At first, it sounded like someone cutting grass on the ceiling. But grass doesn't grow on the ceiling - right?
Maybe I'm dreaming.
Then I noticed the rhythmic whirring.
The sound quickly faded and I fell back to sleep.
When I heard it again at 4 AM my first thought was, "It must be a Lifeflight helicopter from Chester County Hospital" (the hospital is less than a mile away).
I pushed off the suddenly suffocating covers and rolled onto my back. My mind filled with memories. Last moments. Last words. All before someone I loved was taken away in a helicopter.
Afterward? Our lives were never the same.
Before waking twice to the helicopter sound, I planned on skipping writing a blog this month. It's been busy at work, and any spare time focused on the Kripalu retreat I'm leading next month around tools I learned writing my book - managing change, overcoming tragedy, and what to do when triggered.
One of the tools is RAIN. Here are the steps and how I used them:
Step one - Recognize what is happening. Sometimes this is hard. But that day - I was fully aware of the trigger. Check.
Along with this step, I seek comfort - like curling up with a pillow - or my favorite being.
Step two - Accept or Allow the feelings. Okay - I live close to a hospital. I've seen these helicopters before. But haven't heard them at night when I'm a little (a lot) more vulnerable. I need to allow the feelings. Resisting only causes suffering.
Acceptance is the first step to recovery.
Step three - Investigate. How did I feel? Sad. Bereft. Like I was living one of the worst days of my life all over again.
But my rational brain knows that isn't happening. I'm safe at home and no one is bothered but me.
Step four - Nurture. One of the quickest ways to nurture is breathing meditation and mantras. A simple breathing meditation is the extended exhale breath (inhale for 4 counts and exhale for 8 counts). While doing this I added the mantra, "Everything is going to be okay." It's amazing how this simple sentence brings so much relief.
It takes several rounds of breathing, mantra saying, and a little EFT tapping, but eventually, I'm less bothered.
And after writing about the helicopter in my journal, I go out and perform a favorite self-care act - walking with my dog Jake.
We're only a few blocks on our trek when I hear the flying lawnmower propeller noise again.
I look up and my chest softens.
It wasn't a helicopter after all. It was a military plane. Probably clearing air space for President Biden who lives nearby.
My mind had conjured the helicopter - and left unchecked - the incident could have derailed my day (or longer) with distraction, or released an aggressive action or words with more permanent impact.
By identifying and dealing with unexpected trauma triggers like this - we become more than what happens to us. We grow stronger.
And if we teach these tools to those around us, our loved ones and communities may benefit...the world too.
(Please note this approach works for me, but your needs may be different - so no pressure. Take what helps and leave the rest. :)