Triggers

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By definition the word trigger is:

Noun: a small device that releases a spring or catch and so sets off a mechanism, especially in order to fire a gun.

Verb: to cause (an event or situation) to happen or exist.

 

On March 11th, 2011 a trigger was pulled that sent my life into a whirlwind. I had never thought much before about the power of a trigger. It is an important mechanism for a gun to function properly. The gun cannot fire unless the trigger is pulled and the gun’s power is useless without that little mechanism.

After any traumatic event or major moment that has negatively impacted your life, you carry around memories of that event. Whether or not you are even aware of them, they stand ready to re-ignite a state of fear or panic. For me, I have learned that the memories themselves also have triggers. Some of those triggers have been surprising and others have not been at all. For example, I had no idea that such a simple thing as a doorbell ringing could send my body into a state of shock.

Each individual in my household has had a different experience with his or her own personal triggers. For one, it has been a boy with a fake gun in the front yard. For another, it has been something as simple as flowers sent by a friend.

 

One night, I had to be in a building not far from the Walgreens where Emmett had died. I had always parked on the other side of the building, almost without even realizing it, but this evening I decided to take a leap. I parked closer to the Walgreens and went inside, feeling very brave, as if I had finally overcome my personal battle. 

When the night came to an end, I said goodbye and started out to my car. As I opened the door and exited the building, I stepped outside to a view of Walgreens with sirens and lights flashing everywhere. My body went into a state of shock, and I felt as though I were standing and witnessing first-hand that dark night my life had changed dramatically three years earlier. I ran back inside, shaking and crying. Luckily, I was greeted by familiar faces who didn’t even have to ask any questions about my state of panic. They finally calmed me down and talked me through it to get my breathing normal again.

 

I had no idea those emotions were still so easily accessible inside of me. I’ve been through many similar situations in the last three years, but somehow I thought I was over the extreme reactions. As I lay in my bed that night, I thought about all the triggers that have stopped me in my tracks during the past three years. It all started with the trigger of that gun being pulled . . . and now I am still being paralyzed by the triggers in my mind.

A trigger changed my life back then, and triggers continue to disrupt my life when I least expect them. And unfortunately, it seems like there is no way to prepare for them. That night I was next to the Walgreens, I had no idea that a trigger would be pulled for me. It was just an average night, but walking into that one scenario sent me spiraling back in time.

For a long time, going into grocery stores and preparing meals were triggers for me. I have spent many moments in my pantry hyperventilating . . . completely stuck, because flashes of the night Emmett died would sink down deep inside of me. I would picture myself preparing all of his favorite food that night and just waiting for him to come home.

Every time a siren whirls by my house, I freeze. So many triggers. Fireworks. Babies crying. My security system going off. Lights flashing on the ceiling when a car drives by. Knocks at the front door. People whispering when I walk into a room. A song on the radio. Smells. Lockdown at the kids’ school on Valentine’s Day, and no way to be let inside to make sure my babies are safe.

 

A while back at church, we were having a lesson about when Joseph Smith was killed in Carthage Jail. Someone was reading in our manual about the men who came and shots were fired. It was like I actually heard the gun go off . . . my heart started racing and every rational thought was erased from my mind. I grabbed my purse and ran into the bathroom. I sobbed and shook in the bathroom stall for the rest of the hour, unsure of how to get rid of my panic. Nothing was wrong, but there was no way to logically talk my body out of the state of shock it had gone into.

 

I have no idea why our bodies have such a drive to bring back to our minds the fears of our past, but they do. These triggers are like mechanisms in our lives that set off fear or a remembrance of pain.

A few days after Shawn and I were married, we were sitting in our giant bathtub. We were talking about the kids and the events of the day. I was trying hard to relax and enjoy the quiet hours in our home. All of the sudden, an ambulance turned on its siren nearby. 

Another trigger. I had not fully prepared Shawn for these moments. He had no idea of what to do to help me. My panic attack lasted a few minutes, and the whole time, Shawn just held me. I didn’t have to say a word. He just let me cry. 

