Today, while volunteering with the Transgender Support Group at the local arts festival, we were walking back to our booth when we saw our primary abuser not only walking in our general direction but also staring at us. Fortunately, we were very close to our booth so we ducked in there immediately, telling our friend what was happening. She helped to both shield us from his gaze but to also calm us and kept us in the present moment, which we were able to do, for the most part.
Thanks to our DBT skills, visualizations and especially our friend, we were able to avert a complete collapse, which has happened during similar circumstances in the past. Once the event was over we didn’t dwell upon it. Yay! We clearly have come a long way, to be able to process the occurrence and move on about our day.
Looking back on it we can see how we were triggered instantly, upon our recognizing who was walking towards us as was our realization that he had been, and still was, staring at us. Time slowed down to a crawl as this happened. Our physical body experienced a near immediate fear response, which included slight dizziness, tight chest, and coldness in our upper body. We could feel our heart pounding.
We arrived at our booth mere seconds later and told our friend what was transpiring and pretty much let her take the lead from then on. She used comforting words and words to remind us that time has passed since those awful days, as she used her body to shield us from his gaze. We aren’t entirely sure how long this all took, but guess a few minutes.
One thing we did do during this time was to glance around, here and there, so we wouldn’t get lost in one internal image, which worked. We also did a swift internal meeting of our Circle of Love and Strength as well, telling everyone that it is 2018, that we are safe, that nobody can hurt us, that our friends are with us to support us, that sort of thing. We also practised some slow deep breathing, always a good tool to help relax the body.
The body, mere seconds into a triggering event, is within a primal fight or flight response, with the expected accompanying effects. When triggered, it can be helpful, indeed crucial, to focus upon tools to relax the body itself. Deep breathing, as we mentioned, is one immediate thing one can do to fight the effects of a triggering event, which has very specific physiological effects. A feeling of odd alertness is one such effect as is a sensation of coldness in the upper body and extremities. All one’s senses can feel somehow clearer and enhanced. In extreme cases one can experience time dilation in that the world around them will seem to slow down around, allowing for time to assess the situation one is facing at the time. Though it feels as though time has slowed down to a crawl what has actually happened is that one’s senses and reflexes have become heightened, affecting one’s perception. At the extreme end of the spectrum is tunnel vision, and at the fully extreme end is complete dissociation from the event itself, a fragmenting off from the whole self in an attempt to protect oneself from the trauma of the event.
We can recall the events of our being in a near-car wreck some years ago while living out west in excruciating detail, recounting how the vehicle we were a passenger in skidded across a Provincial highway in the direction of a small pond on the other side of the highway. During that event time ‘slowed down’.
We are still somewhat astonished at how well we coped with today’s earlier encounter. There was a time where a similar sighting would result in our being suicidal. We feel it is a testament to our new DBT knowledge, our family and friends, and our generally positive state of mind. We would consider these elements of our safety net.