Tuesday, September 9, 2014

What's Your Trigger?

I read an article yesterday about NFL player Ray Rice, and the fact that he recently punched his fiance in an elevator, totally knocking her out. Apparently the video of the incident was just released, so it's all over the news and Facebook today. I read a couple of articles in the morning, and watched a clipped version of the video, but it wasn't until later in the evening that I watched the full video, which was recorded from a security camera in the elevator.

There has clearly been a lot of opinion and speculation on the issue in the past 48 hours, as the Ravens fired Rice yesterday afternoon following the release of the footage. And initially, my thoughts were that, it's not up to someone's boss to terminate their employment due to domestic violence. But in reading more, and talking about it more, I have to say I am swaying the other direction at this point, as part of being a public figure is following a morals clause, which Rice did violate. And truth be told, the more I read and the more I listened to very valid points my friends were making, the more I realized I was probably mostly wrong.

BUT, this blog post is not intended to continue a debate about Ray Rice and the fact that he hit his then-fiance-now-wife hard enough to turn her into a limp rag doll on the floor of an elevator. This news article is simply a catalyst; this post is about triggers. Because while I was watching this incredibly disturbing video, as Rice picked his fiance up by her hair, I was instantly aware of my own trigger.

Everybody has emotional triggers. Whether or not we've experienced trauma, there will always be something leftover from a past relationship, a failure at something, a negative situation in the past, which will trigger an emotional response. Triggers are not to be confused with baggage. Baggage is something that you take with you from one relationship to the next, but that with the passing of enough time, or with meeting the right person, can be set down and unpacked, metaphorically speaking. Baggage is something you can rid yourself of, while triggers tend to become a permanent fixture.

My trigger, is hair pulling. In a prior relationship, my then-boyfriend would pull my hair to get me to stop and listen. I don't know how many of you reading this have had your hair pulled - and I am talking out of anger, not in a fun sexy manner - but it is the best way to bring a woman to her knees. Pulling someone's hair is one the most painful thing you can do to someone, especially if you know how to do it right. Not at the ends, but up by the scalp, around where she'd place a high ponytail, with your fingers intertwined in big chunks of hair. This will, every time, fucking hurt. And stop her in her tracks.

When I tried to get away from fights I didn't feel like having by walking away or running down the hall, he would grab my hair and pin it to the wall - or sometimes to the bed, and occasionally to a door - with his fist, then continue to scream in my face, and I couldn't do anything. When someone has you by the hair, you are literally stuck there, because it hurts so bad. And when you pull a woman's hair, in addition to the physical pain, we can't get away.

Cue the trigger.

I need to be able to get away from you; I don't like physical barriers, being held down, or having someone's hands in my hair...even in a romantically heated moment. It gives me anxiety and all of my passion is replaced with stress. And I have finally learned (thank you, therapist) that I do not need to apologize for this trigger. I'm not sorry about it, it isn't my fault. Someone else put that on me through physical violence in the privacy of our home, and in its place is now a trigger. While I am not at fault for my triggers, though, I am aware of them and open about them, and most importantly I communicate them to my current relationships.

It is important to your new and future relationships, as well as to your own well-being, that you can readily identify what your triggers are. It is also imperative that you be able to confront them, face them, and work through them, or they will continue to get in your way forever. It's okay that they're there, but in order to have a successful, healthy new relationship, you need to be able to share them openly - how unfair would it be to a guy, thinking we were just having fun, to pull my hair and have me radically freak out and totally ruin the moment? Not fair, and really not all that fun either.

I had this happen once last year. I was with a guy I was seeing at the time, and despite having said that I wasn't into being held down (probably weeks prior to this incident), he put one of his knees on my shoulder (sorry mom) while we were in his bedroom. He was much bigger and much heavier than me, and, enter trigger. I said, "get you knee off of me," and he didn't. What happened next? I lost my shit in a way that ruined any possibility of recovery for the night. There was yelling. There was shoving. There were tears. And mind you, this is someone I have known a long time, someone I have been great friends with for years, someone I have always trusted. But this is also someone who did not respect the pretty firm boundary I had in place when we first slept together. I need to be able to get away. It's an emotional response that I cannot eliminate, and you need to respect it.

The funny thing is, how much it changes when you encounter someone you trust. I was with someone else, much more recently, and we'd had a similar conversation about things that happened to me in the past, and the boundaries that I have because of it. And ironically, as things progressed with him, there was a pretty wild evening in which he grabbed my hair at the nape of my neck. I did not freak out or start crying; I did tense up and was instantly aware of almost nothing other than the feel of his fingers on my skin, but I was able to look him in the eye and still feel safe. Was I triggered by the initial action? Yes, absolutely. Could it have ended badly? Yep, of course. But I learned something that night about the difference between trusting that someone cares about you, and really believing that they would never hurt you. I have in no means let go of this emotional reaction to being held down or having my hair pulled; I am aware that it still scares me. But with someone who I have continued to trust, who has continued to value and respect me, I am able to consciously move past my initial run-and-hide-under-the-bed reaction.

Emotional triggers don't go away. You learn to live with them. You learn to have conversations and communicate them. You learn to cope with them. But most importantly, you learn to look for someone who understands and respects them, and who understands and respects you in spite of them. Take the time to listen to yourself, think about the ways you've been hurt or the ways you've been negatively impacted by something in the past, and be aware of those triggers. You'll be a much better person for it. A better person, with better, healthier, happier relationships.

And you may even eventually be able to have a passionate night of sex that does not end in tears.