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Putting in the Hard Work: Beginning EMDR

“Anything worth having requires work.”

 - My Mother


If you know me, or have visited my site before and read about my Shine the Light Campaign, then you know I am a survivor of domestic violence. The journey to healing has its challenges and I am often learning new ways to manage the pain of my past. This post is about my current experience of undergoing a specific kind of treatment that will help me do just that.

At the advice of my therapist, I recently started a very particular kind of therapy treatment used especially with trauma survivors - both singular, or episodic, and complex - and those with PTSD. It’s called EMDR, or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (say that five times fast!). Long explanation short: it’s a process that, if successful, retrains your brain to keep your difficult memories and the feelings attached to those memories in the past - as opposed to commingling with and attaching to the present, which, as someone with PTSD I will tell you this can happen a lot and it’s terrible and often horrifying (also often goes undetected, or undiagnosed, which makes the experience all the more scary and disorienting). The success rate for EMDR is excellent and I was really at a place with my therapist where we both felt I was ready to try a different approach. 

So here I am, week three and I’m nervous as hell. The first two weeks were spent providing background and context - how did my ex-husband and I meet, when did the abuse start and what was it like. Not pleasant. This week we are starting the eye movements and so far, it’s okay. But - and here’s why I’m so nervous - it’s going to get bad. My treatment therapist was pretty clear about that. Because part of the process of EMDR, after background and context and first eye movements whilst establishing an image of a safe place (read: emergency escape), is to describe specific moments or episodes of abuse in as much detail as possible. Basically, to vividly relive an episode word-for-word.

The thing with traumatic memories - as opposed to happy memories - is that they appear in flashes, often as a result of a trigger. Unpredictable in their arrival, these memories - and the emotions that accompany them - can send someone into an uncontrollable state of panic, stress, and overall disorientation. The physical effects of such a flashback can be paralyzing. Someone who has experienced trauma - episodic or complex - has a changed brain. The way in which her brain processes the world is totally different from someone who has not experienced trauma. Someone who has survived trauma essentially is operating with a brain much like an emotional collage of complex layers that resurface and overlap with uncertainty and with various degrees of intensity - all without any regard to spatial or temporal boundaries. EMDR therapy is meant to help the trauma survivor by alleviating such an intense response to the arrival of difficult memories. By retraining the brain to process and compartmentalize memories in accordance to space and time, as opposed to overlapping one with the other, EMDR can allow a trauma survivor to be less likely to experience the common subsequent and residual effects of the arrival of these memories: panic, disorientation, even hallucination. 

My mother always told me: “anything worth having requires work.” This couldn’t be more true with my emotional health - and thereby: the health of my family. During the time I undergo this treatment, putting in the hard work, I am especially aware of the importance of moments to self-soothe, or really take care of myself. This includes writing, working on my Foundation, spending time with my loves, and certainly: running. I developed a love of running about three years ago and it led me on a path of such clarity and comfort. I’ve learned that I need this kind of peace in my life, and so I do my best to make time to visit one of my favorite places to run: a local horse farm that includes an outer loop around the property that is just shy of three miles. It’s there that I have always been able to work through what’s weighing on my mind, to listen to myself, and to meditate and pray. 


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