Separation of Self: Learning to Cope

A trauma trigger is an experience that triggers a traumatic memory in someone who has experienced trauma. A trigger is thus a troubling reminder of a traumatic event, although the trigger itself need not be frightening or traumatic.

But I set myself up for it, I really do. 

Let’s get one thing straight:  I love my job, even if I don’t love some of the organizational aspects of where I work.  I love what I do.  I love helping people, and empowering them, and seeing little light bulbs go off in their heads when I help them come to a conclusion about their issues or their own personalities.  You could say, I suppose, that I have something of a “Hero Complex” because yes, I do want to save people – sometimes from themselves.  Do I always?  Nope.  But the potential is always there, and it’s the potential that I reach for.

But then there are days like today…

The trigger is always real. By definition, a trigger is something that reminds you of something bad or hurtful from your past. It ‘triggers’ an association or memory in your brain.

When I’m in session with a client, my personality changes.  I’m no longer the slightly introspective, intensely reclusive individual who likes nothing more than to curl up with my dogs and cats at home with a good book and some beer or wine.  I no longer think about what I have to do later that day, or bills I have to pay, or the latest episode of True Blood.

Okay… maybe I do that last one a little bit.

You may find yourself depressed and retreating from any contact with friends, or drinking a lot more every night, or smoking way more cigarettes than usual. You may find yourself getting lost in TV, video games, or pornography. Days later you may wonder, ‘Woah, how did I get back into this?’

The point is, I’m a different person when I’m in session.  I’m a professional.  My facial expressions are neutral for the most part, and it feels like I always seem to know what to say and do for each individual person. Yeah, I shove my foot in my mouth on occasion; but it tends to work out regardless.  I’m good at what I do.  And I know on a deep, cellular level that no matter where I am or who I’m working with, I’m doing exactly what I’m meant to do.  Fulfilling my purpose in life.  Extending the joy. 

Having triggers, or reacting to them, does not mean you are crazy or defective. However, when you are blind to what you are feeling and why you are feeling it, you may be driven to act in ways that do not serve you well.

Trust me, I know my triggers.  But so far, I’ve never been so triggered in any capacity with a client or patient that I was not able to serve them effectively.  I might have needed to process later with a supervisor or co-worker, and there might be times that I drink a little more heavily than others in response to stress, but I know my limits.  Maybe not as well as I know my capabilities, but I have a general idea.  Like now, for instance – I’m focused on drinking this beer, eating this chocolate, and watching some bad TV.  I did what I had to do at work, and now I’m nurturing myself… something I tell my patients to do just about every day.

Sometimes I marvel at some of the things my patients have experienced – yeah, I went through a shit-ton of stuff as both a kid and as an adult, but some of their stories put mine to shame.  And the fact that they’re still upright and functioning on some level is impressive to the max.  I’m maladaptive and crazy and not the nicest person on the planet, but at least I trudged through and got somewhere there toward the end.  Some of these people can’t, and never will.  All I can do is give them a few tools and teach them how to use them to get by on a day to day basis.  Sometimes, that’s all they need.

Basically, if you’re reacting to someone or something much more intensely than seems to make sense, then the situation has triggered something deeper and older in your brain. You’re not reacting to what’s actually happening in the here and now, and you’re certainly not acting freely.

Some simple examples of triggers and the ‘conditioned responses’ they unleash:

  • Someone criticizes something you’ve said or done, and you instantly get defensive and angry, then verbally go on the attack.
  • Someone criticizes something you’ve said or done, and you instantly feel crushed and defeated, then go silent and try to ‘disappear.’
  • Walking into your childhood home, your body suddenly tenses up and your eyes scan for threats.

Today, I got triggered.  Badly.  Unfortunately, I made the mistake of trying to reach out to a supervisor who had neither the time nor the patience to help me.  I’m thankful that I was able to turn to two co-workers who helped me process the session I’d just had and my reactions to it, and gave me professional advice on how to proceed with the patient in the best way.  Oh yes, and they also made sure to tell me to go home and take care of myself.  Because honestly, that’s the best thing you can do when you’re just not feeling life right at the moment. 

