Full confession: I started writing this post back on July 7th, shortly after returning from a trip from Nashville. And before I finished it, Kanye West had a pretty public bipolar episode and so I shifted my post to first talking about how, of all things, I related to Kim Kardashian and the way she must have been feeling watching someone she obviously loves have such a public meltdown. That post can be found here:
Now I wish I could relate to Kim Kardashian’s shoe collection or something that is a little more exciting and less dramatic, but alas that is not my fortune. For me- I related to Kim because I recalled the many times I was in the position where my ex was having some type of very public meltdown, usually with me being on the receiving end of the horrible things that were being said or actions being taken. Whether through phone calls or emails or post on social media, the life I worked so hard to create was being intentionally dismantled by someone having some sort of episode. For as enraged as I would be as the target of whatever was going on, I remember my heart hurting so much. I felt so much pain being caused, but was so empathetic for what I imagined to be a crippling, dark, and isolating feeling for the person that I loved. It’s hard to not feel empathy for someone in that situation. It’s also extremely codependent- loving someone else more than you love yourself. But another day for that discussion.
I noted in that post that I was going to write about a triggering incident that happened when I was on a trip to Nashville, but then life happened (Pittsburgh trip, vacation, school starting, labor day weekend, a NJ trip, etc…) and I never finished the post!
While I’ve healed a lot from the havoc that was wrecked on my life in my marriage, there are certain things that still take me right back to some of the scariest moments of my life. My trip to Nashville at the end of June was one such occasion.
***I’ll also note an actual trigger warning – no relation to the title- on this post. This post discusses domestic abuse, and if that is something that triggers you, you may not wish to read further.
Not a ton of people are traveling during the times of COVID, so I was surprised when, on the last night of my stay in Music City, a couple checked into the room directly next to me. Because of covid restrictions, other than a walk in the morning and evening, I was in my hotel room most of the time during the day.
It wasn’t long after the couple checked in that I already was thinking it was going to be a long night. They were playing music pretty loudly in the middle of the day, when most people are working, and didn’t show any signs of slowing down as the evening approached.
Around 9pm that night, my ears perked up a bit when I heard the couple in what seemed to be in a pretty heated argument. There were a few noises that sounded like someone was being slapped or frankly, spanked. I didn’t think there were children in the room, and realize that adults can engage in all sorts of different actions, so I just tried to ignore it. Then I started hearing the woman scream. There were screams for help and muffled yells in general, almost as though there was a hand over her mouth. This started getting serious, so I asked the person I was with to call hotel security. As soon as he hung up the phone I heard the distinct sound of a body hitting the wall- I don’t know how I knew this is what happened, but I don’t know how to describe it any other way. And then there was silence for a few minutes.
I popped my head out the door into the hall and was looking for hotel security, which took nearly ten minutes to come. I hadn’t heard any other noises in the room the remainder of the time.
Eventually they knocked on the door, and I kept my door slightly propped open to hear what was going on. Security asked if anything was wrong or if anyone needed help, and the boyfriend/husband said no and tried to close the door. They asked if they could see the other guest in the room and after a few minute she came to the door and meekly said that she was fine, that they just had an argument. I almost fainted; I had been that girl before and this moment sent me reeling. I just wanted to open my door and tell her that it was okay to speak up, how I wished someone had done for me.
Security left and it wasn’t five minutes before I heard shouting and loud but muffled pleas for help again. The sounds were horrific. I immediately called 911 from my phone as I trembled in the hotel room while the person I was with called hotel security again informing them that the situation was more urgent. I grabbed the phone while I was still on with 911 and told them to please run back upstairs or she was going to end up seriously injured. I asked that they please stay until the police arrived.
It appeared that the man was taken by the police, and I never knew what happened to the woman next door. I was tempted to knock on her door the rest of the night, but didn’t want to frighten her further if in fact she was still there.
Now let me get back to the original intention of this post and step away from what happened that night in Nashville- triggers.
A triggering event can be anything that causes a “PTSD-like reaction,” a phrase that my ex loved to use in an attempt to shame me, in someone, reminding them of an event from the past.
You’re familiar with the example of a soldier post war-time service hearing a car backfire and and hitting the floor thinking it was an IED or gunshots. That is the quintessential example of a trigger. A triggering event in the context of physical, narcissistic, or emotional abuse is something that happens that instantly transports you back to your abusive relationship you used to be in.
