Last week was a strange one, emotionally. It started off well enough on Monday with my effort to find connection in group therapy (I wrote about that earlier). That was a good experience, and it gave me a degree of hope. Maybe I could open up to other women and feel seen and valued.
Something strange happened after that, something I hadn’t anticipated and find hard to describe. Somehow, it felt almost as if I had opened up a door deep inside in me. It wasn’t that I had shared any specific secret information with the group. But somehow, wanting to be more frank and open appeared to have told some part of my subconscious that maybe there was space for a secret to come out.
This feeling only intensified the next day. Furthermore, on I started having strange, violent images flashing in my mind–images of rape, mostly. But I didn’t have a sense of what they were attached to. They weren’t memories of things I experienced. So where was this coming from? What was happening?
Those were the questions I brought into individual therapy with E on Wednesday afternoon.
“It seems like some part of you needs attention,” she observed.
“What part? These aren’t memories. So what is this?” I asked, feeling frustrated. “If some part of me has needs, I don’t know what those needs are. It’s just a big, tumultuous mess in my head.”
E asked if I knew about the “four directions” strategy for assessing needs. Nope, never heard of it (which always surprises me, when she comes up with something I have never heard about, after all our years of working together). She explained that it’s about looking in four directions:
- Down is about grounding. Do I feel safe in this moment? If I pay attention, E says, my body will tell me if I don’t feel safe. Then I can think about what I might need to feel safe. Do I need to leave this place? Do I need someone to come with me? Do I need more boundaries?
- Up is about creativity, growth, variety, learning and adventure. E tell me I can know I need these things if I feel bored, unchallenged, static.
- Right is about needing connection, touch, belonging, and a sense of being seen for who I truly am. A sense of loneliness or being lost might cue me in about these types of needs.
- Left is about needing more independence, space, privacy, or autonomy.
As we talked, and I tried to tune into what I was feeling, I grew increasingly agitated. I felt an ache and nausea in my low belly. I felt like I could vomit (like something wanted to come out?) I felt pressure between my legs, or maybe in my vagina. What is this? This isn’t up, down, left or right. This is craziness. This is triggered. This is implicit memories, maybe??
It’s okay, E said. Maybe there is something that wants to come out, she said. But you don’t have to rush it. You can make time and space for things to come out. You can do that and still hang onto your life. It can come out without turning everything inside out.
I heard her, but in my head, I was impatient. I didn’t want to be in this sick, intermediate place, patiently waiting for “something” to come out. I wanted it out.
My hope was my EMDR session scheduled with Elaine for the next day. We’d planned, last week, that this week we would try out the eye movements for the first time. True, our initial plan was to work on a fairly clear and not-too-disturbing memory. But since this thing, whatever it was, was up, why not work on it?
I think I had the idea that EMDR was going to be a magic cure. I mean, I didn’t really have that idea, because I had read about it and had a couple of preparatory sessions with Elaine. But beneath the surface, I was wishing for a magic solution and some relief from what was happening. So I was nervous–but also hopeful–when I went to see Elaine on Thursday afternoon.
When I explained that to Elaine, she said okay, it’s completely possible to work with body sensations using EMDR. So we went started in, slowly, with the preparatory questions. When we got to the one about what I felt in my body, I described the ache in my low belly, the sense of pressure in my vagina.
Side note: I noticed after I said it that Elain repeated it as “pressure in your genital area,” and I felt weird, like my use of the word “vagina” was inappropriate.
Elaine asked about the visual that went with it, which was nothing at first. It was just a feeling. But then, maybe I was remembering a room in a relative’s house? I wasn’t sure about that though. Then she asked a few more questions–honestly I can’t remember exactly–and abruptly stopped.
“I’m not sure all your parts are on board with this today,” she told me.
“What? No, I want to do this!”
“Sure, part of you wants to. Otherwise you wouldn’t even be here,” she agreed. “But on the other hand, I have been watching your body language, and it gives me other messages. From the beginning, you sat down at the furthest spot in the room, away from me. As we talked, you have curled yourself up, made yourself quite small. And you are fidgety.”
