To think about

To think about

The name of the blog

"It was never just an affair" needs to be in quotations, because it was something my ex-husband said to me early on in the break-up. I guess he thought it might make me feel better to know it wasn't just a fling per say, it was real love? It didn't make me feel better. Him ending the affair and being willing to work on the marriage would have made me feel better.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Musical triggers

A month ago I was in Old Quebec City, awed by the charm of the cobble stone streets, art installations, funky store fronts, and the general use of colour, flowers and fauna. It was an enchanting place and I adored my time wandering around. I came within earshot of several street buskers as I strolled for hours exploring and photographing my surroundings. Not your average west coast buskers though, a higher class version of the busker if you will. These folks weren’t necessarily singing, and they weren’t playing guitars either. There were a number of rare instruments playing acoustic versions of mostly classical music, I think. One performer stopped me in my tracks though, and tears instantly sprung to my eyes as my heart swelled. It took a moment to place what the harpist was interpreting so beautifully, and what I was reacting too. The Winner Takes it All, by ABBA. Unexpected. As an ABBA fan since childhood, it only took a few seconds for the words to form and start scrolling through my mind. And that’s when I had to leave a few dollars in his purse and walk off, blinking hard to fight back the tears. 

“And someone way down here, loses someone dear.” That song, probably sung hundreds of times by me throughout my life, never hit me before like it did that day. The story in the song, losing a love to another woman, never resonated with me. Until that day, which was obviously the first time I had heard the song since the break-up. 

My ex and I listened to ABBA throughout our relationship, and it will forever be linked in my mind to the many hours we spent blasting music and singing on road trips. Those were good times in my life, I thought at the time. 

Memories can be triggered by so many things, and these events will always be unexpected. You simply cannot plan for every event because a long term relationship produces millions of triggers. I think for a lot of us, music might be the single greatest prompt for memories that exists. Scientists will tell you scent is the greatest producer of memories. I disagree, at least for myself. There are only a few scents that I would associate to my ex, and the most obvious is the cologne he sporadically wore. Which I can likely avoid. Music is everywhere, and I have no control over what I am exposed to once I leave my house. As music lovers, there are many songs I associate to my ex. 

I have a new counsellor and we had our second session last week. We talked about triggers in that session. How they can still take you aback years later. How one of his clients, years after a divorce and seemingly doing well with that event, was triggered when asked by hospital staff who would be picking her up after an operation, who was her next of kin? The focus of our next session will be on building my strengths to deal with situations as the come. I need to trust myself that I can handle the next phase, including the actual divorce proceedings. 

Fast forward the month and I am packing, preparing for yet another move. However, this is a very different situation from a year ago. I am very excited for this move. I am going back to a community I have lived in several times before that I enjoy, but most importantly, I am moving in with a beloved family member. I move in five days, and in true Rebecca form I have been procrastinating. I justify my behaviour by my busy time helping a girlfriend do a renovation, but that’s a story for another post. After farting around on Facebook for a few hours drinking coffee, I put on ABBA’s greatest hits album to motivate myself. An hour in, The Winner Takes it All came on and the floodgates opened.  

The song punched me in my gut: “I’ve played all my cards … nothing more to say”. I did my best and I failed and my ego hurts whenever I think about that. When my defence mechanisms go down far enough for me to be vulnerable and honest with myself, I miss him, and I miss being married: “I was in your arms, thinking I belonged there, I figured it made sense, building me a fence, building me a home, thinking I’d be strong there, but I was a fool, playing by the rules.” I am still grieving the many betrayals, although far less frequently than a year ago. I can smile when I write that and acknowledge how far I have come. I can also be honest with myself and know that I will likely be triggered in the years to come; how I react and how I handle those triggers is all I can work on. I can’t stop a memory from surfacing any more than I can dictate a buskers play list. 

Don’t get me wrong; I have learned enough and I am far enough removed now that I can accept the dichotomy of the situation: I hate him currently, but I loved him for many years; he is not who I thought he was and I miss a memory not a person; I would never take him back and have no interest in having any type of contact with him, but I still have sad moments. 

I am in love with another man and he is who I want my future linked too. “The game is on again, a lover or a friend, a big thing or a small”. I have never been a believer in backtracking; life moves forward, way leads on to way, but I have also learned you can’t push the river. Letting go, accepting, and moving on is a process no matter what anyone else tries to tell you. At least, in my opinion, doing it properly and really putting it to bed does because those acts require time and effort. 

Stand tall and face your triggers head on when they knock on your door, if you can. If you don’t let them in then, just like a telemarketer, they will come back, time and time again, until you disarm them with your acceptance. Invite your triggers in and listen to their stories. Look at the photos they want to show you. Ask them questions about their experience. Explore what emotions rise up in you, both positive and negative. Honour your memories, they are your story.  

Footnote - I shared this post with a friend, my boyfriend, and a mentor, another writer in Australia that I very much respect. His story is similar to mine, as are some of his challenges. I enjoyed his feedback so much that I want to share it with you for you to think about when you are faced with a negative trigger.

“Try writing this post again for yourself but replace every negative thought with a positive thought.  What music do you listen to that makes you happy, brings tears of joy to your eyes. If you can’t answer that find some new music. What happy memories have been triggered, have you even noticed them, if not why not, go out and search for triggers that bring back good memories. What have you learned in the last 12 months (not from your husband but from yourself) that made you better faster stronger braver.

Thoughts have power and written ones even more so, choose your thoughts and words with deliberation because they set the course of your future.” 

The ensuing three way conversation between my friends and I got me thinking on two psychological phenomena in the human condition that I think are at play when disarming triggers: the negativity bias -  the psychological phenomenon by which humans have a greater recall of unpleasant memories compared with positive memories. People are seen to be much more biased to the avoidance of negative experiences. They seem to behave in ways that will help them avoid these events. With this, humans are much more likely to recall and be influenced by the negative experiences of the past, (from Wikipedia), and the element of surprise - prior research has shown that surprise—along with its cousins novelty, unexpectedness, variety, uncertainty, and unpredictability—is associated with more intense and durable emotional reactions (from

My mentor is wise. Music is a gift that can empower, uplift, energize, and make your heart swell with love, joy, or compassion. There are as many positive emotions I can experience through music as negative. I could tell you about dozens of songs that create positivity in my life. Most recently, the two songs that have helped me stand a little straighter, get dancing, get out of my victim stance, and get court battle ready are: Black Widow by Iggy Azalea and Problem by Ariana Grande. Stronger by Kelly Clarkson is another great anthem for us ladies who have been dumped by jerks. And Pink’s Raise Your Glass always makes me smile and raise a middle finger salute to my imaginary foes. As for ABBA, Super Trouper brings me back to my childhood fantasies of being a pop star. That song gets me dancing, smiling, and belting those lyrics out at the top of my lungs every time: “lights are gonna find me, shining like the sun, smiling having fun, feeling like a number one”.  


Johanna McCall said...


Rebecca Wissink said...

Here is a song another reader sent me as their anthem for recovering from a cheating ex - Tom Petty, Learning to Fly: