Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Guess Post: Triggering Happiness

by StillStanding1

As often happens on this site, some themes keep coming up, for me and for others here. At the same time, I often notice and read things that directly relate to these themes. I think it means that there’s something to learn, something new to try, something to rumble with, or something to let go. 
I woke up with a teensy-weensy anxiety attack today. It’s cold. It’s winter and it’s the worst of the times I can recall post D-Day. The week of my body in full PTSD meltdown, heart racing, feeling like I might be dying, my world erased, nuclear blast style. If, at two years out and having to heal largely on my own, I am having a tough day and my body is saying “hey, remember this BS?”, I think I get a pass. I’m awake, vertical, breathing and writing. Sometimes I think it must be that snow or the smell of cold is a trigger for me.
And this brings me to my first recurring theme: triggers. In our post-infidelity world, triggers abound. The smallest, seemingly inconsequential thing can set off a cascade of difficult emotions: pain, anger, fear, loathing, grief (so, so much grief). The smell of cold and I’m back in that terrible shocked, numb week after just finding out. I take my daughter back to college, also my alma mater and where I met my ex and I am (sometimes, not every time) hit in the gut with memories of the beginning of my relationship. Sadness, regret, remembering adventures and hustling so hard to be worthy. So much grief and a feeling of not knowing how to reconcile my old stories just yet. A TV show about romance: blech, anger, bitterness. Doing my budget, which requires planning and thinking about my future can set of a wave of worry and anxiety and fears that after the alimony runs out, I will not be able to provide for myself; that things will be hard. My ex himself, who still seems to think he can access me for emotional support, dump his load and then leave me reeling because “he’s already spent enough time in that space today and needs a break.” What a dick. It’s a very accurate replay of our past dynamics. He takes what he needs and leaves me to deal with the rest.
I’m sure you all have your own triggers: memories, places, vehicles, words or phrases, smells, foods, people and of course the holidays. So many of us have had a challenging time the last few weeks (and thank goodness that’s over). And we’ve all got our coping strategies and we deal and survive and get through. I’ve got to be honest though, it’s getting old. I’m tired of having to sit with my sadness and grief and revisit and recycle. I prefer the places and times when it's all not so heavy and I am more in the now.
Then rather magically, in my inbox appears an article about happiness triggers. This gets my attention immediately. What if the same mechanism that triggers the negative emotional response can be used or trained to help us trigger a happiness (or peace or comfort) response? That would be pretty great, right? Our brains get trained by trauma to respond a certain way pretty quickly. This was functional for much of our early biological history. We might need to train our brains to recognize happiness when it is happening. What might this look like?
We might need to slow down and become more mindful of the present (this is a recurring theme here at BWC). Can we take the time to notice what is happening right now while we are feeling happy? What does it feel like in our bodies? What are we doing? What thoughts are in our heads? Do we generally feel happier when we have a smile on our lips? Was I enjoying having a laugh with a friend? The feel of the sun on my face? How might I conjure that feeling in the future?
Often, when we are going through a tough time, we will analyze our choices and “mistakes” in an effort to avoid unhappiness and to “do better” or improve. What if, instead, we examined our happiness? What if we pursued and nurtured it, so we could conjure it up when we are feeling blue? This might be a whole new level of self-care. Can I sit and recall a time when I felt peaceful? Breathe. Get a soft smile on my face and imagine the feel of the sun. Pause in a hectic day and spend a few minutes just savoring a cup of tea.
I found an article that outlines 13 happiness triggers. You’ll be surprised by none of them, as they come up so often here when we talk about self-care and how to go about finding yourself after his affair:
Anticipation. This one makes total sense. I enjoy anticipating my vacations or going to visit my girl at school almost as much as the event itself. You can learn to intentionally savor this too.
Smile! I know it can seem fake when you are feeling low but I learned this from meditating. My teacher often begins by telling us to bring a soft smile to our lips. Studies show it can change your mood even if it starts as fake. I also love smiling at people when I am out. Human connection is a big deal.