About a week after that, Shawn surprised me by bringing home a movie he had been told was amazing. He brought home dinner as well, and we had a quiet date night while the kids were all asleep in their beds. 

As the movie began, one of the first scenes was of a murder. A trigger fired again, spiraling me back to the night of the trauma. It was getting embarrassing, and I began to feel sorry for this poor man who had married me. 

That night, after my heart finally stopped racing and we lay in bed, I turned over to him and said, “I gave you a chance. I warned you I was broken . . . you should have run away when we were sitting at the waterfall, and never looked back.”

He reassured me, calming my fears as he kissed my forehead, and whispered, “NO, I am right where I belong.”

A few weeks later, I decided to surprise Shawn at work. I grabbed him one of our favorite strawberry lemonades from McDonalds and headed to his work. His car wasn’t in the parking lot. Another trigger fired. 

I pulled into a stall and began to sob. He wasn’t at work? Then where could he be? My thoughts went to the worst case scenario, which for me was: he’s either cheating on me, or he’s dead in a parking lot somewhere. 

I grabbed my phone and dialed his number. He didn’t answer right away, which only helped confirm my worst fears. Once he finally did answer, with all of the anxiety built up in my heart, I let him have it.

“Where are you? Why aren’t you at work! You said you were going to work . . . and I finally get brave enough to come and visit you . . . and you know how hard this stuff is for me, that you even have to work with other women . . . and I am here, and you aren’t even where you said you would be. You told me you were going to work. So where are you? Am I not enough for you, or what? Can’t you even call to tell me you aren’t going to be at work, so I don’t have to worry? Do you not want to be married to me anymore? Is there another woman?”

Every possible insecurity I suffered from spewed out of me in one breath. I didn’t even wait to hear where he was, or what he was doing. As the words were leaving my mouth I was embarrassed for myself, and yet, there was almost no other alternative to handle the fear boiling inside of me. 

This wouldn’t be the first time Shawn had to pay for my having one of my triggers go off, but in that particular moment, instead of him trying to make his case defensively, he just listened and reassured me. He calmly told me about the errand he had run and from which he was returning, and he reassured me that he loved me. 

My heart calmed down after hearing his kind words. I apologized for taking out on him all the pain from my past, and I ended the call. My head fell into my hands, and I sobbed hysterically. What was wrong with me? Shawn had never done anything to lose my trust, and yet here I was treating him like he was the bad guy in my life. 

The poor man! Anytime Shawn did anything that Emmett used to do (AKA . . . being a man) it set off a trigger of fear inside of me. If he came home with an energy drink, like Emmett used to drink, my heart would start racing as if he had come to tell me he had found another woman. If he took Nyquil so he could sleep when he was sick—which was the reason Emmett had given me for running to Walgreens that fateful night—my head would pound with memories of the past. None of the triggers ever made sense to me, or to Shawn, but they were so real. 

One summer day, Shawn asked me and the kids to come down to a car show he was participating in. When it was over, we parted ways and I told Shawn we would meet him back at home, since we had come in a separate car. I assumed he would beat us home because I had all the kids and had to spend the time loading all of them into the car. 

A few miles from our house, the traffic had come to a stop, and I tried hard to see what the hold-up was. As I veered my car over to the side, to look past the line of cars waiting in front of us, I could see that there had been an accident and that one of the cars involved was a black SUV that looked just like Shawn’s. 

I called his phone. No answer. I called again. Nothing.

This time the trigger that went off inside of me was not just pulled, it was blown! I threw the car into park, knowing that my panic attack was going to leave me light-headed. I could see ambulances creeping up in my review mirror, and I could hear sirens coming from all around us. 

My heart sank, trying to brace for the truth of what I thought was happening. Shawn had been in that wreck. He had left a few minutes before us, and now this was going to be my next hill to climb. I began sobbing, working the kids up wondering what on earth was making me freak out. 

Bailey could tell I was losing it and suggested that we say a prayer. Her tender voice began to quiver as she spoke to God. She prayed that mommy would be able to calm down and get us home safely. She prayed that Shawn had not been in that accident in front of us, and she asked that we would all be blessed with a feeling of peace. 

