Anger, Assault, EMDR, Fear, Post-traumatic stress, PTSD, Rage, Recovery, Trauma, Trust, Violence
We still don’t know why EMDR works, really. There’s research going on, and a number of theories. What we do know is that it provides relief for those dealing with deep-seated trauma, so says my therapist, AN.
Heading to the session last Friday, I was nervous, as always. But perhaps because of everything else going on, I didn’t feel quite as sick to my stomach as usual.
Though, AN barely started talking and I was already in tears. Again.
I thought she might’ve wanted me to recount the whole story from start to finish. But she just let the parts of the story that needed to come out, appear of their own accord.
We talked through the process thoroughly, to make sure I understood what would happen.
Apparently it’s important while undergoing EMDR to try and say whatever comes up – be it an emotion, a thought, an image, etc. And regardless of whether it ‘seems’ relevant or not.
Sounds easy perhaps, but it was interesting to observe how many of my thoughts I dismiss out of hand. How many are just tiny faint little voices, despite having something important to say.
With EMDR, nothing is considered unimportant.
AN asked me to bring to mind a memory or feeling about the assault that still caused me a lot of discomfort.
Didn’t have to think long. It’s always been his eyes – how they looked just after he’d hit me.
Those eyes kept me awake the night of, and several days after the assault. It’s not that I couldn’t see them with my eyes open… just that they were less threatening that way. Closing my eyes made them glow iridescently. They’ve haunted me nearly every single day of my life since that time.
AN asked me to rate my level of discomfort out of ten (or seven?). We rated each ‘scene’ (her term) as they bubbled to the surface (not that I can recall the ratings I gave, nor for that matter, were they necessarily accurate).
What came up varied greatly.
There was a ‘stream of consciousness’ feel to the way each scene appeared. Sometimes related to a post I’d written about a specific aspect of that night. Then, I’d be talking about how I feel right now, admitting to myself and AN things I really haven’t spoken about before. Next thing I knew, I was back in the moments just after he’d gone, in shock, where… I couldn’t figure out what needed doing the most.
Each time a new topic came up, I’d rate it, talk about it for a while (amidst many tears) and then I was asked to look at the pen. That standard issue black pen.
AN waved it in front of my face, from side to side and my job was to follow it with my eyes. And focus on whatever specific emotion we’d just been discussing.
Some ‘scenes’ took multiple pen waving efforts. But eventually, this deceptively simple process seemed to… lessen the intensity of how I felt. Lessen the emotions attached to certain memories and experiences.
An early realisation in the session was how incredibly humiliated I felt, that this could happen to me. So much so, it’s been tough trying to look anyone in the eye.
Not to mention… I felt totally responsible for what happened. I blamed myself entirely for his actions and mine. As though I should’ve been able to control the situation. Which clearly doesn’t make sense.
And no matter how many people would say ‘it’s not your fault‘, it was never enough to convince my very own vicious inner Supreme Court Judge.
There’s also my extreme anger at both myself and Andre. And my latent desire for revenge (hampered by my inability to act on revenge fantasies coz I’m just not wired that way! Which kinda pisses me off!).
Don’t know how far along we were when grief surfaced. Deep-voiced and stricken… wordlessly expressing the loss I’ve felt… my zest for life… my bravery… part of my innocence… all gone. Three years in hiding from myself and other people, especially other people… uncontrollable sobbing gushing forth thickly, like syrupy slow moving old dark blood…
Sifting through the rubble, I almost tripped over what probably lies at the root of the ongoing trauma I’ve experienced:
What happened… it could happen again.
If it does happen again, it could be worse. Next time I could be killed.
And hence my terror, apparently.
Which makes sense, of course. Though, the fears are somewhat irrational. Most definitely. But not to the very scared and freaked out part of me that has never ever stopped living in fear since that night.
This led to a discussion around my trust issues, and a whole host of other things. Stuff I can’t fully recall. But I’ll attempt to write about soon.
By the end of the two hours, AN asked me to recall his eyes again.
Funny thing was… I couldn’t.
Not at all. I couldn’t believe it.
I just no longer had a faster-than-a-speeding-bullet recollection of his eyes. And a week later… still nothing.
Thinking about it, there’s a tiny bit of discomfort. A touch of anxiety. But nothing like the horrible sense of being drawn back into the never-ending nightmare of PTSD stuck on a loop…
‘Course, it’s way too early to say it’s all over with any kind of certainty. In fact, I’m heading back to see AN this afternoon. For a ‘mop-up’ session.
I’ve learned too, from experience, there’s many layers to something as complex as PTSD. So this time I’m saying, sure, I feel a heck of a lot better. But there could be more to come.
So let’s not get cocky here… instead, I’ll just focus on gratitude.
**UPDATE** Check out this video I found on EMDR!
“With EMDR, nothing is considered unimportant”
There’s loads and loads of research that says that what we think is important in terms of traumatic experiences or upsetting aspects of our lives is often not what’s really upsetting us. Typically, someone will say “I’m really freaking out about my schoolwork. Also, my parents just got divorced, but that doesn’t really bother me”–and it doesn’t take much probing to find out that in fact the opposite is true.
Anyway, I know we’ve talked about all of this at length. Not to get all religious on ya (though wouldn’t it be an intriguing surprise if I did?), I think what the Gospel of Thomas says is very true, no matter how much safer it might seem to keep stuff deep inside and out of sight: “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.” And you ain’t about to let yourself be destroyed. In fact, you know I have the utmost confidence in your getting through all of this with amazing strength and aplomb.
I’m happy that you’re moving in the right direction, but I totally agree with your last sentence. You have a good head on your shoulders and again I find myself agreeing with YfC– I see you coming through this with ‘amazing strength and aplomb’.
