Anyone who is in recovery knows that recognizing triggers is vital to staying in recovery and preventing relapse. I feel confident that I know what most of my drinking triggers are because I put a lot of effort into tracking them in the first months of sobriety. I’m taking the same approach with not yelling.
In the first few days of my No Nelling Challenge, I discovered that yelling for me falls into two categories: Yelling over my kids and yelling at my kids. For example, when my kids are screaming at each other, I’ll yell over them to get their attention. It makes for a very noisy household and isn’t very effective. I also yell at them emotionally out of frustration and anger over a buildup of events. This causes hurt feelings for all.
Trigger #1: Lack of sleep.
On Day 2, I started the day off exhausted. The dog and cat got me up several times during the night and then the kids crawled into bed with me at 5 am arguing over who was going to lay on my left side (my best side, apparently).
I was tired but it was more than that. I felt pushed around, my personal space encroached upon, taken advantage of, forced to give. In short, I felt bullied.
I’ve written about being bullied in elementary school. What I haven’t talked about is how I suffered from chronic night terrors from that period in my life until I was 37. It’s not an exaggeration to say that I never went more than 3 nights in a row without screaming from the top of my lungs, running wildly into things, throwing objects at shadows, running outside, calling 911 on imaginary intruders and even waking my husband up to shoot an imaginary intruder – while a real gun was in my hand. I didn’t sleep well for years and when I woke up the morning of Day 2, I felt like I did after a night terror.
There’s a physical element to it all. When I’m tired and I start to feel pushed around, I can’t stand to be touched. If one of my kids tries to jump on my lap or even brushes against me, I physically recoil and want to push them away. When this has happened in the past, I coped by escaping to another room to wait it out. I was afraid of snapping and it’s a really scary feeling. I think one of the reasons why I haven’t abused my kids is because my parents didn’t abuse me. They didn’t even spank me and everyone spanked in the 70s!
This is a BIG revelation for me. I seriously think it’s going to change my life. Tying together the physical and emotional elements will make it infinitely easier for me to wait out the feelings and not react. It’s kind of like having PMS. It sucks physically and emotionally but you know what’s causing it and that it won’t last forever.
Trigger #2: Lack of personal space to concentrate.
Another time I’m prone to yelling is when I’m trying to do something that requires concentration and my kids are demanding something of me at the same time. This seems to happen every time I’m on the phone or replying to an email. Kids have a 6th sense about these things. They know I’m not paying attention to what they’re doing so they know they can get away with more. Sometimes, they pick a fight with each other, which I break up by yelling some sort of threat so that I can get back to what I’m doing. Other times, they demand something that they need that very instant and I’m the only person on earth that can help them. I usually end up yelling and telling them to wait.
When I found myself wanting to react this way on Day 3, I made a conscious choice to handle it differently. I paused what I was doing, spoke quietly and asked them to wait 5 minutes until I was done. The act of speaking quietly forced them to stop talking so that they could hear me. I asked them each to do something else while I finished what I was doing and promised to get their crayons/milk/shoes/book when I was done. Then, I kept my promise and stopped what I was doing (even though I wasn’t done) and got them what they needed. The calm interaction also made it much easier for me to pick up my task again. I’ve tried it several times since then and it’s not a fluke! It really works.
I did yell once on Sunday. We have a child gate in our hallway to keep our dog from having free range of our bedrooms. When I saw the dog walking down the hallway with a fresh morsel from the litter box, I yelled, “Who left the gate open??!!” (Answer: me) Unlike with my sobriety date, I’m not going to start over every time I slip and yell. Progress, not perfection.