As I started to write I thought I’d better put a trigger warning up front. Then I realized that this blog is one big trigger warning…I’m writing about flashbacks and I’m writing about triggers.
For me flashback is a word that doesn’t really hit the mark. I don’t like it. But I accept that we need a shared description that broadly defines an experience so that we have a common reference point.
Of course I’m not going to write about the detail of my flashbacks. I’ll keep that for me and my therapist. But I am going to write about the process of having them. This is my experience – it is individual, specific to me, and is not an attempt to be definitive.
So, the first thing to say is that I rarely have flashes of anything. If the definition of flashback is to re-experience a traumatic event from the past then that is what is happening to me. But it’s very rarely sudden, it’s not a ‘one off’ and it doesn’t really flash; although I am occasionally jettisoned elsewhere.
I live with a constant image in my head – a nasty one – that never goes away. It is the image that told me when I was a child that the abuse was about to happen. It’s with me when the sun’s out, when I’m throwing up, throughout periods of work, rest or play, and of course when I’m trying to go to sleep.
I don’t always notice it. A bit like a visual defect, a blind spot in my vision (which I also have), sometimes it is there but not there. My brain compensates for the obstruction. Other times I can see nothing else. Frequently me and that image just co-exist. Occasionally this can mean I have my own comedy moments: a serious work situation overlaid with something altogether different and no one has a clue what’s currently screening in my personal cinema.
The second thing is I usually know when I’m likely to start having the images. This is particularly true if they are new ones. I just feel different. My brain ticks over just a bit too quickly (not in a productive way!). My body is uncomfortable. A sense of unease starts to gather around me. I want to pull away from people and the world around me.
Third. Flashbacks aren’t always images. I’ve recently had the audio-flashback. A little podcast of a sound memory – voices – which invades me, then replays, then eventually settles. This is particularly irritating – not only does it interfere with my personal airwaves, but audio takes up a lot of my RAM and cerebral hard drive. It slows my brain down and I can’t adapt very well to additional sounds. In fact I really hate noise of any kind.
Fourth and final thing. The triggers are just everywhere. Really. It is not just the obvious things that trip you into a flashback. In fact talking frankly about abuse-related issues rarely does. It’s the small things, daily, that can make you feel bombarded: certain clothing, a smell, the weather, washing my hands (yes, I know…), types of behaviour or responses. Or it’s the obvious ones badly handled: casual mentions of abuse by friends or colleagues never imagining it’s something you’d know about, or skewed reporting of “scandals” like Savile, Harris, Rotherham, Church of England, children’s homes, MPs. And it can be just a bad or uneasy feeling, plain and simple, that starts the process off.
And that’s why I started #everydaytriggers on twitter. I use that hashtag to make a record, as I go, of those things that trigger me, and invite other survivors to do the same. We might have a little twitter chat about them or we might not. But we’ve said it.
Triggers give rise to flashbacks. But neither of these is really what it seems.
For my friends at Survivors Together.