Triggers are usually accompanied by a rush of physiological symptoms: increased heartrate, shaking, extreme tension, nausea, decreased appetite, constipation, and others. It’s a form of panic or anxiety attack that feels as real as the original event itself. They can be debilitating.
When I was in my hotel room that night, I fell into a shell. I was glad that I was with someone that cared about me and that could keep me present, tell me I was safe, and remind me that my ex husband couldn’t hurt me like that anymore.
I’ve intentionally not shared the exact details of the abuse I suffered in this forum and I don’t plan on starting now, not just because the precise details aren’t relevant for the healing journey that I am on in writing this blog, but I’ve shared them with friends and family and therapists and narcissistic abuse recovery coaches over the years. And frankly, most of it is not things I want to detail graphically.
However, if you’ve not shared your story with anyone, I strongly encourage you to find someone you trust and open up about this part of your life. Drag this into the light. I assure you you are not alone. The number of messages I get from friends and complete strangers every time I share a new post about my experience proves this is so. One thing that I know for sure is that the shame that comes with being a victim- no, a survivor- is whittled away every time you tell your story. I’ve shared this quote before and it’s still true:
Shame dies when truth is told in safe spaces.Tweet
I share parts of my story on this blog because, as I’ve said before, it was intended to be a journal of my journey of healing. I began it shortly after I filed for divorce documenting adventures with my kids and my struggle overcoming codependency. I never would have imagined it would turn into such a forum where I could help others. But since that’s what it has grown to. When you stay quiet about the abuse you suffered or are suffering, you are enabling it to continue. That doesn’t mean it is your fault, but it doesn’t help it to stop either. It’s not about dragging the other person down, they did that to themselves. It’s about sharing your story. It’s also how you start to take your life back; the life that someone stole from you.
It’s funny, with my profession I have traveled a bit for work over the years. In fact, I’ve written about safety during solo travel on this very blog because it’s something that has been relevant to me and I think I have compiled some great safety tips, particularly for solo women travelers.
And of all the times I’ve stayed in hotels, I’ve never had a situation where I was triggered like I was that night. It’s almost ironic that hotels themselves aren’t triggering for me, as so many times I suffered any type of physical assault was when my ex-husband and I were in hotels. I can think of incidents of violence in multiple Disney hotels, at the Giacomo hotel Niagara Falls, at the Sheraton Bayfront hotel in Erie, PA, after a karate tournament at Seven Springs Mountain Resort, at the Crowne Plaza in Bethel Park, in our stateroom on a Disney Cruise, at Hotel Villa Flori in Lake Como, and even during part of my honeymoon at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris… while I was pregnant. But it wasn’t until I heard this assault on the woman in the room next to me in Nashville that all of those individual incidents became so fresh in my mind again, almost as if they were happening to me presently. It’s made me not even want to go to hotels right now, not that that’s much of a thing during COVID. I remember being the girl telling hotel security everything was fine when it clearly was not. I remember thinking that if I just de-escalated I could calm him down. I remember thinking that he was unwell and that it was my job to love him to health.
If you are a survivor and you are reading this, please know that you are not alone. Don’t be shamed into thinking that you are weak, whether you are still in the situation or whether you’ve escaped but are haunted by triggering events. I have taken the emotions that have come with my triggers and learned to practice mindfulness and work through them. I’ve learned to bring myself back to the present and no longer be caught in the past event(s). The biggest thing that helps me is the same thing I tell my children when they become overwhelmed with big emotions- deep breaths in, strong exhales out. I try to focus my mind on something in the moment to stop the thoughts racing, and acknowledge what I’m feeling.
Perhaps I’ll write a separate post on dealing with the “PTSD-like reaction” in the future, because even writing that phrase triggers a small reaction in me since it was used as a weapon against me as proof of how weak I was. I was not weak; I was human.
You are, too.
If you didn’t react to things that reminded you of darkness, of evil… then you would have other issues. Being triggered doesn’t make you weak. Being triggered doesn’t make you less than. Being triggered doesn’t make you a victim. You are strong. You are a survivor. You are human.
My strong humans, I’m sharing my favorite survivor song, sung by the Queen herself, Celine Dion. Celine came out with this song on September 18th last year when she kicked off her Courage World Tour. It’s an anthem about recovering from toxic relationship, and the battle cry of “I Won’t Take It Lying Down” is something that I repeat daily.