Being a survivor of assault and abuse while working with some patients who have the same type of history is challenging.  But at the end of the day, no matter how pissed off or disillusioned or afraid I might be, I always end up going back to where I belong – helping people.  But I have to always be cognizant of balance – the person, the professional, the survivor, the counselor, the friend, the roommate, the mother, the daughter, the sister.  And I have to wear each hat exclusively because piling them all on all at once doesn’t work. 

So for this evening, this moment, I’m doing me.  Regardless of what else I might be, I’m a spiritual being in a human body, and have to nurture that, honor it.  Everything else is secondary.

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To be, or do, or not…

In high school they said, “You’ll never get a decent job unless you go to college.”

So I went to college.  In college they said, “You’ll never get a decent job unless you get a Master’s degree.”

So I got a Master’s degree (or two).  But in grad school they said, “You’ll never get a decent job unless you get your license.”

To be clear, there are a few decent jobs that I can get with only a master’s degree and no license or certification.  They are not, however, what I went to grad school for (exactly).

So then I found myself in a sticky situation – get a good or decent job doing something that is not quite what I went to school for, or carry on to get my license.  I waited years before I decided I wanted to take that step because really, I was doing okay there for awhile.  But then I moved to Virginia, where things are a little bit different than they are in South Carolina; and I began to face a whole slew of new rules and regulations that I now have to practice under.

Fuck you.  That’s how it makes me feel.

So I found this great job, right?  And it’s right in my field, working with patients, getting supervision, and I’m finally going to get my license.  This is me, really excited about it.  Because I’m finally growing up.

Then my boss drops the bombshell.  “Blah blah blah insurance companies blah blah blah licensing board blah blah blah now I have to cover up my mistake and blah blah blah I’m not giving you any more clients.”

And my hours have effectively been cut.

So now I have one of three options:

  1. I can stay at my current job and get the experience I need, but not have enough money to pay the bills; or
  2. I can stay at my current job and get the experience I need, while taking on another part-time job to help me pay the bills; or
  3. I can leave my job and take a different one that will pay the bills, and when my paperwork comes back from the licensing board with a stamp of approval then my boss will “take me back”.

Let me see a show of hands of those who think that if I were to leave for another job and wait the 4-6 month period for my paperwork to come back, that my boss will NOT have hired new and already-licensed people in my place?







So this is me again:  on the prowl for a halfway decent part-time job that I can do in the evenings and on the weekends, that won’t kill me and/or drain me dry of every last shred of sanity that I possess.  Because I really do want to work harder, not smarter.  I really do want to stress myself out to the point of mental obliteration.  I really don’t want any free time or a social life to speak of.  (Well, okay, it’s not like I have an exciting social life anyway; but what if I wanted one?)

This is what I need…

And this is probably what you’ll get…

It’s a catch-22, apparently.  Because ALL of us who have not had our paperwork approved yet are going through this, and I can tell you that we’re pissed.  Have you ever seen a pissed off, stressed out, mentally unbalanced therapist?

See, look!  I’m just like you!

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A question of forgiveness:

This idea has come up quite a lot for me in recent weeks.

What’s the difference between making peace with someone (or a situation), and forgiving someone?

One answer that I got is that there is no difference.  When you forgive someone you find peace, and true peace (with a person or situation) can only come from forgiving them.  And forgiveness is essential, these people say, because it is necessary in order to move forward with your life.  After all, wouldn’t you want someone to forgive you for things you might have done as well?

Someone else has said that it’s possible to make peace with someone without asking for forgiveness, or giving it.  Granting someone absolution for a terrible deed they have committed is in effect conveying the idea that what they did was acceptable, and they are now absolved of all responsibility for what they have done.  Instead, make peace by “letting go” of that person or situation in the best way possible for you, and move on.  Forgiveness is not mandatory. 

So what are some things that are unforgivable?






Hey man, penguins can be some scary motherfuckers. 

