Now that the tarp is snugly pulled over my childhood memories for a spell and the dust motes have resumed their lassitudinous waltz throughout the slumbering recesses of my mind I’d like to share my first journey with EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, a highly effective form of psychotherapy used mostly for PTSD, post traumatic stress disorder. I had always associated PTSD with war veterans and victims of abuse but apparently I have suffered with this disorder since my youth and didn’t know it. I won’t go into the details because what happened doesn’t matter. What is important is finally finding a tool that will change my life. But first, a little primer on the psychotherapy technique for the uninitiated, from emdr.com:
“Memories are linked in networks that contain related thoughts, images, emotions, and sensations. Learning occurs when new associations are forged with material already stored in memory.
When a traumatic or very negative event occurs, information processing may be incomplete, perhaps because strong negative feelings or dissociation interfere with information processing. This prevents the forging of connections with more adaptive information that is held in other memory networks. For example, a rape survivor may “know” that rapists are responsible for their crimes, but this information does not connect with her feeling that she is to blame for the attack. The memory is then dysfunctionally stored without appropriate associative connections and with many elements still unprocessed. When the individual thinks about the trauma, or when the memory is triggered by similar situations, the person may feel like she is reliving it, or may experience strong emotions and physical sensations. A prime example is the intrusive thoughts, emotional disturbance, and negative self-referencing beliefs of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
It is not only major traumatic events, or “large-T Traumas” that can cause psychological disturbance. Sometimes a relatively minor event from childhood, such as being teased by one’s peers or disparaged by one’s parent, may not be adequately processed. Such “small-t traumas” can result in personality problems and become the basis of current dysfunctional reactions.”
Dr. Francine Shapiro made the ground-breaking discovery of eye movements’ desensitizing effect on distressing memories. The process she developed involves bilateral stimulation of the senses, be it sight, touch or sound, while the client is thinking about the memory and eventually replacing associated negative thoughts with positive cognitions as sessions progress. Please visit the website link above to learn more as I can’t describe it any better than it does.
I have always struggled with the need for absolute perfection in my actions and with the need to please others over myself. One may not think this is unusual. Barring psychopaths, most people strive for perfection and consider the needs of others when making decisions. I know that it is ridiculous to repeatedly bludgeon myself over the fails and to keep an ongoing tab at Fucked It Up Again Bar and Grill. But I take these goals to the summit of insanity and perch there, balancing on the precipice of doubt and worry, until my body and mind cave in from the fatigue of holding it all together. You may think I have read “Wuthering Heights” over and over, and perhaps I do wax melodramatic at times but this is not one of them. It is a very real and hard truth concerning the status of my persona. Maybe my upcoming hysterectomy will quell my “feminine neurosis” but I highly doubt my continual feelings of “less than” and “could be more than” are going to magically vanish with the offending fibroid-filled organ. My flight to inner peace has taxied on the same psychotherapy runway for the past 24 years and the control tower hasn’t given Couch Central Airlines permission for take-off…until now.
My therapist had recently become certified to practice EMDR and I was all in. I had tried almost every anti-depressant under the sun, tried switching jobs, ditching spouses, karate, sky diving, and yoga, and I kept taking “ME” with me in those attempts to stop feeling like such a loser. So we began the preliminary work and three weeks ago I had my first session using the technique. I had a particularly awful memory queued up, the content is unimportant, and was thinking that nothing was going to happen. As soon as my eyes started moving side to side to the metronome of my therapist’s fingers I became overwhelmed with anguish. Immediately. One moment I was sitting there, calm and placid, remembering the incident, and the next I had tears streaming down my cheeks. I was in that moment again, with my whole being, as sobs racked my body. This instantaneous transport was quite alarming but I bravely continued to track the fingers. Periodically my therapist would ask where I was and we would go with whatever thought trounced into my mind.
After feeling enormous sorrow, I went next to anger. I stopped crying and started clenching my hands into fists of rage and my back tensed up into wads of balled-up muscle. I then went to justifying the actions of the person renting space in my head, which led to more anger. I then began to tell myself that I was not at fault, I had nothing to do with it and I started to believe it, all the while moving my eyes side to side. Incredible! I instinctively placed positive cognitions beside the negative ones and this time they took root. By the end of the session I had placed the bad memory into the neutral zone. After the next session I was at the bottom of the scale and the memory was not bothering me at all. It’s still there but I no longer feel a connection to imperfection or unworthiness and can regard it as a singular moment of someone else’s mental instability.
What blew my mind the most was the release of emotions snarled up in my mental traffic jam. The memory was quite specific but I don’t recall reacting to it in this fashion. I remember leaving the scene for a few days, crying on a friend’s shoulder and then coming back to the same old shit. I tucked the incident away in my catalogue of proofs that I was flawed, deficient, wanting and never going to make someone happy. I have told myself for years that I was valid, that it was okay to make a mistake, that the only person who needed to be happy was me. My earlier work with other therapists had failed to instill these tenets as truth but with a simple conscious REM-like processing and reorchestration, the ”knowing” that the equation’s variables were inoperable finally felt real. I could return to my inception of self and untangle some horrible gnarls of falsehood. During those moments I was able to free some of the irrational logic from its synaptic iceberg and my Strawberry Spring is diminishing to make way for a full-bodied season of renewal.
I still have a lot of restructuring to do and the mental framework will take some time to realign. Mental Snake Oil or not, EMDR is working for me. It is grace and I feel like I’m finally behind the wheel. I feel an Incubus song coming on….