I began seeing a therapist last week. It’s not my first rodeo -or even my third- with therapists. I know more what I’m looking for now at least – after many failed attempts and a couple of positive experiences. One of those criteria for me currently is EMDR (Click here if you want to learn more about EMDR). EMDR is one of the few therapeutic techniques showing lots of success for treating PTSD and trauma, especially with abusive situations.
I had my first EMDR session this week – or at least a few minutes of it. Unfortunately, I’m running into a roadblock I would never have predicted. The therapist wanted to start with making sure I had a safe place inside of me to run to or a word that would bring me to calm before beginning on the journey of delving into trauma. I came to find that…I didn’t have one…and never have.
On top of that, I found out that a part of me doesn’t believe any of this will work. When she asked me to take out the negative memories and let them rest outside of me and cleanse myself in a visualized river, the sentence that kept coming up in me was: “But I can’t be cleansed. I am impure. I am inexorably broken.” A part of me has accepted depression and trauma as my state of being, something that will come and go always. That part of me is sad, but almost attached to that concept. She asked me how other parts of me responded to that part of me – the part that wants to sit in a corner and glare with distrust and hopelessness. I told her frustrated – frustrated that I (as a whole) want to be helped and this part is getting in the way of that. But then I had empathy for that part and compassion for what it/I have been through with therapists, with people claiming they can help me, with lovers, with family.
I realized that nearly every memory in my heart of someone “helping” me has been tainted by them eventually violating the safe space they claimed to be creating for me. My first therapist told my parents everything I told her as a teenager after promising everything I shared (except suicidal thoughts) were confidential – even going so far as to show them a private journal entry I’d written and shown her. My parents read my private messages with teachers and friends on my computer (without telling me); I discovered this while walking into my room one day earlier than planned. Nothing with them was something that I could claim as mine, that was safe from their meddling – not even thoughts in my head written on paper or electronically. Which is why I became so withdrawn from them as a teen and why they don’t feel safe to share my inner thoughts and feelings with even now. Even my physical space was continuously altered by others throughout my whole life. Places I could lock were broken into (by my parents or others). Objects that were mine were conveniently “thrown out” or “lost” or “given away.” Perhaps that is why I’ve become so detached from physical things and so attached to my memories. And yet, even in my memories, I feel there is no safe space. Every memory is marred with violations of trust, sadness, pain, and/or anger.
When the therapist asked me to think of a place that was calm and relaxing, the first thought that came up was my first stop on my big roadtrip post-D in Moab. I hiked 4 miles to the end of a trail and was entirely alone for hours. I listened to music on my speaker, danced naked, and climbed, while watching the sun set. It made me happy thinking of that moment until she began the EMDR – at which point I remembered why I was there. I was only in that moment because of all the shit with D. Because I’d left. Because I was trying to find myself after losing all of me for so long – that was a happy and a sad thought. Tears washed down my face with my eyes still closed.
“You need to find a safe place – even an imaginary one – inside of you before you can delve into scary territory with EMDR,” she tells me. Otherwise, it’s dangerous. I could become more suicidal. I could get stuck in a very dark place. As though I haven’t been there before.
I am reminded about my neuroscience and psychology degrees – how I always tell people the only thing I learned in that four years is how little we understand about the brain. It’s always been intriguing to me how adaptive the brain is and yet so very set in its ways without motivation to change. Most of the neuronal connections we make as a baby are pruned far before adulthood as just one example. So it shouldn’t surprise me when I continuously find that it seems at least 95% of my problems are me fighting against myself – my billions of neurons firing in ways that have made the same associations over my entire 31 years of life. Changing those patterns may be one of the hardest things we can aim to do as humans, but I’ve gathered from my own experience and others’ stories, that when you do, it’s a game-changer, a life-changer, and essential to growth and self-development.