The Gifts of February: Surviving Triggers
February brought a lot of gifts and a lot of lessons. Hear that, 2017? Lessons don’t all have to be hard and suffering-riddled. Well, perhaps not true. The #MeToo movement has been gaining voices and echoes all around the world. And last month it hit really, really close to home. This time the pain was not mine but like an old fracture that aches in certain weather, my experiences echoed in the voices of the women who came out with their stories of being coerced, bullied and harassed.
I found myself standing at a crossroads. I could drown in the pain of remembered trauma and let 2017’s horrors (and 2012 and 2002–03) stay alive. I did what I do after every bad decision I make. I decided not to let it define me. These were things that happened to me; not things that are me. And every experience I have had, I have been able to turn into a lesson. So why not these?
I think that is why I was able to live through February without the rage that destroys every woman who has experienced violence of some sort by a man, and finds herself triggered over and over again as it continues in other women’s stories. No, it has not been easy.
I found myself wanting to throw a chair across a room, when I found myself sitting next to stories of violation, inside a room where some of those violations were probably perpetrated. I felt my breath catch as I watched a young girl clutch an inhaler as she spoke, back ramrod straight. Yes, I know what that feels like. I live in that pose most of the time. Determined and petrified, both at once.
In the weeks to come, I found myself seeing fear under people’s skin, prickling up as noticeably as goosebumps. Every man I know — in their wary glances that they probably don’t realise makes them look shifty. The damning silences in forums where hard truths are finally emerging from women’s insides. The brittle bluster that left me as disturbed as usual but seemed to leave them spent and a little scareder of me. I had one exhausting discussion where Papon’s actions were defended and where I screamed down the mansplaining and silencing being done to me. Whew.
And yet, February had gifts. I have survived it without falling prey to the mental darkness that plagued me in late 2017, without succumbing to toxic conversations and associations and habits. And that tells me something about that the old fears that surfaced in December when SXonomics addressed the issue of domestic violence. I have lived for a long time with the effects of gaslighting, not the least of all being the damning guilt that it was all my fault. December prised loose what I hope was the last of residual trauma and I spent weeks after that falling sick. But when I began February, I found myself on the other side, washed clean of the lingering effects of a poisonous person. I was never one. Could I be blamed if my skin burnt when it came into contact with toxic substances? I am not a violent person. I never was. I’ve borne too many things in my past, with grace to know this. Gaslighting made me forget. No more. So thank you February, for reminding me about who I am.
Traumas have a way of lingering on and triggers are sneaky things. But the healing can keep going on too. It’s a lot like addiction, really. Every day is a fresh battle with darkness. The world does not understand, cannot understand and possibly does not want to understand. But when the voices die down, it’s possible to find a minute of silence inside yourself. Mourn the death of all that you lost. And then, in that death, find peace. It is not entirely ugly.
February felt full of love though it wouldn’t look like that to someone from the outside. All I did was work. But if you’ve known me long enough, you know I live well when I have the opportunity to work well and vice versa. It’s good to be the person I love — Me.