Popcorn almost destroyed my marriage. Seriously, it did. And, we’d only been married for a few short months.
At the time, I didn’t realize it was about the popcorn or about me; I thought it was all about Scott and his utter disrespect for me. I thought he was some sort of popcorn eating idiot – something that I hadn’t known until after we were married and living together. Scott and his air popped popcorn. Every. Single. Night.
We were married young. We were both 19 – turned 20 a few months after our wedding, and I was pregnant by my birthday on August 3rd. We were stationed in Guam and got married by the Justice of the Peace in Agana, the capital, with only a few dear friends, and no family. It was the first permanent duty station for both of us. When I look back at the photos, I can’t believe how young we were…just babies ourselves and we were getting ready to have a baby.
Like many pregnant women with surging hormones I had an aversion to certain smells and foods – morning sickness was all-day-sickness and it didn’t let up after the first trimester, either. I threw up on the operating table while having an emergency C-section at the Naval Hospital on Camp Pendleton.
The thought of cheese made me gag and for those of you who were around in the 80's, you might remember the ‘Cheese Glorious Cheese’ commercials…yeah, they were this pregnant girl’s nightmare. Pizza commercials were just a cherry on top. They’d send me running for the bathroom or grabbing the lined trashcan I kept nearby. I couldn’t even go into a restaurant that served pizza and didn’t eat pizza, macaroni and cheese, or anything cheesy for that matter, for years.
I WAS ANGRY
The only other aversion I seemed to have was to popcorn. It wasn’t just the smell, but listening to it pop, watching Scott eat it, listening to the crunch. I couldn’t take it. He’d make it every night after he got home from duty. I begged him to stop, but it was his thing. What was strange is that I didn’t get nauseated. I simply gagged and threw up, and I got angry. Incredibly ANGRY! I couldn’t take it. I complained, I begged, and then when he wouldn’t stop I’d get even angrier. He tried to reason with me, but that only made it worse. I expected him to understand – plain and simple, but he didn’t and it’s probably because I wasn’t doing a very good job of explaining it. And, why didn’t I do a good job of explaining it? Because I didn’t quite understand it myself.
I complained to a friend of ours and apparently Scott had complained to her husband about my incessant complaining. How dare he?!
She’s 8 years older than we are and I looked up to her like a big sister. She called me one day and quite bluntly asked me what the problem was. I’ll never forget it. She said, “Laura, he could be out at the bar every night. Instead he’s home with you eating popcorn. What’s the problem?”
UGH! No one understood. Why didn’t they understand!? He simply should not be eating popcorn every night. He just shouldn’t. He might as well have been out getting plastered at the bar with his friends. At least then I didn’t have to smell it, listen to it, or watch him eat it. Then, one night he did just that. His friends brought him home, and, I refused to let them bring him into the house. If he’s going to be drunk while I’m pregnant, he can go sober up at the barracks. I was in a lose-lose situation.
That was it. No more popcorn. He stopped. I guess he figured he was the one in the lose-lose situation.
I AVOIDED MOVIE THEATERS
For years, he didn’t make popcorn. When microwave popcorn hit the shelves, we didn’t buy any. Years went by, we transferred around the states and overseas, and we had two more children. Still, no more popcorn. I had other aversions to foods and smells during my pregnancies, including, still, popcorn.
More years went by, and I still reacted to the preparation and smell of everyone's popcorn, and yet I realized, I was reacting to the popcorn even though I wasn’t pregnant. I got angry. I vomited. I shook. I recognized it, but what was I to do? I didn't understand it. I avoided movie theaters.
IT WAS A TRIGGER
Fast forward to about 2002 and my therapist extraordinaire, Becky. I had long ago told her about the popcorn story because Scott and I had been having marriage difficulties. We had mostly resolved our marriage problems and started focusing once again on my past traumas.
One day during a therapy session, we were talking about my childhood trauma. I explained to her what my molester looked like to the best of my recollection – an older teen or early 20's with acne, a bedroom in the attic with a TV, and I always knew when I was getting ready to be molested because he’d either tell his mom we were going to go look at the stars on the front porch or he’d tell her he was going to pop some popcorn and take me upstairs…
I stopped dead. Midsentence.
After more than 15 years of marriage I suddenly realized that my aversion to popcorn had absolutely nothing to do with pregnancy hormones and it had nothing to do with Scott being some kind of popcorn whore, but that I was in fact being triggered.
Becky realized it too. I just sat quietly for several moments. I let it sink in. I looked at her with acknowledgment. I cried. Big. Ugly. Tears. Although I hadn’t suppressed the memory, I had detached the association of smell and watching my husband prepare and eat his popcorn from the memory.
Here’s the thing though about triggers: when you can identify them, you take away their powers. They no longer have the hold on you they once did. You can let go. You can even stick it to them!
Popcorn suddenly stopped triggering me, but then again Scott had stopped eating it, so I wasn’t around it much to test the theory and I had never eaten it for obvious reasons.
I STRIPPED IT OF ITS POWER
Becky retired a little over a year ago, and I had to find a new therapist. It wasn’t easy, but change rarely is however, it is an opportunity to grow. One of the perks that came with the new therapist is that she offers group therapy with other women with PTSD and Military Sexual Trauma (MST). It’s a two-hour-long session and there’s a popcorn machine in the group room. I nearly panicked. How would I handle this?! I had never told my new therapist, Emily, the popcorn story. At first, I didn’t eat any, but I was very mindful of those around me who did. I paid attention to the preparation, the popping, the smell. Everything. I waited to throw up.
My mouth never watered. I didn't gag.
I was OK! Holy heck, I was OK!
One day, when it was my turn to check-in with the group, I shared my popcorn story, while having a bowl of popcorn in front of me. I cried. Ugly. Tears. Again. They cried with me.
I now have popcorn every Friday in my group therapy session. And, Scott buys microwave popcorn for me so I can have a snack in the evenings at home; he even buys cheddar cheese seasoning for me to put on it!
Popcorn AND cheese?! Who would have ever thought it could happen!!?? I feel like I’m saying screw YOU, to popcorn and my molester!!
Scott and I will celebrate our 33rd anniversary on June 5th. My molester didn't win!
Have you been able to identify a trigger and strip it of its power over you?