PTSD and Awareness

The Trigger That Haunts Me

Scary movies were never scary to me, because they just weren’t. Sure, a few had their moments of suspense, but really, I was never, ever downright terrified.

Okay, that’s a lie. When I was six or seven I watched Stephen King’s It and I will never, EVER like clowns. But I was much too young for a movie like that. And since, nothing scared me. I actually rather enjoyed horror.

That was until I saw Paranormal Activity. The movie itself was low budget and gimmicky, and reminded me of a terrible version of an M. Night Shyamalan flick. The suspense built nicely, but it was all fake, and I knew it.

But there was something about
the camera in the bedroom.

It was unnerving, but okay. I chalked it up to the shadows of the hallway and stairwell.

Yet it still bothered me. And then it was the ending that made me feel my first extreme anxiety attack in years.

transparent partition

You see, I wasn’t pregnant. I didn’t have my son yet. It wasn’t until after he was born over a year later that I started to understand what bothered me so much about that movie.

It spoke to something else. Something I didn’t know about until after he was born.


The ending of that movie nearly scared me to death, yet I didn’t have a clue why. I couldn’t even think about it without getting so scared my pulse tripled and I broke out into a sweat, among other things I couldn’t even begin to understand.

I don’t know what exactly triggered those memories to come back, but they did. And to this day I still cannot watch that movie — let alone think about it in detail — without causing my anxiety to skyrocket and send me into a spiral of flashbacks.

transparent partition

Come to find out, stomping, erratic footsteps coming up the stairs is one of my biggest triggers.


That’s easy.

That was always how I knew he was coming. And I always sat across from the door, staring at it, as if I might see through it. Hoping against hope that for once, he might just go to bed, instead of turning down the hallway and coming straight for me.

I remembered that much.

I remembered the beatings. The punishments. But thought I passed out after. Or something. What came after was always an unknown to me.

But I remembered. I was wrong. I didn’t pass out. It was so much worse.

Now, I remember most of it. What happened after I checked out. Disassociated.

And I think I will always fear the sounds of ominous footsteps coming up the stairs.

© Sarah Doughty

28 thoughts on “The Trigger That Haunts Me”

  1. It makes sense to me you would find the stomping, flat-footed up the stairs scary and triggering. I am so sorry you went through what you did. You are a beautiful, warrior survivor❤
    For me, I love horror movies including the Paranormal Activity franchise. The movie I couldn’t get through was House of 1000 Corpses. The rape scenes left me in tears and wracking sobs. So much so my husband turned it off and it took almost half an hour for me to calm down. I don’t know what set me off as I’ve, to my knowledge, never been sexually assaulted. I just felt such deep empathy for the women I suppose. Moral outrage.
    Bottom line is in think I can relate in a round about way. Thank you for this post. Enlightening and therapeutic ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh wow. That’s one movie I haven’t seen. I’ll make sure to avoid it. I used to love horror movies. But after Paranormal Activity in the theater, I have to be very careful about what I watch.


  2. Dear Sarah,
    I get so angry when I read stories like these. What is wrong with these people (mostly men)? Why can’t they keep their hands to themselves? I feel angry about being powerless to do anything about it. I have a family of my own and they are my main priority at the moment. The only thing I can do is to educate my son to respect women and for my daughter to stand up for herself. But I know it’s going to be a long time before the world has changed. In the mean time take every day as it comes and be the stronger person I know you can be!
    Jacky D.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Sarah, I’m pretty sure we have far too much in common. Oh my God, I cannot tell you how I can relate. My trigger scary movie was The Butterfly Effect–the man videotaping the kids in the basement–I jumped up and got really sick, because I never let myself think about my stepfather’s camera. That movie–never, ever again. I know what you mean about certain every-day sounds too. Oh God I do. I am glad I know you.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. As a sister survivor , I understand all too well . I remember the year leading up to realizing that what happened to me was raped , I hadn’t blocked the memory I just had somehow blocked the meaning and tell I was ready for handling the emotions that came back when I finally reentered my body . That is so common , I feel like every woman I know in her 30s suddenly realizes she was sex ually abused or assaulted or raped. Actually meant to. No one believes them they have even less support than we do , it’s terrible .

    EMDR doesn’t work if you are dissociated or hypervigilant . It seems to be better for someone who had a pretty normal life and then dramatic incident happened . If you were surrounded in Trumatic experiences for long periods of time , which is complex PTSD and very different from regular PTSD , it is what Holocaust survivors have as well as prisoners of war. It’s when trauma is a normal thing that you can’t even identify because your personality has developed in a way to protect you from it , that’s why so many things for PTSD don’t work , especially trying to even remember a safe space or invent one .

