Disclaimer: This story contains details of sexual abuse that may be upsetting to some.
“When I first started remembering the abuse I had gone through as a young child, I had no idea about the triggers which could set me off. Of course, what had started me remembering was in fact a trigger. When it all came out about Jimmy Saville, and the news was full of women coming forward with reports of what they had been through – a small match lit the furnace of my memories. I couldn’t work out what was wrong with me to begin with, why my mind was in such turmoil, and I felt so knotted up inside.
I was in a steady relationship with a wonderful man (now my husband) who loved me for me with no questions asked. Things should have been amazing. It wasn’t until my minister at my Church asked me what was going on and asked me outright that I admitted for the first ever time what had happened to me as a child. It was the first time I had admitted the truth to myself and the first time I had admitted the truth to someone else. It took 25 years to admit what had happened to me from the first time the abuse happened when I was a child.
I had no idea about the steep learning curve that was before me and the momentous challenge I now faced in coming to terms with the trauma I had been through. It was like putting together a giant jigsaw puzzle. While it was incredibly traumatic, there was also a massive relief to find out the cause of my reactions to certain situations; there wasn’t actually anything wrong with me, it was due to what I had been through.
One time, my grandmother was very ill and it was my last opportunity to see her. I ended up getting very hysterical as I couldn’t cope with going away with my abuser to go and see her, and I ended up being slapped across the face to bring me to my senses. It was actually the last time I saw my grandmother, so I am thankful I went, but I could never understand why I reacted this way. I always thought – and was always made to feel – there was something wrong with me. There was nothing ‘wrong’ with me; it was my body remembering the trauma it had already been through and trying to protect me. It takes a very long time to work out what the triggers are and how to manage them, to even recognize I had triggers to work through.
I came to realize over the years that pregnancy was a huge trigger for me. I would have had such a different experience if I had been aware of this. There needs to be far more awareness about it! As soon as the midwife is aware of your history, there should be an immediate conversation about the extra support needed, to make the mom-to-be aware she is in control of the situation, about how she might encounter unexpected triggers, especially if the pregnancy and delivery is traumatic.
All midwives and medical staff need to have specialized training in this and to work closely with their patient. Things like having the same midwife as much as possible from pregnancy to postnatal is so important, especially for the patient to be completely included in all things and to make sure she feels empowered to use her own voice, not intimidated. I know a severe amount of funding is needed, but it’s crucial to the mental health of the mom.
Even if the labor and delivery hasn’t been traumatic, the new mom needs to be checked that she’s okay, to have not just one but several conversations to see if there are new triggers that have kicked in for her, or if she found something particularly traumatic so she can talk it through rather than having it spin round in her head along with all the raging hormones and sleep deprivation. With my own son’s birth, it was traumatic and I encountered many triggers (like trying to breastfeed). I can’t state strongly enough how much this needs to change. There doesn’t just need to be awareness, but proper conversations and support.
This support needs to be ongoing. The baby isn’t going anywhere and makes claims to the mom’s body that she hasn’t encountered before. Even if you aren’t going to breastfeed, skin-to-skin contact is still crucial. You have to meet your baby’s every need because that’s your job. This can be daunting at the best of times, but when you encounter new triggers, things can get very overwhelming very quickly as you then have to come to terms with the triggers and how to manage them on top of caring for your baby.
One big trigger that happened for me was when my baby son used to put his hand over my mouth. He used to do this when he was feeding or wanting a cuddle or playing. I used to completely freeze inside and would get really worked up. It wasn’t until he was nearly 18 months old that I worked out what the problem was. I had never particularly liked having a scarf over my mouth or anything, but I had never particularly thought much of it. However, it was another piece of the jigsaw puzzle for me and I realized it was trigger too when I would have a hand or pillow placed over my mouth to stop me making a sound, and my body was remembering the trauma. If I had had the proper support, it would never have taken me so long to work out what was going on.
The conversation is complicated and complex around sexual abuse, and more so when you throw motherhood into it as well. Far more needs to be done with far more support than is currently offered. I think it is easy to forget you are on a journey when you have suffered the trauma of any kind of abuse. It’s a journey you learn to live with and learn from alongside and in life itself. There is no right or wrong way to come to terms with trauma. However, it is too easy to forget you are not alone and easy to feel overwhelmed by what you have been through.
I would say so far I have learned 2 big lessons in helping me learn to live with the trauma and come out on the other side. The first is to breathe. When things feel like they are crowding into my mind and I feel overwhelmed, I force myself to stop what I am doing and just breathe and focus on that breath. It sounds so simple, but I’ve found it really challenging before to be able to just do that. As I focus on that breath, one at a time. The second lesson I have learned is to allow myself permission to not worry about the future. To take one step at a time and just focus on that one step. We live in a society filled with noise anyway, which doesn’t help when you have a crowding in your mind. To give yourself permission to just breathe and to not let yourself worry are very empowering if you let it. Look how much you have come through already. Look how good you are at surviving. Do you ever tell yourself that? You are doing far better than you think you are. Keep going. Keep breathing.
One of the big things I find helps me are words. I love learning from other people’s experiences and thoughts – be it an article, a soundbite, or a poem. I find it makes me feel less alone and I can learn about different ways of dealing with issues. I found this poem on the internet and it really spoke to me about the struggles in my mind, especially when it comes to triggers when you can find yourself battling the past while dealing with life in the present. It’s okay to feel like this, and it’s okay to tell yourself you will come out of the other side.
My mind struggles against its own
nightmare tumbles out into still
light is heavy,
a fog of echoes…..
and I am caught
day dreams the sunlight
dreams light the day
and I am caught in between
like a stillborn ghost
who can’t take a breath in the
(Re-collecting Mind May 2013…. Chapter 14: PTSD)”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Lucia Richardson. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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