My journey with EMDR trauma therapy and what I have learned so far

Let me be clear. My encouragement to you to “tell the truth and say it out loud” does not have anything to do with attacking one another with stored up frustrations. It is about being honest with ourselves first; to stop hiding in excuses and pain, stop fooling ourselves about what is really holding us back in our lives, face the things that keep stopping us in our tracks, get really honest about why we are where we are, be brave enough to turn and face a new direction, and make different choices. This is what I have spent the past several months digging into and I have learned some very interesting things about myself.

I learned that:

I have been in a near constant state of trauma response for years.
I couldn’t get over trauma by trying harder to get over it.
Nothing ever changes in life until I choose change.
I have blamed others for my emotional state (and inability to change it)
I have a limited capacity to absorb other people’s negative energy. (duh, right?)

I don’t know if everyone has experienced trauma. I don’t know if everyone could benefit from trauma therapy, but my gut says yes.

I think the biggest relief from these past months of work is understanding just how hamstrung I was in my life, and that my creeping suspicions about PTSDs and it’s effect on me were right. I’ve been saying for 15 years that it felt like I had PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) but didn’t think I had any reason really to legitimately have the condition, and even if I did, none of the therapies I tried fully dealt with it – and over the past 15 years I’ve done everything I could think of- short of hypnosis. I found so much relief and it was evident that I was more free with each passing year, but I continued to struggle with panic attacks, my muscles locking up putting me in the bed for days, extreme emotional highs and lows, and the inability to have certain conversations without shutting down and hiding in a shell. I suppose all these symptoms point to depression…  the most consistent devil in my life. (the issue of depression as a christian is a whole other issue that I will have to deal with another time)

In January I started thinking about my up and down cycles, about how desperate I was to live on an even keel, to not dive back down under the dark water again. It’s interesting to me that all this coincided with grief… all I can figure is that grief rips the veil away and allows you to see things more clearly. (That was Larisa’s experience walking through cancer…) Maybe it just reveals the choices we have in life more clearly. So when I watched my sister lose her choices to cancer, and I knew I had access to any choice I wanted to make, I decided I didn’t like what my life looked like and I decided to start making different choices. Living an underwater half-life wasn’t good enough. Being in relationships that didn’t make me happy wasn’t good enough. We are sons and daughters of God, for heaven’s sake, there’s more to this life than surviving. And I wanted all the “more”.

So I started evaluating my life. I was deeply shocked by what I found. Honestly it scared me half to death. I journaled, trying to work it all out, till my fingers were too sore to type anymore, I talked to friends, I prayed, I sat on my bed and stared at the reality of what I had allowed my life to become, I paced and flailed and cried some more, and slowly things began to come clear, bit by bit.  I was deeply unhappy with things in my life, and I had some hard, very scary decisions to make. Beyond this fact, I didn’t know what to do because I had come to similar places in my past, and the help I had sought had not been able to take me all the way through to the other side of my pain, and so I kept finding myself back in the same place again. And all I can think is that I must not have been willing to tell the whole truth until grief stripped my hiding places from me. Thanks… I guess 😉

Maybe the difference was that I was finally able (for the first time in my life) to say to myself that it didn’t matter what happened if I told the truth. So what if everything falls apart, so what if I lose everything I have and everyone I love? I stared fear in the eyes and I saw it for what it was. Powerless. I was losing my sister. In the matter of days she would be taken from me and what could fear do that it hadn’t already done over the past 6 years of this nightmare journey? Nothing. Any power that Fear of Loss or Fear of Rejection had held over me was shattered and had fallen away, and I so from there I took a step. After all, what more did I have to lose? And I had everything to gain.

So, I prayed. I screamed at the sky. I shook my fist, no longer afraid that my rage would disqualify or disconnect me from God. I told Him I had to have help, that I was ready, I would do whatever I had to do, only I didn’t know what that was. The next day a dear friend who I very rarely get to connect with due to illness, called me. She listened to my pain as it gushed out past the fear of rejection, and then something wonderful happened… she cried with me. I wasn’t some horrible person with such a messed up life that when I said it out loud I would immediately be rejected. She understood, she mourned the loss of my sister with me, she felt the pain of my hiding and all it had cost me, and when I had talked and cried until I had nothing left to say, she told me about a trauma therapist she had been seeing and explained how it had helped her walk through the trauma of her illness.

bird cloud

My prayer was answered.