It sounds as though you have made so much progress! I’ve been thinking about you and wondering how EMDR is going and I am so happy that you are benefiting from undergoing it–I have heard such good things about it.
What I appreciate is that the person in therapy determines the scenes that come up–and that nothing is unimportant. In psychotherapy, the therapist asks questions–which leads the session in one direction or another, so in essence, the therapist is determining what is important. And because of that–it can take (literally) years to uncover the festering source of discomfort. From what I have read of EMDR, progress is so much quicker–which (of course) is so much better.
Your detailing of the eyes sent an absolute shiver down my spine, Svasti! How terrible to be haunted like this everyday–but it really seems you are on a great path to overcome.
I continue to send you my best, healing energy–and here’s a ((((((hug)))))) for good measure.
Oh, I wanted to subscribe to these comments and I forgot to click the box. (so I am leaving another one!). Hee hee.
@Jay – You getting all religious, what a turn around that would be! As long as you don’t get all fundamentalist on me, we could still be friends! Yeah, we’ve talked about this ad nauseum (okay, maybe not that much). And no, I don’t think I’m about to let myself be destroyed. Not any longer, anyway.
@tricia – Sometimes I don’t feel very strong. But I do feel like I’m getting there. If there’s anywhere to get to, that is…
@Melinda – You know, I hadn’t quite thought about it like that. But yeah, its true – with EMDR, the patient/client (dunno the correct term there) is in charge of the process. Although it doesn’t really seem that way at the time. I guess though, the therapist is really facilitating and being guided by what is said.
It feels both very gentle at times, and very intense. Gentle, because the processing part of the work is simple. Intense, because the emotions that appear are the ones that need to be addressed and they are generally very painful.
Progress, is definitely swift. I’ve been both amazed and a little cynical, actually. Is this really going to work? Will the improvements ‘wear off’ over time? These are some of the questions I’ve been asking.
Apparently the answer is no, it doesn’t wear off. There might be future events that create trigger situations, but the slimy day-to-day triggers that are unidentified and sneaky, that creep up and rob a person of normality are… well, they seem to be simply gone.
Of course, there’s always more than one trigger (as I’ve just discovered). And its making sure we’ve got them all, that’s the trick.
Where abuse and assault has been ongoing, rather than a contained situation (like mine), then it can take much longer to work through each instance. But still, the progress is swift.
I’d say EMDR is an invaluable practice to learn for therapists, especially those who plan to deal with people that have been traumatised.
Seriously, its kinda magical, it works that fast!
And, I’d recommend it to anyone who deals with PTSD or any kind of trauma – try it, you won’t regret it.
To everyone – thank you as always, for your support and for caring. Its a hard road to travel, but well worth it for the peace that can be achieved. 🙂
Michele Rosenthal said:
I love that you end this post with the idea of gratitude! You’re so right – it’s easy to get cocky in healing and feel so good that we’ve become expert at it — only to realize there’s yet more to do! That was an extreme source of agitation and depression for me on my journey. Just when I thought we’d finished with one aspect of my PTSD another leapt in to take its place.
So, more gratitude, less ego is a good thing in the healing mix. Eventually, we get to a day when we really are healed. And then, what a world it is!
@Michele Rosenthal – Thank you for coming to visit, read and comment! Yes, it was a huge hit when I realised it wasn’t over, and I had something of a relapse into PTSD world… a major blow, actually. But now I feel like I’m on the right track to kick it, but I’m not silly enough to think its all over, just yet. Your blog looks very interesting, its great to hear from others who’ve made it all the way back. Thanks again for dropping by. 🙂
(hampered by my inability to act on revenge fantasies coz I’m just not wired that way! Which kinda pisses me off!)
Oh! I so get that!!
Thanks for sharing this whole piece..
I’m not gonna write more just yet…want to read the rest of your blog which I’m behind on…
Bobby Revell said:
Wow, EMDR is a fascinating subject; I did take the time to read the article you linked to. To everyone, including me who has never been beaten, raped, defiled, molested or something like that—some horrific act of depravity committed by another person upon us—we are incredibly fortunate. And for the people who’ve experienced these things, we must all help.
This sounds like a unique way of treatment and I hope it really helps you. For some reason I feel like I’m beginning to understand you, and the reasons you write what you do. You are definitely someone I enjoy reading, and I can relate to your struggle more than I could in the past. It’s not always easy to understand someone’s inner struggles! But between your blog and several others, I feel more prepared to handle something that happens to me. And I do know it can happen to anyone, male or female, young or old.
@giannakali – I know that revenge wouldn’t really help, and wouldn’t solve anything either. But dang, there’s times when it would make me feel a whole lot better!! 😉
@Bobby – Yep, if you’ve never been traumatised in any way, then count yourself among the fortunate. Although, if you can find a way to try and be compassionate towards others who have, that’s a great thing.
And part of that compassion is actually realising that you don’t know how the other person feels, and you don’t know what they need. But spending time with them, giving them love and support – that can be enough. Just making that space, being open so they feel they can say or not say whatever they need to… that’s invaluable.
Then, no matter what you have/haven’t been through, that is invaluable.
EMDR has really been helping, actually. A lot. I don’t think its all over yet, but a very large and heavy part of the trauma has seemingly vanished. Amazing!!
I really do hope that my blog can help other people – whether its helping them understand what someone they know is going through, or just realising they’re not alone in the world… then that makes me really happy.
BTW – I’d be interested to know what you understand of me (might help me out!!) and why you think I write what I do… always fascinating to have other people’s perspectives. Not that I always listen to what they say, hehe! 😉