Trigger Warning: some specific ED- and PTSD-related triggers are mentioned that may be triggering for some. Please be mindful of your personal triggers if/ when reading.
In a world where diet, exercise and weight loss are thrown around in everyday conversation, it can be exhausting to continue pushing myself down the “road of recovery”. Each comment is an invitation to slip – an attractive envelope trying to disguise the complete hell that was my unmanaged eating disorder.
My trauma triggers are less seductive. A tap on the shoulder, a sudden noise, a knock on the door and for a moment, my whole world shatters. It’s like the jolt of panic that runs through your body when someone’s phone goes off with the sound of your alarm. It’s been 9 years since my trauma and my body still jumps straight into the fight-or-flight response and I don’t understand why. I thought recovery meant that my triggers no longer impact me but that is absolutely not the case.
Triggers suck but they are also (mostly) uncontrollable. Unless someone is fairly close to me, I likely won’t tell them how much I do not want to hear about how guilty they feel for eating that donut or how awesomely sore they feel after their 10K run. It can be difficult managing my desire to be supportive while protecting myself. I often feel myself disconnect from the conversation because my mind has gone to a dark place and I’m doing everything I can in that moment to remind myself that just because they feel really guilty or really sore doesn’t mean I have to feel the same way to be okay. I’ve realized that I’m not at the place in my recovery where I can feel perfectly content with myself when someone is complaining about calories or boasting about exercise and that’s okay.
Recovery has taught me that it’s okay to put myself first.
self-care isn’t selfish.
I wish I could say I have a foolproof 5-step plan for triggers but sadly, I don’t. Triggers are subtle and unpredictable, which is why they are often so difficult to manage.
What has worked for me:
I have found that stepping away and taking a few moments to breathe and engage in positive self-talk (you are safe, you are enough, you are worth of recovery, X fear food is not good vs. bad, etc) has helped immensely. It can cause a bit of anxiety stepping away/ risking drawing unwanted attention to myself but I’ve found that staying in a situation has often made it much worse. I’ve also found it helpful to tell someone I trust when I feel triggered so that they can walk out with me and help talk me down or go on a walk with me and remind me to breathe.
Although I can’t really control what triggers me, my experiences have helped me to be more mindful of what I say or what I share on social media. For example, if I feel guilty about eating a certain food, I’ll talk to my counsellor or write it in my private journal rather than sharing it publicly. Also, if I go to the gym, I won’t share it on social media because I know that seeing other people’s gym selfies are really triggering for me and my self-worth (sorry, not sorry).
For the most part, these highly triggering conversations have become normalized in our culture and I try my best to unlearn or disengage because I know how damaging it can be for my own mental health.
My intention behind writing this post was not at all to shame anyone but rather to learn some strategies that work for others. If you have a 5-step or even a 1-step plan to managing your triggers, please please please comment below. I would like to believe that most people don’t start their day with the intention of triggering someone so if you read this and feel guilty for accidentally triggering someone, it’s okay. It happens, own it and ask how you can do better next time. I believe we can all do better by being mindful of what we share and considering how it might affect those around us. For example, when choosing to share something potentially triggering on social media (i.e. discussing specific disordered behaviours), you can use these awesome trigger warnings created by @bpdbabes to give your followers a heads up:
I hope reading this post sheds light on the inner battles that some of us face on a daily basis. If anything at all, I hope this helps explain why I likely won’t try to console you after your late night run to Mickey D’s.
Trigger Warning images created by @bpdbabes