PTSD and the Ordinary Object

Trauma, fear, our experiences can give contextual power to any object we have encountered before. An article of clothing, a certain scent, an everyday household item, so unassuming and yet when tied to a particular memory, to us and our instincts they become anything but harmless.

CW: references to abuse and sexual violence

Most people have become aware that ‘triggered’ isn’t an internet buzzword or an infliction solely upon soldiers, it is a reaction to stimuli. Flashing lights trigger a seizure like pollen triggers allergies like winter triggers seasonal depression and stimuli which remind a person of their trauma triggers post traumatic stress reactions. To be quite frank, most people have some level of trauma. Whether you have PTSD depends on how your trauma reactions impact your life. 

For years I couldn’t handle showers. I could hardly bathe. The patter of water against my skin could hide phantom touches let alone the vulnerability of nudity. I struggled to brush my teeth, every morning I would throw up from having to put a foreign object in my mouth and spitting out a substance that was not just saliva. More subtly, I encountered triggers in the form of objects everywhere I went. A car, a vacuum cleaner, a volleyball, a riesen chocolate, a bridge, a bed, a school chair, an unknown cologne, grocery store name tag, to me they aren’t ordinary. They are messages from the past. 

I still experience trauma reactions daily but no longer am I threatened by constant panic attacks and flashbacks, and I’ve fought my way through a lifetime of dissociation. Recently I told someone who knew me since I was a baby that ‘I’m awake now’ and they knew exactly what I meant. 

Ordinary objects hold untold amounts of power. Unquantifiable diversity in the forms of power, we can learn to exceed the authority our trauma has given these reminders of our suffering and appreciate the other forms of energy within an object. The uses, the other memories, the impact of our force of will, these are few of many magical properties. A vacuum cleaner is a miracle worker and it’s intricate make is that of art. It has history, innovation, it is a weapon we can choose to wield, and I own a vacuum cleaner of my own now. I hate using it and my stomach churns when I do, but I can do it. 

Everything changes all the time, nothing stays the same. The horror held within the physical body can be released as can the horror within an item or any trigger. The ordinary object haunts many of us. We treat it as a symbol of our pain. It can become a symbol of our victory.

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