I pedalled slowly down the boardwalk, taking in the ocean views, the smell of salty air, and the newly lit Christmas lights twinkling up the tall palm trees. And then I saw them, sitting entwined in each other’s arms on a lone picnic table nestled in the seagrass and dunes. The feeling that bubbled up inside of me was not one of love and comfort, but one of pain, a deep aching long-felt loneliness. It was a feeling I knew too well, like a dark close friend that was lost to me. It was almost as if I missed it.
I immediately knew where this feeling came from, but was simultaneously disgusted by it. Why would I feel such a deep connection to such a miserable existence? I couldn’t possibly miss that old feeling, could I? After all, I was pedalling along the beach with a man I love more deeply than I ever knew was possible; a man who loves me in the way I always envisioned. I was no longer alone, no longer lost, no longer feeling the despair of feeling unloved and worthless. I shook the feeling and rid myself of it within minutes, refocusing on the moment I was currently in. I looked ahead at my love and smiled to myself. That was no longer my life. It was in the past now. Time, and a lot of self-work, had taught me different. And yet, the feeling came back in such a rush, it left me wondering why.
There might very well be a psychologically sound explanation for this, but as I try my best to not overanalyze my reactions, I do try to understand why I might have them. I’ve found that when I can get a grasp on why I react the way I do, I’m better prepared to deal with them the next time they pop up unexpectedly.Here is what I came up with. There were two things at play in the above scenario. I was on the beach and I saw a couple dedicated to one another (at least in that moment). The beach was the place I went when I finally ventured out of the house after fighting depression. It is where I went when I had a bad day, was rejected by yet another guy, was disappointed by a friend, or when I felt the need to run away. Basically, for all the wonderful things the beach represents, I dealt with a lot of hurt there.
The sight of the couple on the beach also triggered a reaction in me. I would walk the beach, or sit on the wall, and watch all the “happy couples” pass me by. It is where I went when I felt alone and it was where I felt the most alone. As a matter of fact, the feeling I had the other night is the same feeling I get when I go to the beach alone under the best of circumstances, something I rarely do anymore. Going to the beach alone is like visiting an old, toxic friend…utter loneliness.
I often try to explain to people that being in an abusive relationship, and the collateral damage that occurs after, program you to act and feel certain things in certain circumstances. It is sometimes only years later that you realize that some muscle memory has occurred- i.e. you react to something in a completely unexpected way. There is a trigger at play that you maybe never even realized before.
I’ve personally found that I’m more and more aware of my triggers. Maybe you noticed I’ve been talking about them a lot recently. I believe that is because the more comfortable you become, and the more in tune with your own body and emotions, the more you notice when things are off. In this case, I realize that I have a very unhealthy relationship with my old feelings of loneliness which strangely involve my old place of solace; the beach.
So, I will work to correct this muscle memory by redirecting where my emotions go in these situations. By being more aware of what triggers me, I can address the emotions as they bubble up. And, perhaps I will spend some alone time at the beach, working through my old demons and creating a new emotional space. This time, one that is positive.
What are your triggers? How do you deal with them?