EMDR & trauma therapy for PTSD
Trigger Warning: Abuse, Sexual Abuse
When I say my health is my full-time job right now, I'm not kidding. It's not just my physical health and chronic pain, though, I am also working through a relapse of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD,) Major Depressive Disorder (MDD,) and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD.)
My bare bones weekly schedule each week is:
Monday: Chiropractic Adjustment
Monday & Friday: Water Aerobics and Hot Tub therapy at the Rec
Tuesday & Thursday: Training session with personal trainer, muscle rehab and strengthening and conditioning
Wednesday: Rest Day
Saturday/Sunday: Elliptical for 25 minutes
I see my trauma therapist twice a month and my psychiatrist every 4-6 weeks.
Yesterday I had my first session of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) in something like 16 years. It wasn't easy.
What is EMDR?
Well, here's the wordy clinical explanation:
Unlike other treatments that focus on directly altering the emotions, thoughts and responses resulting from traumatic experiences, EMDR therapy focuses directly on the memory, and is intended to change the way that the memory is stored in the brain, thus reducing and eliminating the problematic symptoms. [Emphasis added.]
During EMDR therapy, clinical observations suggest that an accelerated learning process is stimulated by EMDR’s standardized procedures, which incorporate the use of eye movements and other forms of rhythmic left-right (bilateral) stimulation (e.g., tones or taps). While clients briefly focus on the trauma memory and simultaneously experience bilateral stimulation (BLS), the vividness and emotion of the memory are reduced.
As the patient, EMDR basically goes like this:
My therapist has me close my eyes and go to my 'safe place.' This has to be a place outdoors, and something I can visualize pretty darn well.
Wait... before I go into that, let me tell you this.
Recently, during a training session with Heather Quisel I went through something called a future self meditation. This was a powerful exercise, let me tell you.
During that meditation I saw future me in a modern wooden/log cabin in the woods. The trees were all super tall with pointy tops, and when I went inside of the house by way of the front porch with rocking chairs, I saw myself sitting at a table. When I looked over to my right, the entire front wall of the home was glass windows, so natural light was just flooding the place. My future self had on a comfy sweater and was cupping a mug of tea or coffee in her hands. Toward the end of the meditation, future me hugged present me and told me, "It's all going to be ok. Everything turns out fine."
I cried. It was very powerful.
I decided that this cabin, the front porch looking out on the trees, would be my safe place during EMDR sessions.
How does EMDR work?
So, as the patient, here is what EMDR is like:
My therapist places two little small gadgets in my palms, one in each hand. She turns them on and they vibrate back and forth, side to side. Then she tells me to go to my safe place.
Next, she instructs me to go to the memory that stands out to me the most, the one that gives me the most shame or pain, and hurt.
My mind immediately goes to the yellow garage.
The yellow garage that matches the yellow house next to the elementary school.
I'm 15 years old and I'm in the garage with my two step-brothers and one of their friends. They're pressuring me to perform oral sex on their friend while they watch and I'm weighing the options of doing the thing I don't want to do but knowing that they'll probably leave me alone for a while after that, or not doing the thing they want me to do and having them get pissed off and kick my ass or just use it as a reason to psychologically torture me for the next several days.
So I'm in this space, in my head, and this is truly the first place my mind immediately went when my therapist said to go to the memory that causes the most shame and pain... I start crying and I'm almost kind of losing myself in it.
Just then, my therapist starts to talk gently to me.
"You have to forgive that little girl. You were only 15. How were you ever supposed to make that choice? What resources did you have to know what to do? That little girl was trying to save you from what might have been a lot worse than what you did that day. She did her job, and now you have to take better care of her."
Well, holy fuck.
I could cry again now hearing what she said to me run back through my head.
I needed to hear that.
That little girl did her job. She was trying to save me from something worse, the best she could figure out how. She did her job and now I have to do my job and take better care of her.
It occurs to me that when my friend Amberly reached out to me and told me that she'd been attacked, held at knife point and robbed by three individuals, I said the same fucking thing to her:
You did your job, you survived.
Your enemies can't swim.
Once my therapist and I spent a couple of moments nurturing and forgiving my 15-year-old self she sent me back to the safe space to get grounded in the here-and-now before opening my eyes and ending the session.
She told me that from now until the next time I see her, that every time I'm at a stoplight she wants me to hug myself and tell that little girl inside me that I forgive her, that I'm going to take better care of her, and that I'll parent her better than I was parented during this time.
Now, if I'm being totally honest, I'll probably not actually hug myself because I'd feel like a totally awkward fool.
I can do so much in the way of the 'woo woo hippie shit' as one of my mentors would say.
But, I am reminding myself to talk to that little girl a lot today, and I'll talk to her everyday and every time I'm in the car.
As much as these sessions rock me at the core, I'll keep doing them.
I know that often times when caring for yourself, things have to get worse before they can get better.
The last thing my therapist said to me after my EMDR session yesterday was that if I were to ask God \ The Universe \ The Source (fill in your own blank) why I had to be the one to go through these rough waters, S/He would say:
Because your enemies can't swim. You'll come out on dry land, they'll drown.
What would I tell someone else about EMDR?
We all have demons. I know that I'm not the only person I know who lives with PTSD. In fact, one of my best friends in the whole world also lives with PTSD, MDD, and GAD. I joke that we're like twin neurotics. That's a whole new level of #Twinning. Ha!
My hope is that if someone else is out there needing this message today, it reaches them.
We aren't back there anymore. We're here, now, in the present. We did what we had to do to survive, that was our job. We don't have to drown in the shame of it any longer.
If you've been 'afraid to go there' through talk therapy (CBT) or EMDR, please believe me when I say it's probably not as bad as you imagine and definitely not as bad as whatever trauma you lived through in the first place.
You deserve to heal.