“Triggered” has become a buzz word. I’ve heard older and more bitter populations tell us millennials to stop being sensitive or to put away our teddy bears. Even in social justice spaces, trigger warnings are undervalued, with triggers and their validity being questioned at every turn. When the general public is already so unwilling to provide content warnings, how do I explain the spiral that a song sends me into, or the sight of a brand of liquor?
How do we handle “trivial” triggers, when even our most aware populations cannot handle overarching content warnings?
A few months ago, my friend brought over an alcohol bottle, glass, and bag that he had been gifted. The moment he set it down on the counter, it’s like I was teleported back in time to the night I was raped. Present day, I feel the taste of the liquor rise up the back of my throat accompanied with bile, and rest on the tip of my tongue. I can’t shake it.
I say nothing.
I do nothing in fear of being told I’m too sensitive.. I commiserate, cry a little bit in the bathroom, and move on with my life. I let myself have fun and enjoy the night. I drink a different booze and avoid the bottle’s gaze.
My friend forgets the cup at our house and it sits in the back of the cupboard for weeks. When I open the cabinet for my morning coffee, my heart sinks to the bottom of my stomach. I hint at its presence every time I see my roommates but I swallow down the truth.
Tonight, we were driving to a gallery showing and my neighbor puts on an old song. The day of my rape, my abuser had me listen to it. I remember him sitting at the computer desk and pulling up the YouTube video. Just like before, I am sent back into time, I am thirteen again, sitting on a couch, enamored with the older boy in front of me. Present day, I feel a strange nostalgia, that mixes a longing and a hatred, a fierce betrayal, and an emptiness. I shake myself out of it, and once again, I put on a smile and continue on with my night. I say nothing for fear of interrupting a good time, but the feelings don’t fade away. I keep Him in the back of my mind for the rest of the night.
Once HE’s invited in, He doesn’t tend to leave. If this sounds like a horror movie, it should. Rape is horrible. It is traumatizing. It stays with you. So how do I negotiate spaces in which I can’t disclose the trauma I’m experiencing, for fear of laughter or inconveniencing my loved ones? Even in safer spaces of social justice, we crack jokes at the expense of survivors like me, laughing at “trivial” triggers. We make jokes at the people triggered by foods and street signs, television shows and restaurants.
What does this do for the survivors coping with and experiencing real re-traumatization when faced with those seemingly insignificant reminders or figureheads for their rape/sexual assault?
In our safer spaces, we must expect more of our people. We must demand that a space is made and fostered with survivors in mind. For the general public, we must continue to ask to be included. We must continue to ask for the bare minimum. We must create a change in the culture and lean towards a culture of unconditional compassion and care. Until we get there, my triggers will remain “trivial.” My hurt will continue in silence. We have to open up room for real conversation and accommodation for those who have been traumatized. And we must do so without the qualifiers, jokes, or hesitation.