Early on my therapist told me that part of her treatment plan for my PTSD was to get me to stop being triggered by so many things. Mopeds. Kleenex boxes. Wooden church pews. The smell of pickles. A dog bowl. It was exhausting. Each time I worked through the underlying roots; felt the pain; accepted; forgave; confronted; shared my feelings; and moved on. Some were erased; others grew new roots and had to be ‘faced’ and ’embraced’ all over again. (Face it, embrace it, erase it, is a common CBT motto).
I was so co-dependent and self conscious, or something, that I just listened to my therapist’s advice. Until I realized that since I was paying for our hour together, I could take the wheel when things didn’t feel right. So one day I’d had enough and let her know it:
“O.k. what if I don’t want to overcome all these triggers?! What if some things that I avoid are just how it needs to be for me? What if I WANT some of these things to bother me forever? What if I decide not to avoid the avoidance with every little thing that’s bugging me??!!” I leaned forward in my chair; my heart racing from a sudden need-to-be-assertive rising up inside.
“What do you mean?” She asked; her eyes a little surprised but her voice soft and careful.
“Our neighbor Jake avoids rice. He didn’t touch the casserole I made him when he came to our house one evening as it had rice in it. Told me he doesn’t eat rice. Then added that he had ‘had enough rice in Vietnam to last two lifetimes.'”
I looked pointedly at my therapist, “Clearly he had some PTSD from that. And he didn’t make a big deal of it. He just didn’t eat the rice. Luckily I had some bread and vegetables for him. So, can’t some of these things bugging me just be my rice?”
She leaned back. Narrowed her eyes and told me something she said often, “I hope you wrote that one down somewhere. You could use that in your novel.” Then she continued, “Do you really want to be debilitated by mopeds and pickles for the rest of your life? I mean, you can, if you want to. But, I don’t think you’d be showing up here each week working so hard if you were ok with avoiding so many things.”
I nodded, realizing the truth in what she’d said and feeling my confidence get washed dry from guilt–as I hadn’t been writing at all (and she kept talking in sessions as if I was actually writing all the time or something). She continued, “But, yes, later on as you keep going with your recovery, you may find that there are a few things that are easier to just avoid. It may be empowering at that point to make those choices, actually. Like your neighbor avoids rice. That’s all part of PTSD: figuring out what to keep avoiding and what to shelve for later and what to conquer now.”
I think I am getting down to my ‘rice’ now. Even though they are not very many anymore, when a trigger hits me now; it’s a doozie.
I’m wiped out for days. One of the major triggers that remains is contact with my family of origin; particularly the ones who perpetrated abuse. God gave me a love for them; a natural inclination; that will never go away. I feel broken that our relationship remains broken. I will still pray for them.
But it’s time I leveled with myself. They have not changed. And until they do; I’ve had enough ‘rice’ in my life to last two lifetimes.
There are other things to eat for dinner.