I thought of this idea while seeing a musical on Broadway for the sixth time, and something that happens triggered a memory for the first time despite me having seen this same scene five times prior.
Some things always trigger me. But evidently, not all things do. And my triggers are unique to me just like others’ are unique to them. I thought it might be helpful to document all the things that trigger me in one week. I think it will show the inconsistency that comes with recovery as well as show the different ways my world can tie itself back to my trauma. There’s a wide degree of triggers, some more like reminders, others that cause a hypervigilant reaction without a conscious direct correlation, and depending on how this week goes, some that are completely debilitating.
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FRIDAY 11-something pm, man on subway sits in the middle seat, which is next to me, instead of the open seat one down. Not exactly a trigger, but makes me uncomfortable and on high alert. I make sure he doesn’t follow me when I get off to transfer.
Friday 11:37 pm, man with guitar or bass case on the subway. Triple check that it’s not him.
SATURDAY 12:58 am, I’m lying on my belly trying to fall asleep. Outside my window there’s some kind of noise that sounds like a woman maybe yelling or weeping. It happens just once. I go from half asleep to fully alert and I can feel my heart beating against my mattress. I think about it until I convince myself it must have been a sneeze.
Saturday 2:51 am, I wake up from, wish I was being dramatic, possibly the worst nightmare I have ever had involving a dual alien invasion with complete psychological torture followed with physical torture that in the end I survived but I had watched everyone else die and had my entire self brought into question by these torturers but anyway the dream started as a dream where I went to the police station and ended up finding out they had much more fully investigated my rape than I knew and it was a big joke to them, the detectives all hated me and never believed me.
Saturday sometime after that before 6 am, another dream. In this one Avery convinces me to talk to him as if we are friends, which at first I do with some sort of plan of exposing him for the rapist he is, but eventually slowly he manipulates me more and more until I’m lying to my loved ones telling them I still have some sort of plan but actually he and I are in a relationship and no one knows it.
Saturday. Spent an ungodly number of hours doing round two of Marie Kondo-ing my clothes. Even after round one of getting rid of stuff, I still have clothes from high school (even a pair of leggings from middle school god help me). A lot of memories. A lot of my favorite pieces. With memories. Not joy-sparking ones. A pair of pants I really fought not to get rid of last round, but they remember too much. I’ll never wear them again because of it. Even though I love them. A dress I bought after a horrible day as a pick-me-up. I called it my lucky dress in my head back then. It feels like my lonely dress now. It can be new for someone else. It is really cute. And the sweater I wore when I gave my statement to the detective. I agonize over this one for a while. It makes me sad but it gives me strength on bad days. It reminds me of rape. I get rid of it, too. On the bright side, triggering clothes make getting rid of them easier.
Saturday 10:45 pm ish, fiancé uses the word “tight” while we are walking to Target.
Saturday 10:53 pm, can’t go to Target without being next to Guitar Center. Can’t see Guitar Center without remembering everything.
SUNDAY 1:19 am, trying to sleep but can’t stop thinking about a couple t-shirts I can’t find. Wondering if I accidentally put them in the donate bag. I tell fiancé. This leads to a discussion about brain function which reminds me of something a friend said at summer camp like eleven years ago about how my brain works (“instead of seeing a box Ashley sees all six sides and how they come together”), which reminds me that I had a crush on a kid at that camp and even told him. Remembering I actually had a crush pre-rape makes me realize I did have some sort of budding sexuality so for once I have some kind of a hint at the answer to the everpresent question of ‘would I have been somewhat asexual if not for the rape’ and it seems like the answer is leaning towards no so that’s fucking fabulous. Hoping by writing this down it will stop this spiral from going any further and I can just fall asleep.
Sunday 11 am, had to put in tampon. Was one of the better experiences with it but there’s almost always that one moment of shit and today was no exception.
Sunday 12:21 pm, taking tampon out. Bad.
Sunday 7:57 pm, at grocery store in the fridge aisle. It’s cold. I walk under a vent blowing hot air. I pause there cuz it feels good but then I’m standing under the hot vent outside Penn Station with my rapist the day I confronted him in person.
MONDAY morning, someone at work is upset and punches a table and ends up having to be restrained. The violence and loudness of the desk punch causes a physical stress reaction in me. I also think about when my rapist told me that he flipped a table in anger.