As her prayer ended, I knew we had to get home. I did a U-turn and went down the nearest road I could find to get us home, all the while praying that I would be able to breathe and get our car home safely. 

We pulled into our driveway, but no Shawn! I called his phone again. No answer. I called his parents who had been at the car show with us to see if he might still be there, but they said they hadn’t seen him since we had all left. 

Worst case scenario. Was I living it again? The kids ran inside, and I stayed in the car. I continued to pray, this time out loud. “Please, let him be safe. Please bring him home to us. I am so scared.” I begged and pleaded in the quiet of my car, hoping with all of my heart that Shawn had not been in that wrecked SUV I had just seen. 

I tried his phone again. No answer. 

I said one last prayer before I got out of the car.

“You know I may seem strong . . . it may look to some people as if I have myself all put back together, but I am so broken. With all my heart, I pray that Shawn is okay today, but Father . . . if he isn’t, please help me to be strong again. Please help me to stand . . . I feel like I am falling. Please help me to know what to do.”

As I opened my car door, Shawn pulled up. 

This time, I wasn’t mad. I was just plain relieved that he was okay. As he got out of the car, I ran over to him and jumped into his arms, “I am so glad you are okay. I am so happy you are home.” 

Progress. This time, my trigger had been pulled . . . but I had won the battle. I didn’t have to yell and scream just because I was scared. Even though I was upset, Shawn hadn’t done anything wrong. It didn’t matter where he had been, or why he hadn’t answered his phone . . . I was just glad he was home. (It turned out he had stopped for gas, and his phone was in his bag in the back seat.)

 

Triggers. They are not just mechanisms on guns,
they are mechanisms we each have inside of us that bring forth fear and anger.
We cannot control when they are fired,
but I have learned that I can control what I do with the emotions that follow. 

I have seen others’ triggers go off when they are cut off in traffic. I have read stories about shaken babies who have died because of their parents’ desperation to have them stop crying. We have all seen fights happen over something that later seems insignificant. 

When triggers fire, the aftermath can be devastating. A gun may fire a bullet when a trigger is pulled, but what trigger inside the man went off first to have made him pull that trigger? 

We have to learn to control our fears and our pain when our own personal triggers ignite. Acting on them never brings peace, and carrying out their plan never brings happiness. When those situations arise, and the dark cloud envelops your entire being. Pray for the power that can help you winWe have to learn to control our fears and our pain when our own personal triggers ignite. Acting on them never brings peace, and carrying out their plan never brings happiness. There have been more triggers in my life since that gun’s trigger was pulled, but I have found that I can determine who I am in spite of their power.  When those situations arise, and the dark cloud envelops your entire being . . . pray for the power that can help you win. We do not have to fall victim of the triggers in our lives. Rob’s gun had a trigger. It was pulled in anger. Emmett fell victim to its power. I fell victim to that trigger in my life, but I will not fall victim to its power in my heart.

I chose to stand up to the triggers that have tried to destroy me. I will not be a victim, but a survivor of the powerful triggers that have brought me to my knees.

 

Whatever dark triggers have been pulled in your life . . . it is not your fault. Whatever triggers have ignited in your heart . . . you are not broken. We may seem like victims to the world, but each time we stand, despite our pain . . . we are survivors of all the triggers that have tried to make us fall.

Questions to Ponder:
  1. How can you use prayer to choose your reaction when triggers occur in your life?

Check out this post in the Choosing your Reaction Badge

Ashlee Birk is the Author of the blog and book series entitled The Moments We Stand.  In them she tells of her personal journey of healing and seeking peace after the murder of her husband Emmett.  Through her trials she has learned the importance of a personal relationship with her Father in Heaven. She has found light in the darkest of moments—and she has found hope when she thought it was lost.  She has come to find that the grace of Christ is powerful—not only in sin—but also in forgiveness and carrying you through some of your darkest moments.

Ashlee is remarried and resides in Idaho with her husband Shawn and their blended family of six children. They work hard every day to continue their journey of peace and finding the joy in life. Ashlee believes that every day is a gift—and in each one, she has learned to stand.

The Moments We Stand

spouse murdered 11/2011

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