“I’m always like that,” I insisted. “I fidget a lot in therapy. I take my shoes off, I sit cross-legged. That’s how I get comfortable.” Really, I sit similarly in Marie’s office. In E’s office, I usually sit on the floor and have done for years.
But words weren’t going to convince her. “I can’t just push past whatever resistance some of your parts have,” she told me. “It wouldn’t be responsible.”
She mentioned a few things I had said–I can’t even remember what they were–and then I started to doubt myself and go in circles. I don’t know exactly what happened, but even though it seemed like I hadn’t been there more than 15 minutes, the session was suddenly over.
I left her office, went to sit in my car and thought, shit, it’s been several weeks, and what are we even doing? Nothing. Literally nothing to work on any of my stuff. This EMDR approach isn’t going to go anywhere either. There is no magic solution. In fact, there is no solution at all. I’m never going to stop getting triggered like this. I’m wasting my time and might as well stop right now. I admit it, yes, there was some exaggeration in there, and plenty of hopelessness.
Take a breath, I told myself. Stop catastrophizing. Just go to the grocery store. Just act like you feel okay. I started the car, drove to the store, bought a bit of food as well as the Halloween candy to give out to trick-or-treaters that night. Driving home from the grocery story, I ate far too many pieces of the Halloween chocolate, ugh. Then I scolded myself for such unhelpful coping behaviors.
This sucks, I thought. But the one good thing is that tomorrow, Friday, E will be in the office. (She doesn’t usually work Fridays except the first Friday of each month.) So when I got home, I went online to see if I could schedule some time to talk about how to contain this ever-growing internal freak out.
CREDIT: Image adapted from a photo by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash
My guess would be it felt if you made yourself be vulnerable and opened up, even emotionally, you would be raped. In the past, people you were close to hurt you.
Oh, that’s odd, it never even occurred to me to think of it as a fear of something that could happen. The whole time I have been feeling as though I opened up and there was something waiting there that wants to come up, out and through–except it’s stuck. But I’m going to sit with it from a different perspective and see what that tells me, thank you.
This sounds so hard. I wish EMDR were a magic solution. For me, it has been an incredibly powerful tool. But my experience doesn’t resemble anything I read about it, which made me feel like I’d been tricked and deceived (a triggery theme for me). It sucks, all of it. And as far as I’m concerned, Halloween candy is pretty innocuous as a coping strategy! Take care. Take it minute by minute, second by second. Out is through, even when it feels terrible.
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Ah, Empress, that sounds confusing and hard–to have EMDR be helpful but then to feel that it was somehow a deception! The cruel tricks our minds play on us!
I am, indeed, trying very hard to stay with the moment I am in and not to rush forward too far and imagine myself in some scary situation. I forget to do that, and go on a little mental tour of all possible catastrophes, but then I catch myself and talk myself back down. Just the ability to do that means I have learned a lot from therapy.
Thanks for your comment, and for your encouragement!
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I have a personal theory that change is so hard because it triggers off memories/feelings that seem unrelated to the change, so in that case, it makes sense that it’s been so difficult for you to be more open in your group, and that when you start to make this change, some difficult feelings are emerging. It’s like our system knows how to keep things locked down, by doing the same old things.
Your EMDR therapist sounds truly excellent. Noticing that parts of you were not on board with the process seems really insightful and sensitive. My own experience with EMDR was that it plunged me into some feeling memories that were too much, that I couldn’t process and that made me worse. My opinion is that these memories or feelings need to emerge in their own time, or at least, slowly. It’s not really like if you eat something bad and need to throw it up. You don’t actually feel better once it’s more conscious. There is a way that new information can be helpful, but there are lots of ways these things can leave us worse than before. So caution seems the way to go. And being kind to parts of you that are not in charge must be a good thing.
Hopefully you’ll get EMDR working for you. I bet it takes some time and some caution, but what else is new? Good on you for all your healing efforts.
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[…] week after my disappointing non-EMDR session with Elaine, I’m back in her office. I tell her how frustrated and confused and, well, […]