Service. I get more out of the volunteer work than I put into it and I am totally okay with that. I love the people I volunteer with and whom I serve. I’ve learned from this that it is as okay to receive as it is to give.
Financial savvy. This is one of those security have-your-exit-plan-lined-up kind of things. Know what is going on with your money. Know that you can earn money and support yourself. Get a budgeting tool. Plan for retirement. Just get moving on it. You will feel better. I promise. As someone who constantly struggles with the false belief that I can’t provide for myself or that I am “bad” with money, I have gotten really good ad budgeting, planning and saving. My ex can stick that in his pipe and smoke it.
Gratitude. This one is so, so important and so simple. No matter what happens in your day there is something to be grateful for (even though it can be hard to see after D-Day). I am up and breathing. I have a roof over my head. I have people who care about me and love me. I have my health. When you focus on what you have, on what’s good, you don’t think about what’s lost quite so much.
Connection. This is necessary for human survival. Take time to be with friends or family who can hear and see you. Come here where people understand. Snuggle with kids, pets, and anyone else you feel like its appropriate to snuggle with. Have a vulnerable conversation with someone. Hear someone else’s story. Don’t isolate yourself. Find ways to be with people and engage with them.
Flow. Oooh, I like this one. This is when you are really good at something and while you are doing it you get lost in doing the thing and cease to be self-conscious. It’s when you are deep in your own mastery of something.  And before you say it, everyone is a master at something good. I experience flow sometimes when running, when writing, when the lightbulb goes off while I’m doing design work.
Play. Have fun. Stop being a grown up or taking things so seriously for just a second. I’m not talking about Candy Crush Saga on your phone (but that’s okay too). Play a board game with your family. Toss a baseball around. Play tag. Have a tickle fight. Play eye spy or a word game in the car ride. Find ways to inject more fun into your day.
Relaxation. Um, yes please. Put your feet up. Drink tea. Close your eyes. Take a nap in the hammock. Stop moving and rushing and doing for a minute and sit quietly. Put everything down and do a body scan. See what might like to loosen up. Watch a dumb TV show. Have a casual conversation over coffee. Slow down and breathe.
Winning words. This I take to mean the words we use when we talk to ourselves. Thanks to Ann and Fragments of Hope for new methods of recognizing and debunking the lies I tell myself. Speak to yourself like you would a friend. Be less critical of yourself and more compassionate. 
May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I be safe. May I be at peace. 
I am enough. I am loveable. 
I am doing my best right now.
Movement. Use your body. Get some exercise. It is so good for a broken heart. Find the movement that works for you. You don’t need to be a fitness model to start moving. Run, walk, swim, swing, skip, dance, lift, do yoga, do something but get moving. You will always feel better. I can be having the “worst day ever” and feel a thousand times better by the time I hit mile 2 of a run.
Savoring. This ties to gratitude for me and relaxation. Slow down and appreciate what you’ve got. Take the time to taste all the flavors and feel the textures of your meal. Watch a sunrise. Enjoy the changing colors in the sky. Winter sucks in so many ways but it’s a great time to savor a sunrise because its not too early and the colors are usually amazing.  Do you have young children? Enjoy the warmth of them sitting on your lap or the smell of their clean hair after a bath. Do you have pets? Enjoy their unconditional admiration of you. Honestly no one will ever love me or think I’m as amazingly amazing as my dog does. I try to remember that when all 75 lbs of him wants to sit on my lap.
Purpose. I believe every one of us has a reason for being. We’re here to learn and love and take care of each other. There are things we are meant to do and work or relationships that give our lives meaning. For myself, after D-Days and a divorce, I’m not really clear on what that is so my purpose right now is to take care of myself while I figure the rest out. I have this nebulous idea of moving softly through the world and making everyone’s day just a little better because I’ve been in it. That would be plenty of purpose for me right now. A life lived with purpose is a life of happiness.
I’ve committed, after weeks of being triggered and feeling so dark and so tired, to nurturing happiness. Recognizing all the while that it is not a destination, not an end game, it can be something I aspire to while I’m here figuring things out. And the next time I’m sitting in the sunshine, I’ll pay attention and enjoy the happiness that’s been triggered.


