What my trauma triggers teach me– partner of a sex addict

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Overall I’m sad that I have ptsd. It has robbed me of my memory, ability to concentrate, my job, my marriage, close relationships with certain friends and family, my health, time, my identity and even makes me question God's promises to me. I sometimes feel guilt and shame that I'm not better at handling this as well as people might expect. I feel misunderstood as if I enjoy this or use it as an excuse to release my feelings, or that I'm an unforgiving person.

This particular trigger occurred during a typical dinner conversation about our day. The trigger itself probably doesn’t matter as much as our responses—or should I say reaction. I asked my husband a question about someone I thought he saw that day and had a feeling I already knew the answer--it was someone I now avoid since the discovery of my husband's SA. That was my first red flag that I was dissociating and I didn't listen to it. I think I wanted to be wrong in my intuition and hoped it was someone else even though my gut told me otherwise. Lesson: I will be more vigilant with those early warning signs that I’m about to get triggered.

Husband's facial expression confirmed it before he verbally confirmed it. I felt grateful that Husband didn't lie, even though it pierced my heart like an ice pick. Stabbing pain.

I don't remember the words I said as much as the thoughts and feelings I experienced because I dissociated as soon as Husband confirmed he talked with Bob*. My thoughts were racing. I felt frantic---short of breath, heart pounding. Like a panic attack. I remember telling myself "stay focused, stay focused, stay focused" over and over.  I did my usual things--prayed,  and I tried looking for 5 red things but couldn't even concentrate on that task. I'm proud of my healing progress in that I was able to recognize, at least by then, what was happening to me and used my grounding techniques, but it escalated despite that effort because of the conversation that ensued-- lesson: practice more grounding. One thing I've recently learned is to smell something really strong to interrupt my intrusive thoughts. I'm going to see if they still sell those menthol sticks you use for a stuffy nose. I can carry that in my purse or pocket. That gives me hope and makes me feel empowered, no matter how silly it may look. 🙂

When triggers escalate I feel like a tortoise on its back. I'm completely vulnerable, unsafe and unable to help myself. That dreaded out-of-control feeling takes hold.

I felt completely blind-sided in this one. I've become so used to predicting where my triggers could be, revising my safety plan for each scenario, scanning a room for people, praying, etc. that I actually forgot I can still be blind-sided. I've become a bit cocky I guess.  Lesson: pray for humility about my triggers

Those are the worst kinds of triggers--the unexpected ones. I had no warning of this and hadn't thought about Bob and how he used to go act out with my husband at various places in months or even a year.

Husband could tell I was no longer present (I'm pleasantly amazed he could see my dissociation) despite my attempts to focus and he opened the door to discuss Bob and my trigger.

I now remember thinking—“don't discuss this on a date, what if he can't handle what you have to say", but also thinking that "I'm not being true to myself or Husband if I'm not honest about my feelings. I can't stuff them because they'll boil up later and it will seem out of context--so he'll never understand me then. He'll think I'm overreacting and use that against me.” I also desperately wanted to give Husband a chance to be there for me in case he might actually help and I can learn to trust him with my triggers. He’s working hard on learning empathy.

All of that in about 1.4 seconds.

So my initial trigger was about Bob. Bob  had betrayed me and was a friend. He was in my wedding which means he had an even greater responsibility to protect my marriage---not enable its demise. He is a threat to me, despite Husband's years of healthy recovery. I feel stronger about all the other friends that knew of Husband’s infidelities than I do about the actual affair partners (I didn't know any of them).  My thoughts swirled when my husband first told me which friends knew about some of his acting out: "am I so worthless to them? Is that why they didn't tell me? Why don't I mean more to them?" Lesson: I suspect there's still a very small part of me that might feel that way.

The secondary trigger of Husband willingly talking to Bob consumed me with fear. It took my legs right out from underneath me. Bob is a threat to me so why would my husband talk to someone he knows is so upsetting to me? Now I'm not only dealing with Bob as a threat, but Husband isn't protecting me either. I thought I could count on him. Husband knowingly put me in harm's way. Husband witnessed my reaction the last time I saw Bob. He witnessed me almost pass out when Sally* was in Walmart. Husband saw what happened when we saw the Smith’s* at that event.

