My stomach knots into a churning ball of magma, my heart beats faster, my breathing gets shallow, I start to shake, my mind races and the almost overwhelming sense of panic washes through my entire body. My flight or fight is in full swing but I can neither flee nor fight. Because have you noticed a trigger almost never happens at a socially acceptable time to freak out?
They happen at dinner parties where friends comment on how lucky I am to have a husband who loves me so much and tells everyone what a goddess I am. They happen at work when someone jokes about how so and so is sleeping with what's her name and everyone knows but the wife. Or while watching TV with my family and an affair is once again the trope they use to add a little drama or spice to the story-line.
When recovering from trauma I've found it's hard to really find anywhere safe. This seems to be because infidelity has been accepted as common place in our society. The only time it doesn't find it's way into my day (from an outside source and not my own mind of course) is when I'm sitting alone in nature. Other than that it is an insidious part of our communities. So many people are engaging in affairs or have been affected by them that we seem to have conceded to the fact that its part of life. Now of course we as a society pretend to be aghast at such an action but when you look at the way we treat it in our entertainment, news etc we actually support it.
The person having the affair often is portrayed as the desperate spouse, lonely or neglected. They simply couldn't resist this deep animal attraction, they were overcome and magically ended up in bed with someone else, as if they have no responsibility for the choice they made.
But remember it is 100% a CHOICE because if they didn't choose to have sex with that person that isn't their partner it's called rape, so no matter how lost in the moment they were they made a choice.
Then of course their is always the cuckolded spouse. Often portrayed as neglectful, both of the betraying spouse and of themselves. How often is the betrayed spouse described as "having let themselves go". As if not getting ones hair and nails done or finding time for the gym everyday, or eating a bowl of ice cream for lunch because they are so stressed, tired, and frustrated that they want something pleasant /pleasurable for just a moment, is any justification for being shit on by their partner.
We simultaneously sympathize with the betrayed while blaming them for it happening. The betrayed spouse nagged too much, or wasn't supportive or appreciative enough. They drove the betrayer into the arms of another. I'm so sick of that bullshit. It's not our fault! I don't care how terrible, ugly, obnoxious, and absent a spouse you are, it doesn't justify the actions of the betrayer! Relationships are so hard and there are LOTS of other positive actions that can be attempted before that little bomb is released into a relationship. Yet I know it's easy to blame ourselves and damn if it doesn't it feel like our fault. I think all betrayed spouses go through that series of thoughts. The cruel what ifs and self doubt. I know I have and I still struggle with that doubt. Especially when it's a particularly bad trigger.
So what do I do when the emotions, fear and panic wash over and through me like a Vesuvius starting to erupt? Well if I am out in public I try my favorite grounding technique. It's called the 5 senses. If you are not familiar with it here it is:
Acknowledge 5 things you can see
acknowledge 4 things you can touch
acknowledge 3 things you can hear
acknowledge 2 things you can smell
acknowledge 1 thing you can taste.
Really try to focus on each of the things while you breath in and out slowly. It's also completely ok if you cant remember which number goes with which sense and in what order. It's really about changing the focus of your immediate thoughts and calming your nervous system.
Now if I'm home but not alone I find a reason to leave the room, like I suddenly need to pee. And if a trip to the bathroom isn't long enough to get back to calm, I'll get a snack or pet one of my gazillion cats.
Side note: having pets when dealing with trauma is fantastic. They give you something to focus on, something to pour your love into when no one else feels safe and the physical affection is proven to be psychologically soothing to the human mind. I have a cat that I always say is my soul mate because when I am crying he comes running and won't leave my side until I have stopped. So if you are able to have/get a pet, I highly recommend it.
Now if I'm alone, I turn off the show, or movie or song or close the book etc. Whatever the source of the trigger is, I disengage from it. I then try one of two things I do the legs up the wall position or I go for a walk.
There are also dozens of other grounding techniques that can be helpful. But the truth is sometimes none of them work. There are plenty of times I go through the entire tool box of breathing exercises, grounding techniques, distraction options and I am still just at anguished. The pain can't be diverted. Those are the times I dread and I would think my fellow trauma folks also dread. When that happens all I can do is hang on and feel all the feelings, hurt down into my core and try not to let it spew the hot lava of pain all over my life.
When that pain rolls over you and nothing works I hope it helps you to know that you are completely understood and never judge by at least me. Knowing there are other people out there who go through this too reminds me that it can be survived, and maybe even healed. We are not alone, unfortunately! I say unfortunately because I would love to know that no one else has to join this terrible club. Wouldn't it be great if we matured enough as a society and individuals that we didn't do this kind of thing. That we could know that our loved ones wouldn't be the ones who cut us the deepest.
But if are in this group and now have this volcano of pain in you please know that you can always reach out to me and I'm happy to sit beside you as your volcano of pain spews it's pyroclastic cloud. I'm hoping one day my volcano stops erupting and goes extinct, but until that time I'm going to do my best to keep the villages around me out of its blast zone and I'd be honored to help you too.