When Family Become a Trigger and The Holidays

Hello everyone! I'm new to the forum and I have enjoyed and gotten a lot of insight from reading the posts in this community. It's great to know that I'm not alone in my recovery process. This is my first post and this subject is a real issue for me currently.

I lost my daughter in a horrible bus accident 7 years ago that left me in shambles. She was ten years old. I also have some old wounds from childhood sexual, emotional abuse and abandonment issues and my life had become completely unmanageable is an understatement. My daughters accident not only left me in a state of crippling fear, anxiety, and depression but overtime initiated a floodgate of triggers and flashbacks from early childhood traumas as well that I could no longer suppress that let me overwhelmed and feeling hopeless.

Now, I'm committed in my recovery process. I have made sweeping changes in my lifestyle to support this including trying to change my mindset to compassion for myself instead trying to beat this and fail miserably and beat up on myself for not being able to control my symptoms (learned the hard way) taking time to learn coping strategies, and ending destructive relationships with people that don't support "the new normal".

It has probably has been the hardest challenge that I've ever faced in my life. I struggle with the good and the bad daily. Good meaning I learning how live a more positive life, a more God-centered life that is still new and scary because it's not familiar and I'm not in the drivers seat and the bad meaning anger, fear, loneliness, shame and a host of other emotions that bombard me daily.

One particular issue that has been a hug challenge for me is family. In this process I've learned that some of the people I'm closest to don't understand my PTSD or some of my symptoms even after explanation so I stop trying to explain. In that they don't understand my triggers. I'm not surprised because sometime I don't understand my triggers.

Over the weekend, I visited my favorite aunt and her husband. I find some comfort in engaging with people I trust because trust is a big trigger for me and it keeps me from crawling inside my own head and helps me to stay present in the moment. But this weekend was a little different.

I have a ex-friendship/relationship that I gave up with a man that is my aunts father's son. I know weird. We had been friends for a longtime and developed a deep connection with other because we understood each other especially when came to childhood trauma that he experienced as well. We could talk about with each other. He understood me and I understood him and I we had mutual respect for one another (so I thought). The change came when he went Afghanistan in the military during his tour, I lost my daughter. When his tour was over, he had developed PTSD and I had too around the same time. His marriage ended after he came back to the states and I was dealing with a whole new life that comes with PTSD. Shortly after, we became closer and started to date briefly (not one of my best decisions). I ended it after six months because I found that together our triggers were just bouncing off each other and we both had changed because of our mutually new traumas. We tried to go back to being friends but that was almost impossible (which is why I was apprehensive to go out of the friendship zone in the first place). I was deeply hurt by this, I had lost one of the only people in my life that I could talk about my pain and get understanding. Plus, he was and still is in denial about his PTSD his anger and avoidance hurt me. I was at a place that I could admit my pain and seek help. Rationally, I know I shouldn't feel angry at him but I do, despite my efforts to not take his process personally. It's been a struggle to separate the two.

His dad still try to bring his name up purposefully in front of me and I tell myself it's ok but this weekend it triggered anxiety and hurt feelings in me and I have to leave his presence for a short period to regroup. Last night, we were talking about our ages and I mentioned that I would be soon turning 40 in a few months and he was about to bring up his name in reference to what I said about my age and I picked up a writing pen and threw it at him! He was shocked and I was embarrassed. When I tried to get up to apologize I knocked over his laptop which I was ever more embarrassed by.There was an awkwardness in the room. I felt ashamed and horrified. I don't want to feel like this let alone react the way did.

Now I know the holidays are coming up in a couple of weeks and after last night I feel afraid to show up when I know the likelihood of running into my ex-friend is high. Worst, if I reacted so strongly from his name, what will happen if I run into him? Angry outbursts is on of the things I'm working very hard on and I'm still on the mend from that hurt I don't want avoidance to be my solution to this. Not sure what I should do?

3 Replies

  • Hi TeeG,

    I'm sorry you have been though so much. I know it takes a lot of energy to share such a difficult story. Thank you for sharing it. There are Many way that our stories are similar.

    All I can do is share with you how I might handle this situation, if it was happening to me.

    First I would try to be aware of spending way to much time imagining every possible way the holiday triggers could happen. I'm able to trigger myself over and over by creating many narratives. I do it from a protective place - to try to keep myself safe from all possible ways an interaction could play out but it just reinforces my ptsd. I would try to keep that story cycle from continually looping through my head .When I noticed I'm doing it , I'd hug myself compassionately instead of criticizing myself.

    Because of very recent events, I would probably stay away from possible re triggers until my body and mind have more time to calm down. I tend to be a person who grits my teeth and carry on. But I've discovered a period of time and distance from possible triggers can be very helpful. I give myself permission to CHOOSE to protect myself as long as I continue to do work towards healing instead of just running away.

    I would probably tell a family member that I just need some time to calm down and my absence is not a statement of future avoidance of family gatherings. It is interesting but sometimes when I give myself permission to CHOOSE not to do something, I relax. I've even be able to stop by for a quick "Hello" to an event because I no longer have the feeling of being trapped there for the day.

    The ability to explain myself to family and friends can be very frustrating. Even well intentioned people often can't understand because it defies normal logic. Over long periods of time I've found short and to the point statements ofter work the best. " I have ptsd and am working hard to heal. Please be patient with me because sometimes unusual things can trigger my symptoms.

    Know that most of us do have challenges in one way or another with the holiday. We are all here to support each other and offer understanding and compassion.

  • Hello Equis-Canine. Thank you so much for your advice. My eyes welled with tears as a read through your response. Mostly because I'm new to the stage in my recovery where I'm giving myself permission to be compassionate to myself enough to say thanks but no thanks when it comes to being good to myself. New enough where I still feel conflicted emotionally sometimes but far enough along to completely embrace being my own hero. Thank you for this fantastic advice!

  • I too am working on being compassionate to myself. Let me know how things go for you, I care.

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