It's betrayal upon betrayal. The triggers were compounded when Husband said he didn't know I felt that way about him talking to Bob and that I hadn't made it very clear. I don't believe him given the examples from above. My head starting spinning!!! “What else haven't I made clear? How can I stop anything like this from happening again? Does he not care about me at all?” Back to feeling frantic about what else I haven't made clear.

I panicked inside thinking “I need to make things clear”.  

Lesson: I don't need to make anything else clear.  It's clear already.  Perhaps he chose not to listen and try to blame me to take the spotlight off him.

That was another 1.4 seconds.

I felt extremely invalidated and shut down when Husband tried to apologize with "I'm sorry you feel...or I'm sorry that you are..." statements. This apology doesn't show that he admits to doing anything wrong (and he doesn't believe he did anything wrong--so don't bother saying sorry then). Just be honest. I also take these types of apologies as me being blamed or judged as it suggests that I'm overly sensitive, overreacting, dramatic, and irrational, that my feelings are wrong. I feel manipulated when there's really no ownership for the wrongdoing (even though I did sense meaningful regret) because it can be used to elicit forgiveness without acknowledging fault.

This response from him baits me into trying to explain trauma AGAIN and how it affects me as though that will suddenly make him see, and help me. That's just wrong. Firstly, that never works and secondly, I deny myself the chance to feel and process the actual trigger when I do that.  That was my biggest lesson learned.

Husband's defensive remarks of "I didn't know” or” I just said hi” or “I've given up these friendships" further fuelled my sadness. That, plus his own escalation showed me he was incapable of comforting me, not allowing me to feel it, not supporting me. You don't have to agree to validate someone's experience. My guess is that Husband was afraid to sound like he agreed with me, when clearly he doesn't.

I felt abandoned and alone even though Husband was physically there.  I managed to stand up for myself and held my boundaries against what the hurtful things I was hearing.

I can see how my willingness to let Husband deeper into my heart hurt me further this time, when he's not fully rid of his own shame. He is my husband so I still have an expectation that he will walk beside me in sickness and in health. He is the one that I spend the most time with so that means the odds are he will see my trauma responses more than anyone. This scares me because as like happened here, the initial trigger turns into 3 or 4 more within 5 minutes. That's too much! I want his help, not because I'm dependent, but because it's part of marriage and he's around me the most. But if he can't help me, then I'm at risk of further pain and trauma. Who would want that?

That's when I go to divorce--the ultimate boundary. I think to myself: “ Just make the pain stop. If he's not around me, I won't hurt as often.” When I thought of that I almost instantly de-escalated. That sudden calm feeling reminds me of a scene in the movie Lethal Weapon when Riggs is acting crazy and then immediately calms right down and says "I'm hungry. I'm gonna get something to eat". I just calmed down. I could think clearly. I was able to hear him better.  He deeply and sincerely apologized.  I told him I released him (forgave him).

Question is--how can I obtain and sustain that feeling of calm during a trigger without threatening divorce? After all, I love my husband and he's done very well in his recovery over the years.  Lesson: Be gentle and forgiving of myself, continue with EMDR, don't take on more than is my responsibility.

Those questions are always a part of my "trauma hangover", as my sister in this journey calls it. After any significant trigger I feel exhausted, yet I can't sleep. I’m emotionally and spiritually drained, shameful and guilty that I would become this way under ANY circumstance.

I didn't ask for this. It is costing me dearly. I'm working really hard but sometimes it's just not fast enough. I feel like I'm a colander that's leaking faster than the liquid being poured into it.

Lesson: My love of marriage and spirit of faith wins over any trigger eventually, and I will never give up trying to plug the holes.

 

*names have been changed

4 Comments

  1. marina

    I think that the most important thing a person needs to know when choosing to stay in a relationship with a SA is why? Secondly is it worth the trauma? I hope that each one in relationship with a SA will above all be true to themselves and remember to reevaluate with the passage of time. The main question being is this still worth it?

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