EMDR Therapy

I used to be stuck in my house, my body seizing if I spent too much time out in the world. It was an event to take the garbage out. For five long years, I was unable to work,diagnosed with stress, then epilepsy, then a conversion disorder. Through talk therapy, I got to the point where I could be out involved in work or other activities for about 12 hours a week. I spent 6 years with that limit. When it seemed to me that even those 12 hours were getting chipped away, a friend told me that he thought I could benefit from a therapy called EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). It took me a while to get the courage and hope to try it, then even longer to find a therapist who took my insurance. From the first session, I started getting better. It seemed miraculous. One of the book titles was true, David Grand’s “Emotional Healing at Warp Speed” . After 16 sessions, I had my life back. I had been suffering from PTSD. That is my truth.

EMDR has been getting more and more attention lately. Prince Harry used it on the death of his mother, and talked to Oprah about it. It has appeared in medical shows like Grays’ Anatomy. But what is it?

It seems simple. It starts with both sides of the brain being stimulated. I followed the therapist’s fingers as she moved them side to side, being careful not to move my head. For some people, a light bar is used, or earphones with a tone that plays on one side, then the other; with children, one knee can be tapped and then the other. While the stimulation is going on, the person concentrates on a disturbing incident or feeling .

In my case, it was usually a particular trauma that we focused on in the session. These were events that would play and replay in my head, that whenever I thought about the incident I was back in the exact moments. The effects of these traumas were what made it hard to leave the house. Starting EMDR, I thought it would be just like I had recounted them to others. I KNEW they were not happening in the present, but that was just my head. My heart and my body felt them in the same way it had since the incident, that it was happening in the present and could recur at any time.

My first EMDR session focused on a time I was beaten and thought I would be killed. It was like I was there again, but I noticed things I had not noticed before. I noticed the couch from when I was on the floor being kicked. I knew the couch and the time that we had that couch. A sculpture appeared in my side view. These things tied the beating down to a particular time in my life.

At the end, I escaped and ran into a neighbor’s house. I grabbed onto the railing to their stairs and begged my neighbor to keep me there. I was hysterical, my abuser was very calm as he explained I had taken some bad acid and he would take me home. My neighbor turned and started trying to pry my hands off the railing.

And that was the moment when time stopped, that feeling that there was no hope, that the terror was going to continue. That everyone in the world was conspiring to get me. That moment had haunted me for about 25 years. But in EMDR, the time went on, and I gave my neighbor a phone number to call for someone to come get me. She called, my friend came, and I lived. I liken it to a memory which has frozen in time, which in frozen form stays in the present. Everytime I went outside, my body was telling me that the world was unsafe, that any and every one was a potential abuser. That knowledge came in part from this time.

But now it was over. The woman who started to pry my hands off didn’t do that, she was helpful. There were helpful people in the world, they weren’t all conspiring against me. That made a big change in my life.

But I had other traumas to go through, to “process” as they say in therapist language. If you are interested in the whole journey, check out my book Unfreezing Trauma: My Private Journal of EMDR Recovery. Website: The book is not a nice linear tale, but covers all the ups and downs, the depression and searching, all that lead to the time when I finished and, as I said at the time, burst into joy. The website also has resources, some videos, and advice on how to find an EMDR therapist. This may be what you need to totally change your life.

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