    When I was two years old my mother started having flashbacks about being sexually abused at age 2 and there was nothing in the 1970s , no one even knew about sexual abuse so no therapist even thought about it , she really changed so much as a mother , I’m really grateful I got the two years I did before she went into trauma stages without any decent help for 20 years and it’s taken 20 more to be able to get a therapist to understand complex PTSD and the effectiveness of DBT . ACT and DBT worked for me along with self compassion therapy . . . Bad therapy is definitely more prevalent than good and it does untold damages. It took me 20 years to find someone who actually was helpful but I will never ever return to psychology or psychiatry again because the odds are so terribly against you in finding someone who understands complex PTSD .

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Complex PTSD sounds exactly like what I have. I grew up thinking the way I was raised was normal. I believed, deep down, that everything I was raised to believe was true, and it’s sometimes hard to overcome that, even though I logically know they’re untrue. That said, I dissociated from the worst of it and only remembered after my son was born. The EMDR my last therapist tried morphed the abuse with my husband. So now I have mixed memories that are both of what happened as a child by my abuser, and also some with my husband in his place. It’s been about a year since then, and my husband was the only man I felt safe with, now, unfortunately I don’t. At least not intimately. All because I was told EMDR would help and she told me to keep going no matter what I saw. I have a deep distrust for therapists now and I’m hoping that one day things will get better.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. At age 20 a therapist decided after 15 minutes with me that I had repressed memories of my father being in a Satanic cult. I trusted this nut and did 3 horrible years looking for memories I never had. That’s traumatizing, to be scammed when I went for help after a bad break up and insomnia. More broken trust doesn’t HELP. She must have seen it on Oprah and wanted one to treat. It’s all about THEIR ISSUES. Therapists have very high levels of borderline personality disorder. They can’t be close but they need others to validate their worth constantly. Therapy, ministry, etc are jobs where you can make people need you so you’ll never be abandoned, but they’ll never know you.

        In my case therapists tend to take me to lunch and ask for help with their problems.


        Liked by 1 person

      2. No good therapist would take control of therapy away from a trauma survivor! Trauma is about a total lack of power , most therapist don’t understand anything about complex PTSD and they make it so much worse. I have had my brain scrambled I blindly following the experts , when what I should’ve been learning was to trust myself after all those years of lying to myself to survive . I am so sorry you went through that. 95% of all therapists are useless unless you want to navelgazing things that they are interested in . Very few of them can even understand long-term trauma , they are very sheltered like most people so they have no common ground with her patient . The only reason my therapist worked was that we had common ground of political and music counterculture stuff we had been doing at the same time in the same places but I didn’t know that and neither did he , so he kind of was from my community . The best parts of it . So he knew of people like my abusers . I wasn’t some lifetime movie . Or a chance to try out the newest Tekniq they learned at a two hour workshop and that makes them certified in something . I call it the mental health system.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah, crazy. I was told an unapproved and non-scientifically proven therapy, that she called ‘body work’ which is basically non-touch massage that tells the body to purge the memories of what happened. After the EMDR, I didn’t trust anything she told me.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. They’re playing. Only CBT DBT and ACT are proven to work. They’re called evidence based therapy for a reason. I saw newage sewage shamans and had a psychiatrist who was a shaman in every past life – I’m not interested in new agers playing at cultural misappropriation! Reiki physically hurts me, it’s HOT energy. One sixe doesn’t heal all. But they are assholistic healers
        I was raised by hippies. In the 1970s holistic healing meant I listened to me, now it means following someone else with souch dogma they can’t even see me.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow Sarah .. A tough one! Good on you for sharing it. EMDR is a very effective therapy to deal with PTSD – doesn’t change the damage but puts the pain in perspective. You dont usually recall such disassociation until you have the supports. Best of luck with it all.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, I tried EMDR, but it associated my husband with the abuse I endured as a child. It’s been about six months since then, and I’m still extremely disturbed by it. So it’s not something I’m prepared to try again.


  6. HI Sarah, you read my recent post about editing Hour of the Hawk and that brought me to your blog. I wrote an e-book Never Tell about my own similar experience. Now my daughter is dealing with her own PTSD from my father’s abuse. I have to forgive myself daily for not remembering soon enough to protect her. I don’t watch horror movies even Stephen KIng’s and I have to take a pill to watch a thriller. But here we are – alive and mostly well!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I understand and I’m sorry your daughter is going through this as well. Unfortunately this world we live in means that we aren’t always alone in our hardships. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.


  7. I love ‘Paranormal Activity’ and its sequels. I did not much like ‘It’ though I appreciate the fear
    of clowns. [there is a word for it]. Right now I’m reading ‘The Bazaar of Bad dreams’. There are so many good stories there — and a few duds :). Check out ‘The Dune’ and ‘Morality’

    Liked by 1 person

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