This is actually a joint post by me (Alec) and Thorny because we have something in common we wanted to talk about.
We’re both fans of trigger warnings in book descriptions. If triggers aren’t stated, but we question what’s inside, we’re fans of spoilers in reviews too. Neither of us want to be blindsided by something that will shine a spotlight on issues we thought we’d dealt with just fine and didn’t need to look at yet again. Except — bam! — there it is in all it’s horrific glory and we can’t look away.
In movies and TV shows, it’s easier to know what’s coming. I have an issue with explosives — nowadays only sometimes — and loud volumes aren’t my favorite either. But nobody can disguise car chases, explosions, gun battles in visual media. They want you to see those things are included because that’s the kind of movie/TV show it is.
In books, it’s not so clear when something might get you. The surprise in a trigger is most of the problem for me, and then coming down off that is where it gets tricky to deal. I’ve seen a lot of warnings included on publisher sites, some on Amazon et. al. Things like dubious consent and rape are usually listed in case they might cause a problem for a reader — for T and I, it won’t necessarily be a trigger; we just don’t want to read about that as a personal preference, regardless of how good the rest of the book is.
What doesn’t usually show up as a warning are two things we do have a problem with: domestic violence or a character dealing with PTSD/alcoholism. A lot of times, these will be in the book description itself as a conflict the character’s dealing with. Not always, though, and that’s where it hurts.
So what to do when we find out the “trouble” one character is going to have with another is abuse they blame themselves for? What to do when a character’s PTSD or need for a drink starts battling it out with your own?
Usually I avoid any kind of abuse in books, etc. but especially I avoid domestic violence. It’s not from anything I’ve gone through, but because it makes me wonder if that it was like that for Mores. His very first relationship was abusive and, they tell me, it colored everything about his personality and, I’m guessing, had a big influence on his eventual decision to commit suicide. He and I never talked about it, but my mind immediately goes to imagining Mores instead of the character. It’s devastating. I end up crying and depressed, reliving how much I wish I could’ve done ANYthing to help him stay.
Of course, getting me away from all this is a priority not just for me, but for my friends and husband too. They share their strength or comfort — or investigate the rest of the book to give me some idea of happiness for a character I can’t read about anymore (thank you) — and Jazz pampers and spoils me until I’m full up with love. And I have to remind myself that there was nothing more I could’ve done for Mores. I think that’s the hardest part.
Sometimes I don’t handle being triggered well and have trouble letting it go. I identify too much with the character and start to wonder if I’m that much of an asshole or if the people around me feel about me like the character’s people feel about him. His life might get wrapped up in a big HEA bow, but mine… So, when I can manage it, something what helps me is countering the triggered feeling. Fear? Find safety. Loneliness? Find company. I get restless, I work out. If I really have trouble, I’ll call my therapist or sponsor and try to talk it out. Sometimes that’s not easy, but those professionals usually have ways of getting to the bottom of things. When I can welcome the contact, Carter’s embrace always helps settle me again too.
Now neither of us are saying we blame authors or publishers for not including every trigger warning on the planet in a description just in case. That’s impossible for anyone to do. Both of us know it’s really up to us to put in the time to read reviews, visit publisher sites, or even ask the author about something if we question it.
We trust, though, and get ourselves into these situations only to need help getting back out. And every single time it happens is a lesson on how not to trust that first instinct that everything will be fine. We’ll remember the author’s name, maybe the publisher, and there’s even a cover model I can’t forget.
Neither of us want to get into it with anyone about what constitutes a trigger warning or how to do your job when it comes to using them or not. We’re just laying it out there that sometimes readers need a notice that doesn’t require quite so much work on our part to find. Then we really will give you our trust unquestioningly.