Trigger words

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The actual topic of this post delves into a sobering subject. If you are not comfortable with that, please do not read on.

Are there certain words in your life that evoke a strong, intense emotional response? Sometimes they crop up in the most surprising places. I happened upon one today as I was entering some giveaways. It was for gift baskets of food and/or personal care products like lotions and they asked you to share which one you liked the most. I chose the Ghirardelli Springtime Chocolate Sampler and in the comment section, as I was sharing why I liked it the best, I nearly used the word “decadence.” And that’s my trigger word.

Why? Because it reminded me of a sad, sad song from my past. I couldn’t quite remember the lyrics or who sang it, but I did remember it contained the word “decadence” and alludes to the subject of rape. So of course I did a quick search and eventually found with the song: Wash Away Those Years, by Creed. I don’t know why that single word stood out to me in this song – perhaps because it is rarely used in songs – but suddenly I found myself melancholic.

Whenever I think of rape, I think of the cathartic time I spent one summer in a darkened Broad Auditorium at UCLA, crying to a slow, sad version of Precious Things by Tori Amos. I was an Orientation Counselor and as part of the Orientation Program, we showed incoming freshman a video/audio presentation with slides of sobering facts about rapes on college campuses and of young adults in general. At one point, the lights came back on and the audience was asked to stand if they or someone they knew had been raped or sexually assaulted. Many fellow counselors and a sizable portion of students stood as we all looked around to see just how many of us had been affected.

When I attended my own orientation before starting at UCLA, I probably saw this presentation, but at that time it didn’t stick because I had no emotional connection to the subject. By the time I became a counselor I’d experienced attempted rape myself and then the presentation suddenly struck a chord with me. The first time we were shown it was during training, and I’m pretty sure I wept. It was so unexpected that I was struck to my core. I’d gone through the emotional healing process and put it behind me; it wasn’t something that I had to think about so I’d moved on. But suddenly it came rushing back to me and I found myself having to deal with all the sadness again.

And so, I spent many a time sitting with the newest batch of students and those fellow counselors, wondering if they thought I cried because I knew someone, that I was a sensitive soul, that I felt the pain of others… or if they thought that I might have experienced it too. I doubt I’ll ever really know what they thought (or even if they noticed), but that’s fine. I remember that one counselor had revealed her pain during a time when we were sharing a lot of personal stories. I had wanted to, too, but it just didn’t come out. So when it came time for that presentation, I let my emotions get out. I don’t think I could ever sit through that presentation without shedding a few tears, no matter how much time goes by.

Luckily, the hurt, the trauma, the confusion… that has faded. Every now and then I’m still deeply affected by thinking of that time, but I recover much more easily than before. Tonight (well, early morning technically) was the first time since that summer nearly 5 years ago that I got a rush of the old emotions again. It’s a reminder of a scar that may never go away. And sometimes, randomly, I’ll be reminded again because of a trigger word like “decadence” when I think of yummy chocolate.

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