I tapped the new notification on my phone and listened to the message someone had just left me. Afterward, I began scrolling through old messages in my voicemail; I still had 5 saved from my now-husband that he’d left me from our dating days. For fun, I picked one and pressed the play button.
The voice emitted from my phone speaker was definitely my husband’s. In a goofy tone, he mocked my voicemail greeting that I had set. Listening to this old message made me laugh—until suddenly it didn’t.
Somewhere in my brain, my mind began confusing the sound of my husband’s voice in his phone message with the sound of my ex’s. It set pangs of anxiety surging through me. Just like that, I was caught up recalling the many, many voicemails I’d once saved from my ex while we were still together.
That’s what being triggered usually looks like for me. In the middle of everyday life, some obscure detail unexpectedly and suddenly resurrects the past, and I’m forced to temporarily relive it.
My former relationship ended over 3 years ago. Despite the fact I’ve moved on in SO many ways from it, it turns out time doesn’t always heal trauma.
At first, asking myself if my relationship with my ex was psychologically “traumatic” felt ridiculous and extreme. After all, I wasn’t physically harmed. I wasn’t screamed at. I wasn’t sexually mistreated. However, while scrolling on Instagram recently I encountered a quote about trauma that made me feel like I was stepping more fully into my truth.
Trauma is anything that exceeds one’s ability to cope.@the_queer_counselor
The nearly-daily emotional breakdowns I’d had in the months before breaking things off with my ex now made sense. The situational depression I was diagnosed with during that time now had an explanation. I wasn’t crazy; I just couldn’t psychologically handle what this relationship had been putting me through.
And the result was trauma.
If I’ve learned anything from this experience, it’s this: trying to dismiss or brush off a part of your past does not fix it. I’ve spent countless hours beating myself up for not being able to just move on from the impact my ex had on me. Yet here I am, 3 years later, still being triggered by things as minor as listening to old voicemails from someone I love.
I don’t know how long I will carry this trauma with me from my former relationship. I do know that trauma will never go away by pretending it isn’t real or isn’t worthy of being taken seriously. The truth is, my relationship with my ex psychologically traumatized me. It’s unsettling and frustrating as hell to continue encountering triggers, but I at least know (and accept) why.
What we go through is real. Our abilities to cope with what we go through are all different. If I can encourage you to do anything today, it’s to be kind to yourself when trauma resurges. I could’ve gotten mad at myself after those voicemails triggered me. Instead, I’m using it as an opportunity to validate myself and tell my story.