I’ll Take Triggers for $500, Alex


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triggersThis isn’t what I was planning to write about today. I planned to do a lovely, grateful post about how my goldfinches are back after many weeks of absence prompted by the bear damage to the bird feeder station that put it out of commission for such a long time. Okay, while I’m at it – the first birds to return were the tufted titmice, then chickadees and the Carolina wren (who doesn’t actually feed on the birdseed, but seems to like the camaraderie of the other birds who do). Now, the goldfinches. Not only are they enjoying the easy meal at the feeders, but they are delighting me by noshing on the seed heads of my spent coneflowers (Echinacea) right outside my breakfast room window.



But, here’s what’s actually happening today. It is a day exactly like the day my darling husband died. It is overcast. The temperature is cool, but not cold. No wind. Autumn leaves carpet the ground. And the nearby arsenal1 is doing this thing where they make constant, huge, explosive noises all day long. My husband used to tell me it was the expulsion of steam, but it sounds like they are blowing things up.

That day, his best friend was helping me change the battery on the electric fence around the beehives to keep marauding bears out. When we got back to the house, we found my darling was gone. It wasn’t expected. While he and I had been all-consumed with fighting his cancer hard and around the clock for weeks and weeks, we had not contemplated the end. And not that soon, or on that day.

There were a lot of people I had to talk to that day, all while dealing with the agony of losing the best part of me so totally, finally and unexpectedly. To say I was unprepared is to understate my condition beyond comprehension. I will never ever forget the details of that day. The pain today is not fresh, it isn’t as raw or acute, but it is hard. So hard. My grief counselor says I suffer from PTSD, and I guess she’s right. What I do know is that there are things, atmospherics if you will, that will set me off. Today just happens to be a day full of them, and I wish the goddamned arsenal would just stop.



A word we hear everywhere these days is “trigger”. It is used in the context of certain things triggering an emotional response from people who’ve suffered a trauma, particularly abuse, sexual assault or harassment – much of which is being reported in the news presently. I know that every single time there is a conversation or report of such events, many people are experiencing some degree of their earlier pain again, and again. When the bombardment (no pun intended, damned arsenal) is as incessant as we’ve seen and heard lately, the scab doesn’t even have time to reform before it’s ripped off again.

I found this short, informative article that I’ll share with you, in case you’re interested – the gist of which is that our senses (ranked in order of their potency): sight, sound (damned arsenal), smell, touch and taste are the basis of an emotional trigger – a thing that “sets off a memory tape or flashback transporting the person back to the event of her/his original trauma”. I can attest. I know that many of you can, too.

Now, I believe I’ll go turn on HGTV or something benign, volume up, and snuggle with Fergus who, today, is acting as my therapy dog. There’s almost nothing sweeter than a snoring Fergus tucked under my arm.


1The Radford Army Ammunition Plant (RFAAP) is miles away from my mountainside, but you can see it from here, across the New River. It supplies, not just the US Army, but manufactures propellants and explosives in support of field artillery, air defense, tank, missile, aircraft and Navy weapons systems. It is the sole supplier of TNT to the US Department of Defense. Since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began, it has run 24/7 and is a major employer in this part of southwest Virginia. There are other high level IT services it provides to the US Government, but I’m not allowed to talk about those…