My “list” is by no means comprehensive, but I would say that there are many people who feel that these things, these acts, are utterly reprehensible and therefore unforgivable.  The wounds our parents, caregivers, and other loved ones inflict upon us are the most difficult to heal.  As a result, victims/survivors of these kinds of acts often suffer from PTSD, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, carrying around the memories, flashbacks, nightmares, and general inability to cope with everyday stressors for months if not years.  Therapy can help, but nothing is guaranteed.  “Make peace,” says one camp; “forgive them for what they’ve done to you,” says another.

In my mind, there are some things that are absolutely unforgivable.  But making peace… now, that’s a different story, and one that I’m willing to explore the writing of.  It doesn’t mean that I have to repair a relationship with someone that has hurt me, or grant them absolution or amnesty; it simply means that I choose to let go of the pain that person caused me in whatever way works best for me.  That could be writing them a letter – and sending it, or not (but not keeping it as a reminder – burning such negative thoughts and feelings can be very therapeutic).  It could be writing my feelings down on a helium balloon and releasing it to the heavens.  It could be making the conscious decision to not just live my life, but to live it well – a sort of slap in the face if you will. 

No matter the means, it ultimately entails reclaiming the power that person or that situation took from me (or you).  It means standing on my own feet and recognizing my own self-worth, knowing that my concept of self simply cannot be derived from those who have proven themselves to be less than me.  Their power came from hurting; mine comes from healing.  It comes from moving on.  It comes from living. 

So shall I live.



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Since you’ve been gone…

It’s been one year and three days since you left us.

I got the text messages and one voicemail saying you were gone, that you were okay, that you just “needed to get away for a little while”.  You left us no explanation.  All of us kept trying to call you and text you over the next month and a half trying to figure out where you were, what was going on, what was going through your head, what was happening.  You never called any of us – your husband, your children.  We all needed you.  We were all scared.

After that, things got strange.  You broke into the house and took out all of your belongings.  We – the “kids”, I mean – started getting random text messages about how much you loved us and missed us.  You even came to my house to see me once, and acted really strangely – almost as if you were “casing the joint”, looking around and asking strange questions.  I hid family pictures, because I didn’t trust you.

And then Dad – Ron, your husband, my stepdad – was served the divorce papers.  Turns out you’re making some pretty crazy accusations against him, some of the same accusations you made against Daddy some 30-odd years ago.  And your family is backing you up 100%, even though they’ve been through this with you before.  That’s one of the things that really boggles my mind; that you keep living lie after lie after lie and think that you have the right to do so, and there are people who are willing to stand by your side no matter how despicable you are. Did you read a how-to manual on this kind of thing?

It’s funny, ironic, and sad that when we went to court, and when we go back again, that your own children sit on the side of their father instead of on the side of their mother.  Even me, who is not even a blood relative of the father.  I’ll be backing him up because what you’re doing to him is wrong, the lies you’re telling are wrong, and your duplicity is astounding.

Most importantly, what you’ve done to your own children is reprehensible.  I know that your rationale was “well, they’re legal adults now so they’ll be fine”.  The truth is that children need their mothers no matter how old they are.  The kids – now 23, 21, and 20 – were devastated.  They had to turn to their friends, boyfriends and girlfriends, and me to help ease their pain – they felt they couldn’t burden Dad with it.  The girls turned to me a lot and told me that they had always considered me to be their mom (even though I was gone for 13 years) and that “I was their mom for real now”.  You have no idea how much that broke my heart.  I have loved and cared for those kids like they were my own, especially when they were very small.  Now it’s an actuality, simply because you left.  You obviously didn’t do much “right” in this world, but you turned out three beautiful children and for that I’m grateful.  They’re mine now, and you will never get them back.  You turned your back on them.  They will never forgive you for that.

The divorce is not final yet but it will be in a few months.  In the past year I’ve dealt with a lot of anger toward you, and a lot of hurt.  This Independence Day, I’m liberating myself from you.  I’m releasing the ties that bind.  You’ve been gone for a year and I’m grateful for that too.  You were never any good for any of us.  I haven’t heard from you in seven months, except for an empty birthday card that meant absolutely nothing, and I’m not sorry.  I don’t wish you any ill but I can’t say that I wish you well either.

I want you completely out of our lives forever.

Thank you for leaving.

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Hello world!

This is supposed to be my first blog post on my new blog.  I’ll keep it short and sweet.




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