EMDR day came and went. I’ve got to tell you I was dreading the session today. Last week we just laid groundwork; establishing a ‘safe space’ for me to go to if my distress level got too high in subsequent sessions. I felt like I’d done badly at it, as I couldn’t fully make myself believe I was there on that calm lake.
I emailed Dr H, the EMDR guy ahead of time to tell him how scared I was of our session today. I knew the next step was to go into one of my most pervasive and upsetting memories and attempt to reprocess it. I also emailed J, because I felt I might need to call her this morning if my panic got the better of me. She knows better than anyone how to talk me down from crisis point.
Both therapists suggested I put the brakes on the process. Maybe it wasn’t time, I wasn’t ready to go into that horrible traumatic stuff. I was given the option of taking it more slowly. Last night I had to knock myself out with drugs to stop the panic, so it seemed like a viable option.
But this morning I drove over to the clinic feeling stronger. I talked to Dr H about my fears as soon as I arrived, but I also told him I didn’t want to wait. I think what made my mind up was knowing that I will never feel ‘ready’ to deal with this stuff. No amount of practising relaxation was going to prepare me.
A lifetime of harbouring vile, disgusting, shameful memories prepared me. Decades of that poison eating me up from inside, of hiding the painful truth and punishing myself for it prepared me. So I went for it. Nothing would make it easier, so I just thought, let’s get it done.
I won’t lie, it was painful and it was really hard. After spending so long pushing my memories away, it was horrendous having to concentrate on one. To focus on the detail of the image, how I felt and what it meant to me. Every horrible emotion came into play. I felt sick, disgusted, ashamed, helpless, worthless and so scared.
The fear was devastating. I can’t describe how awful it was imagining myself as a ten year old, feeling what it was like to be sexually abused by my brother in my own home. I had to zone in on every small piece of the picture, and as I did, waves of terror ran through me. I cried and shook. I couldn’t stop myself. I couldn’t move away from feeling tiny and powerless.
But Dr H didn’t stop for this. He kept me talking and kept my eyes moving. Every now and again he stopped to let me breathe and hand me tissues or water. He explained that we shouldn’t stop when the horrible feelings rose up, rather we should move through them.
And we did move through them. As the session progressed, my distress level rose and fell several times. But I realised as we continued, that the image was becoming more distant. The colours were less vivid, the lines less sharp. It started to feel more like a photograph; something real but no longer active.
That feels like a great success to me. Considering the raft of emotions I was bombarded by as we worked, it seems amazing that by the end of the session I could view the image in a calmer, more distant way.
We’ll revisit it in the next session, but I’m not feeling so scared of the process now. I am actually looking forward to the prospect of changing my beliefs about the memory – the next step I’ll be taking. Instead of the fear, the danger and helplessness, I’ll be installing a different cognition. Something like ‘I am safe’, or ‘I am powerful / strong’. And if we can achieve that, it will be nothing short of a miracle.
Photo: n4i, Creative Commons.