it to fully assess it and figure out who and what it is. This is how I look at triggers.
In the beginning of my grief journey, 11 years ago, I had zero idea about triggers. I became a loss parent due to early term miscarriage and I had no clue that there was support out there for families who were experiencing what we were – the death of our baby that was intangible to everyone but me. It never occurred to me to use the ye old internet to find support – I simply let everyone around me give me their opinions and felt shame for grieving so deeply when the people in my life made it seem like I should just get over it and move on.
This happened two more times. Two more losses of precious babes I loved deeply that I felt shame for grieving. No one in my life had experienced a miscarriage (that I was aware of!) and so all the advice or “support” I received came with platitudes, clichés, and “shoulds”. You “should” do this – you should NOT do that. The confusion as to how I was feeling and why I would react to certain things swirled around me like Elsa’s crazy ice storm in the movie Frozen. I was a wreck – feeling isolated, misunderstood, and blowing up relationships in the process because I had no where for the hurricane inside of me to land safely.
It wasn’t until we lost Caleb, our fourth baby, at full term that I learned there was an actual community of bereaved parents out there who intimately understood my losses. Two years I suffered alone, feeling insane because I was intensely grieving but had no language or reference for how I was feeling. My husband and I had no clue how to talk to each other about our differences in grief or why there were differences in the first place.
Life was a mess.
I plugged into the pregnancy and infant loss community. God sent me a fellow Grief Warrior, my amazing friend, Janet, while I was in the hospital just having given birth to Caleb. Janet and I met randomly, at an annual hospital event for bereaved parents, that just so happened to occur the day after I had Caleb. She took on the mantel of being my guide, helping me to begin to put words to how I was feeling and gently encouraging me to go to a support group with her. There, in that sacred space, I found the language and healing I would need to survive the loss of my four babies, and it was there that I learned about triggers.
Your body has physiological responses to grief, trauma, and triggers. Much like your fight or flight instinct, your body responds automatically when you’re triggered. Once I began to learn about triggers and put language to it, I was able to go back and assess the previous two years of behavior and responses and understand that I wasn’t crazy as I had begun to think – I had unmanaged triggers and delayed grief. I wasn’t insane – I was GRIEVING. And for the first time, I felt validated in doing so.
Identifying your triggers is a process; you can’t force it, you can only be an astute observer for how they manifest for you. When I become edgy – snappy – for seemingly no reason, I know that there’s a trigger lurking somewhere. When my body feels jittery, as if I’d had all the extra espresso shots in the land added to my Starbucks order, I know that I’ve bumped up against a trigger and my timer has started ticking. You know the timer – much like a grenade pin, you have a certain amount of time before you blow. This part of grief work, the work of learning about your triggers, is an arduous task. People were angry with me because they couldn’t understand why I was SO emotional and took things SO personally back then. They couldn’t understand why I struggled to be happy for other pregnant people, particularly those closest to me. They couldn’t understand why everything felt like a slight to me and they couldn’t do anything right. They couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t allow the platitudes and clichés any longer and that their “advice” didn’t carry the same weight it had before I’d begun to learn what I was learning.
How do you identify your triggers? You have to get up close and personal with them. You have to sit with them, examine them, pick them apart. You have to use the scientific method almost – question, research, hypothesis, experiment, observations, conclusions, communicate – to work it through and hold it up and say “I have figured this out!” It takes time; SO much time. SO much effort. It feels exhausting, especially in the beginning, because every single thing in the world is a trigger in the beginning. Every. Single. Thing.
Once I learned some language around identifying your triggers, I was able to feel slightly more in control (my very favorite thing). Once I learned that determining who and what they were would allow me to communicate with people I was in relationship with (family, friends, my husband, etc.) and begin the rebuilding of my sense of self. It was a game changer.
I highly encourage my fellow Grief Warriors to spend time in their grief work process identifying their triggers. Perhaps walking it through with a therapist or your spouse would help you formulate your own hypothesis? Maybe you need to spend some time journaling or jotting down a stream of consciousness, an “idea soup” so to speak. However your process, however your methods, working through identifying what your triggers are and how they manifest will only help you in the rebuild of your new normal. Is it a heavy task? Yep. Can it cause confusion and frustration? Yep. But Warriors, let me tell you, it is SO worth it. The work is challenging, but worth it. And I have all the faith in the world that you can do this and come out the other side of it even more capable because knowledge is power. And applied knowledge is a game changer.