As the smoke once again fills the air around my home I find myself being dragged back to an emotionally turbulent time. Close to two years ago the worst fire blew through my area of California, destroying homes and uprooting lives. That challenging time brought me to the best job I could ever ask for. That job opened me up to the people most affected by the fire. Soon I found I couldn’t shake their stories and their tragedies. I took them with me to rest in my heart, believing that, even though I couldn’t help them, I was making it easier by taking their burden. Turns out I have a hero complex.
This desire to save everyone I was quite unaware of. It took months after I stopped answering phones to realize my inability to fix others’ problems was the last straw in my pile of sadness that pushed me down into depression. Now the sky is raining ash again and I worried that this would be another round of sorrow that I can’t shake. This is a trigger.
We all have triggers. Some set of words, tones or situations that take us back to a time where we have unfinished business and emotions that we we never fully processed. That’s where I found myself yesterday, but the best part of each new day is that I can do things differently. I can see this for what it is and not as the past. I can see this as an old wound and help it to heal. I can stop reliving an old pattern and stop trying to protect it. I can can do my best to open my heart and let go of the stories I placed there.
I don’t want to be in my 80’s and still feeling the traumas of my 30’s. Protecting myself from being triggered is like wearing a suit of armor everywhere I go. It’s heavy and awkward and chafes my skin. All I would be doing is protecting myself from the possibility of getting hurt and stopping myself from fully immersing in the waters of life. It’s hard to swim in a suit of armor, but easy to sink.
So you may be wondering how to do this. How do you walk through life not protecting yourself and how do you let go of your triggers? The first step, always, is to be aware. I have had to learn to recognize when I am being disturbed and my stop my immediate reactions to it. If I always do the same thing I’ll always get the same result and the things I want to change will always stay the same. I want things to get easier and life to be more enjoyable so I have to be aware of when I’m falling back into the past. To learn how to respond for the present.
I next have to feel it. I have to allow the wound to open and bleed. I do what I should have done in the past and let the pain flow through and then out of me. The pain won’t last forever, but if I don’t go through it now it will come up again and again. What I protect I get to keep and there are some things I don’t want anymore.
My goal is to stop my heart from closing off to the world in order to protect myself from the problems of my past. When I feel myself shutting down, I now work to stay open and to feel the emotions that come up. I don’t have to do anything about them, I just don’t keep them bottled up inside. I don’t ask people to watch their actions so that I won’t get triggered. I now embrace the times I feel disturbed so that I can feel what needs to be felt and let it go.
Letting go is the final step. It’s part of the feeling process. It’s part of the forgiveness process. There is a good chance that I have someone or some situation to forgive in order to let go of any trigger. Letting go is very personal. Each person has to find a way to forgive and be free in their own way. Writing about my struggles and mediating on them are some of my ways. Others may need to smash plates and yell into a pillow. No judgement. All freedom. It’s all a matter of truly feeling what comes up.
It’s time to cry when we’re sad, smile when we’re happy and sleep when we’re tired. Babies don’t hold onto anything and they don’t force themselves to follow others’ preconceived ideas. Neither should we, because doing so makes us stuff our true feelings down in order to be “right” when we’re not actually wrong. I’m not saying we need to throw temper tantrums and wear diapers, but we do need to take some pointers from babies on feeling our feelings versus hiding them. And honestly babies aren’t afraid of being hurt. They aren’t afraid of much of anything. It’s odd how the most vulnerable are the least bothered.
So today is a new day. I’m going to feel my feelings and let them go. If I want to use my hero complex to actually help others, I have to let go of the burdens that weigh me down. I will need to be available to help, not lost in my sorrows. Trying to protect myself has only made life harder.
I hope you can learn to be free of your burdens.