Thursday, March 10, 2016

EMDR and the Gift of Dissociation

EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing.
It is a tool used by trauma therapists to assist clients in processing traumatic memory. Traumatic memory does not get processed like normal memory does.  Normal memory is processed as we move through the day, as well as when we sleep, when our eyes move rapidly back and forth during dreams.Traumatic memory gets trapped, and can play over and over like a broken record stuck on a scratch.  This is what causes post traumatic stress symptoms.
EMDR involves moving your eyes back and forth for about half a minute at a time, usually tracking the therapist's finger or a stick. I have also done EMDR without using my eyes at all, by tapping my hands on alternate knees or on my shoulders.  After each series of eye movements you notice what you are, feeling, and experiencing in your body, and you talk about it.
I have used EMDR on and off in therapy with varying degrees of success.I am finding that, the more I trust myself and my therapist the more effective EMDR is.  I feel safe enough to allow memories of abuse close enough to be processed.My goal is to process all of the memories that still trigger me, so they no longer haunt me by invading my day when I least want or expect them to.
Recently, a memory was triggered by a child I was caring for.A friend's little girl had an accident while in my home, and needed help changing her wet clothes.  She asked me to help her, but she was very embarrassed and concerned that her siblings would find out about it.
I took this little girl to another room to find dry clothes, and I left the room to give her privacy and to make sure no one would come in, ...But, she followed me out of the room and asked me to come back in and stay with her. She clearly was uncomfortable with me watching or helping her change, but she also needed me there. I offered to stay in the room, and turn around so she could have privacy while I was still there. That seemed to work for her. 
Her ambivalence triggered me. For a second, I flashed back to myself at her age, and a feeling of being trapped. I remembered desperately needing help, and at the same time too ashamed to ask, or even acknowledge that I deserved help. I saw myself, a naked little girl, with my father looking at me in a way that was too scary for words. I knew in that instant, that the adult who I needed to trust, would take advantage of my vulnerability. I also knew I couldn't do anything to stop him.
I was angry at the little girl who was me, and for a moment also at the little girl I was caring for, for being vulnerable and needing help. How dare little children be vulnerable?! How dare they have private parts!  Who asked them to be real and vulnerable, anyway?! This younger me felt that there was no possible safety in a world where children exist and are vulnerable. Because, as a child, I was not safe. 
But now, as an adult, I AM safe.
While doing EMDR, my therapist asks me to watch what is going on in my mind and body, as if I am watching from a moving train...I can see and feel the memory of being abused, yet  I know it is not happening now, and I know I will move past it.
My eyes move back and forth and I can see and feel this little girl who knows that she will be abused.She is right here with me, inside me, stuck in a memory in the past.
Then, I notice a sensation of horrific pain and a rhythmic banging in my head. The pain is intolerable. There is a sensation of wanting to bang my head along with the banging on my body.I feel it for a horrifying moment, but I don't let it pull me in.I say the feeling out loud.   I keep moving.
During the next series of eye movements, a blessed feeling of numbness creeps through my mind and body, like a strong shot of Novocaine.  It fills my mind with a feeling of unreality.  I know it is the dissociation, protecting me from the pain. I am sleepy, and from this sleepy numb place I see that there is another little girl, a bad little girl being hurt. As a child, I split off from myself.Staying would mean feeling the pain. Staying would mean having to die. I float away inside, limp.
I tell my therapist this little girl being hurt is not me.She is bad, and I am good. The good little girl will go to sleep and forget. The bad little girl was made to be hurt, and deserves it anyway. She is supposed to get hurt.It is her job to be hurt.She is disgusting and bad.She likes it anyway.  So, hurt her!  Kill her! I Hate her!
My eyes and  my mind continue to process, and now I can see that I have to help myself somehow.
I am slowing down the experience, and creating some distance from it, using the EMDR. I am an adult now, knowing that this is just a memory, that the little girl was me and I was NOT bad, just like the little girl in my home who needed help was not bad.
 No one deserves to be abused.  
Deserving abuse is just a story I told myself in order to survive.  It is not true. In reality, I was a complete victim.The only control I had was to make up a reason why it had to happen to me.
But, there is a part of me that does not want to let go of this bad, hurt girl.
I don't want to admit that she was completely powerless, and in no way responsible for what happened.  I want to feel a sense of control, and a reason to stay connected to my parents and my family. My parents and siblings need to believe that I am bad and caused my own pain. ...But I don't believe it. Not anymore. The attachment work that I have been doing with my therapist allows me the distance and safety to let go of this lie.
I don't need my family to survive as an adult. I don't need to validate their reality anymore. In order to heal I have to validate and embrace this little girl who is me, and let her know and feel the truth. She was a victim. She did not deserve to be abused. She is good.
The next set of eye movements brings up a feeling of confusion.In order to embrace her, do I have to allow myself to feel the pain that I originally dissociated in order to survive?I don't want to.   I can't. 
My therapist helps me see that back then, I had no choice but to dissociate and split, but now I am no longer in the past being hurt. NOW I am a safe adult, here in the present, sitting across from a therapist who cares and is helping me. I am not alone .All we want, both myself and my therapist, is for me to be free of this horror andto release its grip on me and my life.
I begin to realize that, even without dissociating, the answer to my question is, NO! I never have to feel the pain again.A feeling of deep relief comes at this realization.A light is slowly brightening, like the energy saving bulb in my bathroom that starts out dim and gradually brightens to full strength.
Thank God I was able to dissociate. I could not have survived my childhood without the gift of dissociation.And I will NEVER have to experience being molested as a child again!All I have to do is stay in the present and know the truth. 
I really was sexually abused, and it really is no longer happening.

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