“Trigger.” That’s a word we hear a lot these days. Triggers bring on a wave of emotions, feelings, and maybe even memories unbidden and typically untimely. Inconveniently, most of the time when something strikes an old wound, a place that causes a reflexive response, it’s in a place and circumstance where it can’t be addressed.
We tell ourselves we’re just putting it off for today or this week. But the week turns into a month…you get the idea.
And it is so easy to do this. Our society encourages us to power through, to get better, to heal, to move on. Everyone wants you to feel better so however well meaning, more often than not, you are being supported in avoiding.
Now try being a parent who is constantly navigating the loss of their child. Can you say trigger city? It’s constant, especially in the first few years. Almost everything resurfaces a memory or an emotion. The question is what to do with them?
The feelings, emotions, and memories can’t be pushed down or forgotten. Try as they might, when we as parents shove them down they keep bobbing up, usually in increasingly unavoidable ways. They are begging to be dealt with, recognized and given their due time, and in the middle of a meeting isn’t the right time to feel the tsunami of sadness.
Waking up one morning I felt especially overwhelmed with the enormity of my pain. All I wanted was to drive away from my house, my memories, my grief, myself. I drove across state lines, but the pain traveled with me. That’s when I got REALLY fed up and started screaming at the top of my lungs.
I eventually hit a point of exhaustion and while I still carried plenty, I’d somehow released at least a purse worth of pain. I knew the emotions would build back up, but for the day, I’d emptied my basket.
I’d also made a discovery, creating a time and space for myself where I had permission to let loose worked.
This activity is adaptable for individuals, partners, and whole families to create a standing safe time. It’s called a Save for Safe Time container.
- Decorate a container to place notes in
- Set up designated time(s) for opening the jar and create ground rules about not reading through notes until the designated time
- When something you can’t or don’t want to deal with in the moment comes to mind, write it down
- On the time you’ve set aside for yourself, the agreed upon time with your partner, or family sit down together review the ground rules for the time then allow space to feel and discuss the grief, memory etc.
- Create space for journaling or discussion with others if applicable including:
- How often do you feel this way? Has anyone else felt this way? Is there something that triggers the feeling?
- What does the memory mean to you? To others?
- Anything else you’d like to share about it?
- Are there any ways others can help support you?
- Review the ground rules – did they work? Are there modifications to make? Set a time on the calendar for the next Safe Time before leaving the current one.
For this tool to be effective, it’s critical you keep your promise to yourself (and others when using with others), to keep the appointment to dig in. If you don’t, the idea of a safe time will no longer work. The part of you who’s willing to set aside the emotions and overwhelm will no longer let it be set aside because it can’t trust you’ll come back to it.
You also need to hold the firm boundary of duration you’ve set for the safe time. The whole point is to give your heart, body, and mind a container with guardrails so you’ll feel safe going deep. By creating a container for a safe time to feel all of the uncomfortable, undesirable and messy, you will also have the freedom to start feeling joy and looking ahead, instead of being perpetually afraid of the looming pain.
Knowing there’s a mechanism to face grief provides you an opportunity to get grounded in the present where there’s room to feel a range of emotions. It enables the dance between allowing grief and embracing joy and purpose to begin.