IF SADIE CAN, I CAN


One lasting effect of surviving abuse or trauma is high emotional reactivity.  In a word, it’s over-reacting.  Over-reacting when triggered is a common response with abuse or trauma survivors and can create dangerous situations.  High reactivity, when triggered, can result in someone becoming suicidal or homicidal within seconds over something really small and insignificant.  Because of trauma, the brain’s “fight or flight” response can kick in at an alarming level and in only seconds.  This is one effect of trauma or abuse that survivors are wise to recognize and work to manage.  The best strategy is prevention and being able to pull out of a situation quickly before full reactivity is engaged.  As a survivor of cumulative trauma (a long series of smaller level traumas that eventually result in a trauma effect) I’ve had to struggle with high reactively most of my adult life.  Before fully accepting this is a trait I have and can not simply ignore it away, I created great damage in my relationships both personally and professionally (some of which were permanent).  I can become an absolute tiger when triggered.  My adult daughter best described it by saying “your anger can fill the entire room”.  A co-worker described it by saying “If I ever go to Whisky River (a truly red-neck, country and western bar) I want you right by my side”.  You bet.  I can and will stand up against the most fierce street fighter without fear or the most minimum level of common sense.   I once stopped myself (thankfully) after grabbing a loaded gun and flying out my screen door to confront a group of strangers who had parked and gathered in my drive way–I truly intended to discharge that weapon.  I once left in my car and just drove and drove (with the plan to drive all the way down to Key West which is as far as I could possibly drive) following a disagreement with my husband (I can’t even remember what the disagreement was about).  My verbal attack skills would shrink the worst of the worst into a corner.   It’s reassuring that I am able to defend myself yet it is also frightening and embarrassing.  I could lose my job if I’m not careful.  I could go to jail if I act on my instincts.  It’s not acceptable or appropriate to verbally or physically act out no matter how justifiably provoked I feel.  Adults can and should learn to control themselves.  Over the years I’ve worked very hard to manage my emotions especially when triggered.  I’ve learned to pay attention to my physical cues and most importantly not to respond when I am triggered.  I have taught myself not to call people, not to e-mail people, not to confront people, not to respond in any way, shape, form, or fashion when I am angry.  I have lost all the relationships I care to by over-reaction.  I have suffered enough retaliation in the work place for coming up against people in authority without considering consequences or diplomacy.  While “fight” is normally my response when triggered, “flight” also shows up once in a while so I am also careful when I feel like fleeing.   I try hard not to judge myself and put myself down.  I am a survivor.  I will not make an easy victim any more and would go down fighting even if I died doing so.  This much I know.  No one will get their hands on me against my will ever again.  No one will ever force me to do something I don’t want to do by using fear tactics.  I will not allow anyone to abuse me verbally, emotionally, sexually, or physically as long as I live without putting up a fight to the death.  It will not be pleasant and it will not be easy for any would-be perpetrator.  However, I also won’t allow my emotions to dictate or control my actions–the best I can.  I have given myself hope and encouragement that I can, indeed, exert control of this process by telling myself that if Sadie can control her instincts then surly I can too.  Sadie is our quarter horse mare who is of a mustang heritage (Aztec Mustang).  Because of the mustang heritage, Sadie is highly reactive.  With training, patience, and practice, Sadie has learned to withstand her natural reactivity and to resist her instincts when triggered.  I’ve seen Sadie stand there visibly trembling with fear yet step forward and bravely face the thing she is convinced is a monster ready to devour her.  If she can do it, I can too!

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