Monday 11:46 am, email from my lawyer. Instant terrible anxiety. Heart actually aches. Flashback to the first time I saw a communication from my rapist’s lawyer.
This anxiety is going strong. Stuff with the court case has been slow the last nine months so I’m not used to it anymore.
Monday 3:14 pm, attorney at work refers to a 16-year-old as an adult. Especially with the ongoing lawsuit anxiety, this reminder of some familiar legal arguments isn’t helping.
Monday 3:19 pm, email from my attorney I was anxious to get. Can’t open it while I’m working. Severe somatic flashbacks. Stomach instantly liquifies. I struggle to stay focused on my job and feel very ill. Almost need to request a break. Manage to make it through and read the email and feel much better, better than I felt from before the first email from him today. Thank God.
Monday 5:30 pm ish, talking to my neighbor on the train. She says “gorgeous.” Hide the moment from my face like I always do at the sound of this word.
Monday 8 pm ish, put in tampon. Hate everything but it’s not that bad, especially cuz I was on the phone with one of my best friends when doing it.
Monday 9:45 pm, actual best tampon removal of all time. Still triggering.
TUESDAY 8 am ish, I’m shaving my legs. Reminds me of leg hair which reminds me of this image in my head of his legs
Tuesday 8:27 am, song comes on that I love but that reminds me of something that I really struggle with. Full spiral does not ensue this time thankfully.
Tuesday 8:33 am, I’m standing on the subway in front of a two seater. Typically two people will stand in front of it hanging onto the pole. I take the second spot. A man decides three people can stand there, because his arms are longer than mine so if he stands just behind me he can still reach. Except now he’s basically pressed against me. I lean really awkwardly to make it so he’s not touching me. The train is crowded but not crowded enough to make this necessary. I don’t want to say he’s definitely moving closer when I move away, but he definitely doesn’t seem concerned about touching me. Thankfully a seat opens and I take it. He’s now standing diagonal from me. I watch him to make sure he’s not doing anything creepy to the woman who is now next to him. Seems fine. He moves in front of me when that spot opens. And when I get up, he doesn’t move out of the way but instead just apologizes for not moving? I would have loved to shut my eyes while I had a seat but I was afraid to stop watching him, like if I did he would do something bad.
Tuesday 9:21 am, the word “gorgeous.”
Tuesday 4:45 pm ish, talking to a co-worker in the bathroom, and she makes reference to someone being “fucked on the kitchen counter,” which is a surprisingly specific reference to TWO distinct memories of mine. Triggers one feeling and one image.
Tuesday 11 pm onward, watching a YouTube video that was recommended about Romeo Lacoste. The person starts talking about the grooming process generally and it is enlightening and shocking. I’ve used that word to describe my experience but felt like it was “weird” since he wasn’t much older than me. But nope. Textbook. I spiral into watching videos on this topic to learn more for the next hour. Had to really think about how I ended up there. I should have gone to bed a while ago.
WEDNESDAY 8:28 am, man literally trying to play his guitar on a somewhat crowded train and falls into a woman since he can’t balance while the train is moving. He has several conversations with people so I guess no one else is bothered by his presence. His voice is so loud. Some of his features are similar to rapist’s.
Wednesday 8:47 am, sounds of man putting his belt back on in the elevator. Constant struggle.
Wednesday 11:54 am, working on the transcript where the attorney refers to the 16-year-old as an adult. Didn’t realize it was that case I was working on.
Wednesday 1 pm, it’s crowded at the store. I see someone I know. You never know when and where you’ll see someone you know.
Wednesday 2 pm, I’m unlocking the door to the courtroom but holding a lot of stuff so somewhat struggling. The lights are off. I open a second door, and someone I didn’t know was following me whispers IN MY EAR, “it’s dark,” and scares the shit out of me too much at first. Thankfully it’s a woman.
Wednesday 5:09 pm, male of the right body type is on the subway — bad enough. And he’s staring at me — even worse. But it’s not him.
Wednesday 7:45 pm ish, putting in tampon. Not great.
Wednesday 8:08 pm, man on subway accidentally rubs his arm against my knee.
Wednesday 8:12 pm, tall blonde man the right build. Why. And he’s getting off the same stop as me. Why why.