And my therapy began.

 

So the nutshell is this:
The first EMDR session was on grief. It was about a month after my sister died and I couldn’t even think of anything else, so this is where we started.  After that session I no longer broke down into heavy sobs every day. It was strange how immediate the change… it took about a week to adjust to it. My next session uncovered how unsafe I felt all the time, everywhere with everyone except myself. This was a huge eye opener for me… needless to say it explained a LOT about my issues with relationships and why I always retreated into hiding. The sessions continued in this fashion, exposing the trauma pathways in my mind, that when triggered, led to feelings of depression and hopelessness, and the re-assigned new pathways to manageable feelings.

(People, psychology is rad. The human brain and how we were created to process and survive unimaginable horrors, be healed and live full, functional lives later on, is mind blowing. We are indeed fearfully and wonderfully made.) sidebar over 🙂

After only 3 EMDR sessions, I found that when I was triggered in an area that had shut me down completely before, I was now able to make a choice wether to move through the fear or shut down. I was still terrified, and I didn’t always choose to stay open, but now I had a choice in the matter, where before, I went into fight or flight mode which overrode any decision making. I had been held in a vise of just riding out the panic, just hanging on and waiting till the feeling came back into my body and I could breathe again, and miracle or miracles, I found myself able to stay connected to those I love through the wave. There is no end to how miraculous this is for me. Therapy gave me back the power of choice.

I still have a ways to go before I’ll be done exploring everything this therapy holds for me and I am eager to see what freedoms lay ahead. It’s not easy work. It’s scary, hard, emotional, raw work, and the reality is that not all my relationships have survived this process. (which was part of my original fear about pursuing the truth) But hear me when I say that it is ok to be where you are. It is ok for me to be in this place of deep processing, of working out grief, of not being “over it yet”, and to not have the capacity for all the relationships that I once did. (my hope is that my capacity will increase if I keep going) So my job is to give myself a break and take one step at a time, continuing to pursue freedom for myself, my family and my future.

So until next time, pursue grace and freedom my friends. (and find a good therapist:)

 

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4 thoughts on “My journey with EMDR trauma therapy and what I have learned so far

  1. Powerful post, Sallie. After I read it, the Velveteen Rabbit came to mind. Do you know that story? A little boy literally loved his stuffed rabbit to pieces, until the child grew up and forgot about his friend. As an abandoned tatter, the little rabbit was whisked away to Rabbitland where he became real, restored to eternal life as a cherished memory. Something about complete surrender — and not caring one whit what anyone thinks — prepares us for being real. So proud of you for persevering to a such a good place, and I’m not the least bit surprised that EMDR played a role. It rewired all my faulty/fried emotional circuits. God bless you.

    Hey, I may be in Hickory Aug. 11, a Friday night, for worship at a budding Elevation campus. Would be great to connect with you there or later that weekend.

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    1. I don’t know the story well, but yeah – I see how it fits ❤️😍 being prepared for being real. It’s quite a journey. I’m so happy EMDR worked for you! It’s truly amazing.

      Yes!! I’d love to see you, shoot me a text and we’ll make a plan ❤️

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  2. I have no idea if this post is the answer to my prayers … but all I can say right now is that
    the part where it sais:
    >> So, I prayed. I screamed at the sky. (…) I told Him I had to have help, that I was ready, I would do whatever I had to do, only I didn’t know what that was. <<
    This describes a somewhat similar situation that I had today only that I didn't scream even though I really really wanted to …
    What a gift to have read this today (had opened the post yesterday but didn't read it until just now 🙂 )

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    1. I highly recommend screaming 😉 i’m mostly kidding, although some situations truly warrant it; screaming, crying, flailing, letting what you feel move from the inside to the outside so at last you know what on earth it is you’re actually dealing with. I hope that you find the relief and answers you’re looking for, and I’m happy to hear that what I said may have helped you on your way.

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