The elevator ride, aka, trigger words

“Why would you say that!?”

I had my weekly session yesterday with my therapist, and while I’m not going to dive into the substance of our discussion (though I may get into those conversations in future posts), suffice to say we had a good and positive conversation. I was walking down the hall and had a bounce in my step when I noticed the elevator doors closing ahead of me, so I took two quick strides, extended my arm as the gap between the doors narrowed and…

….had the door close on my arm before bouncing open, the safety sensors working on a two second delay, it would seem. There was a woman in the elevator who I recognized as the building receptionist and she probably had been jamming the “Close Door” button furiously put her hand over her heart and exclaimed “Goodness, I thought you were going to kill yourself!”

Annoyed that she hadn’t just held the door I hissed “No, I tried that a few weeks back, but it didn’t take. WHICH IS WHY I’M HERE AT THE PSYCHIATRIC CENTER.”

She gasped, and, realizing what I had just said, I covered my mouth.

“I-I- I didn’t mean- I’m sorry,” she said softly, her voice trembling on the verge of tears.

“No, no, I’m sorry- I was… I was joking…” I clumsily replied, “Please, don’t worry about it.”

We stood there for a few seconds in the silence. That’s when I noticed she must not have pressed a button for her floor. I didn’t want to reach in front of her, so I glanced at it, glanced at her (now in silent tears) and said “Sorry, can you hit floor one for me?”

It was the most awkward elevator ride ever. Just awful silence. Can you imagine?

Because I did imagine it. When she said “Goodness, I thought you were going to kill yourself!” I actually gave a fake laugh.

“Heh, no, just figured I’d catch this one.” I may as well have done the laugh Goofy does at the end of his sentences- you know the one- “Ahhh-hyuk!”

I imagined saying the bit about telling her I had tried to kill myself as I walked back to my car. Truth be told, the whole “kill yourself” thing was such an innocuous comment on her part and I’m sure it was said completely without malice. Still, it was kind of a trigger word (or phrase, I suppose). I don’t know if I wince when I overhear someone say something like “kill your/myself” or “suicidal” as hyperbole, but sometimes it feels like I do. I know it’s not something that most people do on a conscious level as it’s so ingrained in how we communicate (‘If that was my car, I’d kill myself’ or ‘Those NASCAR drivers are suicidal’). I’ve discovered that a large part of recovery is accepting the world as you find it, not as you’d like it.

Part of that acceptance is knowing that there are going to be triggers that bring up painful memories and recognizing when those triggers are meant to hurt and when they’re just dispatched by someone who doesn’t know any better. As time goes by I’ll get better at telling the difference.

I sometimes think of my recovery in these terms- before I was sober and before I was getting treatment for the depression and anxiety navigating life was like driving really fast down a back country road at night without headlights. You couldn’t see the bumps coming and when you hit them, you hit them hard. Now I can usually spot them, and if I can’t avoid them, I can take them at a slower speed and the bump isn’t as bad. Hearing a trigger word or phrase and being able to contextualize it and then deal with it or ignore it is a skill- like steering around a pothole or slowing down for a speed bump.

It will hopefully make for fewer awkward elevator rides.


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Erased, but not forgotten. A frenetic account of memories, events, and ruminations.


An honest look at living with bulimia.

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