  1. One purpose is surely providing hope and support for your fellow BWs - beautiful piece, StillStanding 1. Thank you.

  2. Thank you thank you thank you my lovely ss1, just when I needed to hear this you said it : ).. sending a big warm hug your way xxx

  3. SS1 ... thank you for this. I have been in a dark, dark place the last month or more ... I found myself not seeing the happiness because I was to scared to accept that it's possible to be happy even when things are so unsure.

    Intentional happiness triggering ... that's my new thought process today going forward!

  4. CONNECTION. <---- OM gosh StillStanding, this one really stands out for me. I had a long break over the holidays, one in which I did not need to be anywhere for anyone and was actually not committing to plan what was going to happen even tomorrow.

    I was on the 'day to day' list. It was GREAT as my H is always up for anything last minute. In my down time I did some more reading, watched some helpful videos and once again got into some Esther Perel. Despite how brilliant she is--and she is--i get triggered by her often. I get triggered by a few things I read, but she can really set me off--here's why, I think.

    I don't want to hear again, really, that my H felt "alive" and "curious" and wanted to feel "mystery" and "the unknown" while he was rationalizing his lying to me. I know it's good to know these things, reminding me his failings had nothing to do with me, and yet--took me a while to figure out why I often bristle.

    It's this--it's because I have no connection with Esther.

    On the opposite end of the spectrum, I feel SO connected right HERE.

    I can actually talk back to you all. Talk with you all. If Elle posts something from Esther here, I can log on and comment that if, for example, all of that felt so good for him he can take it all of it and shove it up there where things don't often shine. :o) .

    Here I have such an equal voice, with women, and a few men whose voices are heard loud and clear, even if spoken in an early past discovery whisper.

    And if I do think out loud about shoving things somewhere, no one is going to tell me to calm down. I'll get and I will give the gentle or firm reminders that there is nothing to be ashamed of, that this had nothing to do with us, it's the fact that I am able to talk, that we all can talk and that someone will listen that has been my bridge back to sanity (well, mostly sanity!!)

    So thank you. Here, we are not a bunch of whiners and we are not a bunch of preachers. We're a bunch of amazingly voiced hearts joined in the fabulous community of strength and hope and lifting each other up to prepare for the future no matter how it turns out.

    Thank you all for the connection.

    1. Steam, wow, you hit the nail on the head here. I also have a very difficult time with Esther. She can trigger me like nobody else. I so appreciate this blog and the sense of actual connection I have with so many women living through my reality. We all get the ranting and raving reality at times like nobody else does. I sometimes feel like Esther is explaining and justifying my husbands choices. Ugh. So many people had the same life he did and they did not choose porn and prostitutes. Not going to rant now. Just a fact of life.

    2. Yes, yes, yes! Thank you for that, Steam. As a therapist (lotta good that did me), I know Perel is dead on and I appreciate what she has to say. As a BW, I ache when she speaks. I don't want to know how great h felt. I can't compete with that. Not then, not now, not ever. SS1, I love the happiness triggers. Keep going. Thank you all for your courage -- it helps so much when I'm feeling alone.

    3. Perel is/was so right. I find it triggers me too. She points out all of it in such a concise way. In my husband's most honest moment he said that excitement, mystery, something different drew him in but what he has told me was the second it was over he was miserable and hit a new low each time. He said it really was horrible. But he said once he did it once he felt like he ruined and lost everything. He thought there was no chance for us to last. He even thought eventually he would have to leave me and make up some fake excuse since even if he left me he wanted to be the "good" guy and never wanted to admit to cheating. Crazy how it works seems like inflicting punishment on yourself.

    4. Perel makes me bristle. So he was curious and felt alive. That’s what dating is for. Once you’ve made a commitment it’s time to put “your big boy pants on”.

    5. Yes! Beach girl, snowbird HOpeful and GPS--I have her new book and her therapy sessions AUDIOBOOK is truly amazing. During those sessions you can hear she does not cut the cheater any slack, and does promote a new connection between couples . I don’t think she’s “pro-affair” as people often say she is. She’s really brilliant. 58 and married a long time too.

      Ssee if you can find her old (i think from april) hour long video on Facebook with a bunch of friends and colleagues in her living room/ it’s fascinating).

      STILL there are just certain terms she uses, in that sexy French accent no less, that get me RIGHT THERE. I want to say ESTHER, can we please not use the word EROTIC so damn much— just STOP IT.
      But i can’t. We have no connection Esther and I . But here? Whole different ball game. For whatever reason i really don’t get triggered here. I have compassion, connection, and feel the same horror everyone here knows too well.
      I read parts of my story in everyone else's story.

      But i chalk up the lack of triggering HERE to the connection we all have here. Thank you ALL for being right here.

  5. Still standing 1
    I admire you in so many ways! I love the way you cut to the chase, pick yourself up and just keep marching forward in your own positive way! Elle sure knew what she was doing even when she had no clue what she was really doing and she has recruited a team of experts that could never learn anything about this from a book! Just saying! I love us all so much that we’re willing to do this journey together no matter what we decide we have to do to survive! God y’all all give me strength for my unknown future getting my mother and myself to the best tomorrow! Sending hugs to us all!

  6. Nothing can prepare you for these triggers that fly from nowhere and consume your day. I draw comfort from knowing that they can go as swiftly as they arrive. Thank you for your honesty and for sharing these all consuming thoughts.

  7. Thank you for this reminder! We can and should enjoy the little things in life. So many of the suggestions ring true. A small, fake smile can turn into a moment of happiness. I dont have the time to volunteer, but I can do things for my friends at work. I try to focus on the beauty of nature when Im out walking my dog.

