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Trigger Warnings This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

By , Oakland, CA
At the age of seventeen, I had my first flashback. My eyes rolled back in my head under my eyelids. I didn’t have complete use of my limbs. I felt the urge to fight. I knew again what it was like to be a small child. I was dependent and powerless and then it happened: I was betrayed. I couldn’t see clear enough to know what was happening to me, but I knew it was wrong and I knew I didn’t want it and I could sense all around me the shame of the adult who was with me.

Since that first flashback, I’ve had more. For a while, I lived in constant fear of it happening. It would come suddenly, when my boyfriend would do something unexpected or I would get hurt during sex. One time he accidentally put his arm down on my windpipe in the exact way that it happened over and over in my mind. One time his breath smelled like alcohol and a certain feeling of his lips on mine turned him into “that man.” The one in my nightmares.

My boyfriend is an amazing man. He is my hero and my inspiration, but just the faintest hint of liquor on his breath may or may not turn him into a demon in my mind. When he turns into a demon, I need to fight. His arms around me are a prison, not a home. I might hit or push him to free myself. Or, I might shut down and lose myself for minutes at a time, tiny and safe inside the fortress of my mind. And by the way, my first flashback happened because of a scene in a book. Just one paragraph opened the floodgates.

Needless to say, the conversation about trigger warnings is an intensely personal one for me. I’m all about choice, so if trigger warnings are useful for people then they should use them, but it’s impossible to censor the world. There are a lot of people like me, with traumatic experiences at the edges of their consciousness. We are all triggered by different things. You cannot control everything around you, and pretending that you can is a delusion.

Though I was terrified of my flashbacks for years (I still am, to be honest), coming into contact with triggers has forced me to accept who I am and to learn how to live a normal life. Trying to control every joke that anyone makes or predicting the content of every TV show that comes on while I’m flipping through the channels is impossible. And, of course, experimenting with triggers in a safe environment with a loved one or trusted partner/friend can ultimately set you on the path towards healing. That book that I read didn’t come with a trigger warning, but if I had never been triggered I would never have started to heal. The person I am today has learned from her experiences and is stronger for it.

This is my contribution to the conversation. This is the first time I’ve told my story this way. Please speak out, learn, and keep an open mind.





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