A fellow survivor wrote me this week asking if I had any advice for dealing with flashbacks and triggers. Here's what I wrote back, in case it's helpful for anyone else:
I'm in the same boat with you, man. I get flashbacks all the time. Since doing the book, I get a lot more. Remembered more details. Little things about the room that'll pull me back into the darkness.
I mostly try to focus on where I am and what I'm doing with my actions, and keep my mind occupied with podcasts and audiobooks, or singing loudly in the car. I find listening to people talking about something besides what I'm physically doing really helpful, not just for flashbacks, but for my brain's need to re-litigate past decisions and plan arguments with people I'll likely never speak to again.
So I've basically got one earbud in my left ear all day. I like politics, comedy, and history podcasts, and thoroughly enjoy one show that combines all three, called The Dollop. And I've been listening to the audiobook for Treasure Island, since I just streamed every episode of Black Sails (which is fantastic, btw, if you get past the first episode, which is kinda boring).
If I get triggered, I just let the process happen. Get a snack, calm down. Find distractions. I don't have any magic tool that helps, really. It's bullshit. It's not fair. We don't deserve this. But I know that things that are either VERY TRUE or VERY POSITIVE make me feel better. Doesn't have to be both. A good book about how effed up everything is can put me in a better mood. Jon Krakauer's Missoula is incredibly heavy, but so factual and straight-forward, I listened to it twice, back to back. The other day I found this trove of art by Beverly Kirby, who worked on She-Ra, and it was so gloriously 80s and optimistic, it put me in a good mood all day.
The problem for us is the world is both the most wonderful place that's ever existed, and a nightmare hellscape of horrors. All around us, every day, are beautiful, heart-melting acts of kindness and empathy, but a car ride away, something terrible is happening and people who know about it won't do anything to stop it. The gift of imagination is also a heavy burden when you know enough about the darkness in the world to see it lurking under the surface, everywhere you look.
When I wrote Something Terrible, I thought I'd be doing something that'd change the world for the better. And I hope, in some small ways, it did. But my focus has narrowed so much since then. I have a small area of influence in the real world that I can make better. I can make sure my kids are taken care of. I can make sure my wife knows she is cherished. I can learn everything I think I need to know to be useful to my family. I can make more comics. To do all that, I have to fight the negative voice in my brain. I mostly drown it out with stuff I like, because I can't defeat it. It's a ghost made of my own ideas, so it's two steps ahead of any argument or attack I can dream up. Swordfighting a shadow. It's definitely me, but just one obnoxious part. I don't have to listen to it, not when there's so much to do and learn and write and draw.
Anyway, hope something in here is useful, buddy. Bat-hugs from Georgia.