    He began a relationship with the slut across the street before he was working out of state for a year and a half. I have deleted all my pictures and videos of my trips to visit him. I have discarded the souvenirs from that time. I also threw out everything her kids made for me. As Facebook memories come up that remind me of that time, I delete them.

    I have had some happy, healing times with friends and family. I also have a table in my family room that I call my Happy Table. Only items that make me happy are allowed. It may not match my decor, but it doesnt have to.

    Bad triggers are out there, they will raise their ugly heads. It is hard at times to feel happy, but I'll take even a few small moments.

  8. SS1 - what a beautiful post and so much that I needed to hear, we all needed to hear. I am working hard on this right now - in fact talking to my individual counselor later today about it - this re-training my brain to look for and focus on the here and now, on the happy, on the joy - not the negative, hurt, past, pain. Thank you for your words. Thinking of you!

  9. Love this post. Coming up on 2 years in March and winter has always been a hard time for me as most of what was going on behind my back was happening at this exact time of year. The cold, the darkness...all of it takes me to a dark place. This year feels a little bit different though and for that I'm grateful. Learning to let go of some of those associations so I can move forward and not feel trapped. Thanks for sharing.

  10. SS1, as usual your wisdom is so appreciated. My 39th wedding anniversary is the 13th. His affinity for porn and the dark side came along when we married unbeknownst to me. His first affair was in 1983 followed by the strip clubs, jerk off joints, and prostitutes until 2015 when he thought he had AIDS so told me about his private life. This is hard hard hard. Although he has not been active in that life since disclosure I still have difficulty choosing the Happiness path at times like this. My body and mind want to lash out and hurt him like he hurt me. This lovely template lays out a more helpful path for me over the next week. Thank you friend, thank you so much for sharing.

  11. Perfect! Thanks SS1

  12. I wish I’d read this before the holidays. Might’ve halped. Triggers are such a bane.

    Love you, SS1, Warrior Wise Woman!

  13. Thank you for this. I work with a woman who reminds me of the OW. Kind of sneaky and deceitful. Doesn't take responsibility for her own actions. When I mentioned what happened with husband to this one woman who talks about personal life all the time and her PTSD my boss takes me aside and told me to get over it and move on because I still have my husband. Needless to say I am now looking for a new job. I've been at this job for a year and very rarely talk about what happened. I try very hard even after two years to look to the positive side of everything. I thought working here would be good for me because I was helping other women feel good about themselves with clothing that they are purchasing but, I was wrong. This company that I work for concentrates on your sales numbers and how much bonus you make from those sales and it makes it very cut throat. I'm finding out that this is taking away from really helping someone else and just pushing things on people they don't really want or need. And then I relate that to what happened with husband and I realize coming home and complaining about it could possible cause problems that aren't necessarily there because I compare it to the OW and her friends in what they did to him and us in general. Reading this and made me feel so much better in what I've been feeling and dealing with daily and I'm making selfcare and my happiness the priority even if it means finding another job that doesn't pay as much.

    1. Wow, that sounds like a really toxic job environment. But kudos to you for recognizing that and laying blame where it belongs. And good luck finding a job that deserves you and the gifts you bring to it. Keep us posted!

  14. Thank you SS1. I am inspired by what you had written. My H cheated when we were engaged, before we had our son and recently after 6 years of having our son. Before we were married, we were intimate. But on my wedding night, there was no sex till 9 years...we sought all kinds of treatment (medical and spiritual) and could have sex. After the birth of my son, the sex stopped. Anyway...I was determined to divorce him after finding out about the recent affair. I chased hi out of the house. But my 6 year old son...as much as he tried to understand my needs...he was suffering. H promised to change and we went on a spiritual trip as a family. Honestly, I know I am continuing in this marriage for my son's sake. I am on leave from work and usinv the time to heal myself. My family does not support divorce except for my brother. I am just thankful I found this site...Elle: thank you for starting this blog...

    1. Kids know when things are off so if you are staying just for your son’s sake, ensure it’s a healthy situation. Set your boundaries and let your h know that his behavior over the years is impacting you daily and obviously the sex life. You deserve better than to just live with a friend. Think about what you want out of your marriage and what type of family unit you want for your son, if you haven’t already and tell your H. Maybe make him do the same and see if you’re on the same page.