Wednesday 8:30 pm ish, pool is relatively crowded. This triggers some kind of anxiety I’m not 100% sure relates to rapist, but is a similar feeling to some other inexplicable anxiety I developed in the aftermath. Some interactions related to the crowding and what lane I’m going to go in happen that make me kind of freeze up and go on autopilot.
Wednesday 9:20 pm ish, taking tampon out. Hate everything for a sec.
Wednesday 9:39 pm, saw an Instagram of someone doing a workout at the gym I did with rapist when we went to the gym together.
Wednesday 11:53 pm, fiancé says “tight” again (he’s using it as like an adjective to say sarcastically “great” and this is coincidentally a new thing this week). This time I ask him to stop.
THURSDAY 8:21 am, man on subway right next to me with right body type. Not him.
Thursday 8:24 am, different man who really looks just like him. Even his face. Without my glasses on I’m not sure it’s not him. Just have to tell myself there’s no reason he’d be here. Even close up he looks like him. I am always on edge about running into him. But probably I’ve never seen someone look so much like him before. Got a seat. Trying to force my eyes closed. Can’t. Too vulnerable. The eyebrows aren’t right. Can’t be him. I try to reassure myself. I know it’s not. I’m pretty sure. But he looks just like him. The anxiety makes my stomach upset. He gets off the train one stop before me, and as soon as he is gone my stomach feels fine again.
Thursday 6:55 pm, “gorgeous.”
Thursday 10 pm ish, on a run. Heard today there’s a guy who sexually assaulted a woman in Prospect Park who hasn’t been caught. Always have anxiety running alone when it’s dark especially in the park, but this is worse than usual. This is understandable fear, I assume, but beyond that it leads my mind down an abyss of other thoughts and fears unrelated to the stranger on the loose.
FRIDAY 8:26 am, man of the right body type and hair color in my peripheral vision on subway platform.
Friday 8:29 am, literally nothing triggers me but I’m having a memory that I don’t realize I’m having until I realize I’m biting my cheek and the sensation redirects my brain.
Friday 11:48 am, two men putting their belts back on in the elevator. It’s the sound, so closing my eyes doesn’t help. But it’s the best I can think to do.
Friday 5 pm, had to do a new thing at the gym. I really like routine so it generally puts me a little on edge to have to try a new thing. Gym stuff / the anticipation of gym stuff can be triggering, so I had some anxiety going into this workout. BUT, to end on a high note, I did my best to prepare myself by getting a good grasp on what to expect and it turned out to be a really enjoyable workout with no triggers at all once I got started.
* * *
And with that, so long as nothing happens on my way home or while I’m eating dinner, that will bring me to one week since the Broadway show began. I didn’t tell anyone I was doing this to try to keep the week as normal as possible, and a majority of the things I wrote here are things I did not ever share with anyone, because they were not bad enough that I needed comfort. They are experiences only I perceive. And I think that doing this has enlightened me a little about why dealing with the aftershock of trauma can be so isolating.
Just about everyone I’ve spoken to who has experienced sexual assault has gone through a period of self-minimization, where any part of them that recognizes they were victimized compares what they’ve been through with other survivors’ stories. And they, we, think, what happened to me wasn’t that bad.
Yet it’s bad enough that it stays with us. And causes us to suffer long after the abuse has ended. Yet we question if our story is one worth telling. We feel like everyone around us still listening must be tired of hearing about the same old story.
But to us, the story plays on repeat. And the world is filled with reminders. But who would want to listen to me on a nearly daily basis mention how guys in the elevator were putting their belts back on and I couldn’t get the noise out of my head for half an hour? How every day twice a day when I walk by the scaffolding where I waited for my lawyer to call me, for just a second I feel the anxiety I felt that day as if it’s happening all over again? How every time I see a man about the right height and build I look to make sure it’s not him and until I’m sure my body is clenched in anticipation for however it would play out if we saw each other again?
I say this knowing that there are people in my life who would listen to me mention those things day after day after day and never tell me they’re tired of it. But I’M tired of it. And sometimes the best I can do is waste as little time as possible ruminating on unavoidable reminders. And that is why I let them go, as fast as I am capable of doing so, and I do my best not to analyze why some days it takes longer than others.