  15. Hi, I've never posted on this site before...I've read a lot of all of your words though, wise authentic group of women you are!
    This post about triggers (happiness triggers- such an awesome reframe Thank you!!)prompts me to finally ask for you thoughts around my situation...
    My triggers are daily as the OW in my story is a mum at the same school my kids attend. Our school is a small community based school where everyone knows and socialised with each other based around common life philosophies. Therefore for me - almost everyone in my life has become a trigger for me as they are all mutual friends with OW.
    It has been 18 Months since I found out about their 20 day encounter with sleeping together twice. I feel like a bit of a looney but it still bothers me daily. My H has done heaps of therapy and we had counselling weekly for 5 Months and still less frequently now and our marriage is actually more real and deep than it ever was because we have faced so much of our stuff head on to save our family etc
    But.... I can't get over her involvement. She was a friend and we are in the same community and I hate her so much for what she did. I've had therapy to try and deal with triggers (emdr was great to help my anxiety around seeing cars like here...) and everything I have tried has helped but it never goes away - particularly when I have to see her at the school pick up nearly every day :(

    My question about triggers and moving forward - with regard to my situation do you think moving the family and leaving schools would help me? I dont want to lose my community or disrupt the chridren but part of me feels it is already lost anyway. The other thing is that moving would mean I wouldn't have to see her but Im sure there would be other triggers.
    I just want to feel happy again.
    Have any if you moved to get away from triggers and the other woman? Did it help?
    Thank you for reading my story and thankyou for sharing so much on this blog, it has helped me a lot over the past 18 months.

    1. Anonymous,
      I'm so sorry for what you're going through. And it's such a hard choice for you to make. I do think that moving and changing schools might be a good idea. To carry on with a constant reminder, I think, makes an already painful challenging situation that much harder. But I would encourage you to do some investigating to find other neighbourhoods, other schools so that, if you do choose that, you're comfortable with the decision.
      As for feeling happy again...that takes time. There doesn't seem to be any way around that. But pay attention to the little things that do make you happy right now. Hang on to those. They might last seconds...but they can be a lifeline. Something funny your child says. Something beautiful that you notice. A moment of peace. A laugh with a friend. Anything that reminds you that YOU are still here and that joy will come again.
      As for triggers, i know some women have come up with pretty creative ways to manage them. I used to imagine the OW naked, caught by me in my house where I would then chase her, naked, down the road in my car. I would imagine the terror in her eyes, her butt jiggling, etc. Ridiculous...but it helped me frame her as pathetic and frightened, rather than having any power over me. Others have imagined the OW with the flesh of chicken skin. Or reminded themselves of a particular negative characteristic or trait -- an annoying laugh, her gossip, whatever reminds you that she's just a flawed (VERY flawed) human who did something cruel and pathetic.
      I'm sure others will chime in with their suggestions. The idea isn't to fixate on her but rather to reframe her in your mind as sad and pitiable, not enviable.

  16. Anon, 10:13 PM,
    I agree with Elle about a new move and fresh start. The OW bothered me for at least 3 years. I was afraid I would see her in town and scout the restaurant or store for her. My H brought the OW to our home. I had to get out because I could not get over it with constant reminders. You will have school events, parties etc... We moved because I kept thinking of my house as a whore house. First I got rid of the chair she sat in. Then it was the couch. Then it was the patio furniture. Honestly no matter what I did, I could not shake the thoughts of her. It has been long enough and it sounds like your marriage is strong on to take on a move. If I would have stayed in that house, we would be divorced, I'm certain. I was exhausted all the time. Since we moved, we made new friends, new interests. It really did help me alot. You can't go back to the way it was and if the family would be happier why not? I no longer worry about seeing her or my H seeing her. It was a relief for me. I debated for 2 years about moving. I then said that is what I wanted but yet I was scared if I would be happier. I have more freedom and peace where we moved. I deserved it. Also building a new house, a common goal, new memories made us closer because it was something we build brand new together. My initial response to stress is run toward something better. It doesn't hurt to look does it. Take your time and look. Maybe your H would feel better getting away? Have you asked him? My H had the same worries of running into her. He freaked one time when he thought he saw her. It was good for both of us. If you want to feel happy again, think what would make you happy? If I had to see the OW everyday that would be enough reason for me. I'm so sorry you have to see her so frequently. It must be painful. You are looking at this very rational so I'm sure you will figure out what is best for you.

    1. Thank you Elle and LLP for your thoughts. Like you LLP there's heaps of stuff I've made him sell/get rid of. Getting rid of friends is harder sigh*
      I agree that a new place would provide a shared experience and growth.
      I wonder if it's possible if I can stay here and if it will eventually not bother me to see her? Every success story I read the OW is not always around....
      Yes Elle I've tried the reframes. I'm finding they aren't working so well now as I think more of her as a normal person who made a wrong choice. I need to see a new therapist this year and am hoping that we can get some clarity about moving , but it will be another full year of living here so I've got to make it through.
      Thank you for the reminder to look for the joy.



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