Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing and Trauma

When in the hospital I was referred to a Psychotherapist who agreed to take me on as a patient.  At first, we worked together once a week engaging in the intensive practice of Psychotherapy and a therapy called EMDR – Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing Movement. 

“In 1987, psychologist Dr Francine Shapiro made the chance observation that eye movements can reduce the intensity of disturbing thoughts, under certain conditions. Dr Shapiro studied this effect scientifically, and in 1989 reported success using EMDR to treat victims of trauma. Following this initial discovery, many treatment studies were conducted, and there are now more published treatment outcome studies on EMDR than any other treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. (Description from the Australian EMDR Association)“ .

This process is very intimate and requires a great level of trust in the therapist.  This takes a time to build.  We built such a trust over time and EMDR could begin coupled with medications to control the depression, crippling anxiety and mood swings. After a few months session of Psychotherapy I trusted her enough to engage in the process of  EMDR. We started gently engaging for only ten-minute sessions at first as that was all I could tolerate as my brain immediately connected with the eye movement of the finger and awakened incidents locked away for over thirty years. It was a shock to me how effective the therapy was. There was no suggestion by the therapist of what memories to engage with they were just the ones that were coming to me as current flashbacks. After a few sessions, I was able to tolerate the therapy for longer and eventually enormous amounts of emotions were released. Tears kept hidden well under wraps were shed and traumatic sadness and grief were processed. Intolerable flashbacks became bearable memories through the effective treatment of EMDR in a way no other treatment had done for me before.

“During EMDR, the therapist works with the client to identify a specific problem as a focus for the treatment session. The client then calls to mind the disturbing issue or event, what was seen, felt, heard, thought, etc. The therapist will then begin eye movements or other bilateral stimulation. These eye movements are used until the memory becomes less disturbing and is associated with a positive thought and belief about yourself. (From the EMDR Association).”

Often for me we would not target a specific event but would commence the process and an event would erupt.  I would find myself in uncontrollable tears as I relived the death of a child, a rape, vicious beating or whatever traumatic memory was obviously being dealt with by my subconscious.  At the end of the EMDR process we would talk about the material and process, lessening it’s power.  Often as not this would take several sessions to endure and would at times appear to have been overcome, when it would reflux itself back under EMDR again some months later when another detail was rekindled.  I would often attempt to exit the room only to be held in the safe arms of the therapist on whose shoulders I would be able to let go my long held in tears and pain.  She would persuade me to remain in the room and sit back down and recommence the session.  If it was too painful, we would just talk.  She skilfully would bring me back to the here and now and never let me leave that room under the influence of EMDR, always ensuring I was living in the present once again. Some sessions went three hours, usually two, several times a week.  I never remember what happens under EMDR even though you are not in a hypnotic state. Under EMDR I relive the experience and often during the process can describe the room, surroundings, furniture, people present, happenings etc in great detail and once EMDR is over remember nothing. It is relayed back to me and it’s processed and discussed in great detail. My brain protects me and flashbacks that have been causing me great grief dissipate and become tolerable though still painful memories. There are times when I can tolerate the treatment and sessions are psychotherapy alone. It is a powerful technique and freed me from many of the crippling flashbacks that have plagued me over the years.  Without it, I would have been unable to write my book as my suppressed brain would never have been unlocked in a tolerable way.  The guilt remains of not saving Aisling for the friend who was killed and other children, the guilt of what the men did to me, leaving Ireland, not reporting what happened and have not been able to. To this day this is a guilt that lays heavy on my shoulders.  I could not cope with this guilt and it’s accompanying culpability without the extraordinary support of an amazing gifted woman who has promised she will never leave me to deal with the guilt on my own. Never leave nor reject me no matter what I tell her I have done.  My one wish is that there could only be more of her compassion in the mental health system so dedicated to their patients and in whose unwavering belief that I will one day be healed that I clutch my hope.  She keeps me alive.  She is a truly gifted, astonishing and compassionate human being to which my family and I are for every indebted.

I was banned from driving due to my repeated suicide attempts so my husband has to drive me to all my appointments, yet another demonstration of his dedication and love which never seemed to tire over the years and is ongoing still which I am eternally thankful for.  I have no access to bank accounts, credit cards, assets or anything monetary not even my medicare card or passport. Anything by which I might be able to purchase means to kill myself.  I am in a state of chronic suicidality that becomes acute with flashbacks and survivor guilt.

Complex PTSD is a disorder with many complications. It is not merely the original trauma and memories that plague the afflicted. Those memories often as not return as “flashbacks”. A flashback is not merely a temporary memory flash of an original event but a complete, total reliving and re-experience. The reliving is a total assault on your present sensibilities, transporting you back through smells as acute as an heirloom rose; taste real as a recently eaten repaste; visuals vivid as a 3d movie in high definition with the power to completely block out whatever is presently happening around you in reality. You are transported back to the event in totality not just in memory. Anyone in the room currently with you no longer exists. They disappear down a tunnel of reality in which you’re already tentative grip is severed. Loved ones no longer exist. All that exists is the event which may have happened thirty years ago in clarity that is as sharp as if occurring now. The physical pain of rape is experienced. Your vagina screams in agony and the shame of the invasion of your privacy devours you, drawing you further into its poison ivy tentacles intertwined in your brain. All you can smell is the heavy, heavy breathing of the rapist. Fetid alcohol and nicotine-laden breath which is all consuming becoming the only life air keeping you alive. No longer do you smell the sweetness of the living child you have just kissed. They do not exist in this flashback of thirty years ago.

You are only a six-year-old twentieth-century child locked in the 21st Century body of a fifty-five year old mother of four who can no longer hold on to its grasp of the time existing now. Loved ones no longer stop the six-year-old screaming in the physical and emotional pain from erupting up through your oesophagus. The muffled scream held in by the sweaty bovine smelling hand of the snatcher of your childhood innocence. That scream never escaped your throat then and does not now. It’s a scream that is never set free, forever held in and suppressed for eternity only to be relived each time a trigger of the “flashback” happens.

It comes without warning, with triggers that are never consistent and change with fluidity. A muffled sound. Dropped cutlery. A smashed glass on the floor. A banged door. The heavy smell of a recently smoked cigarette on a passerby on the street. A just finished glass of Guinness and its remaining hop odour, distinctly different from any other alcoholic beverage. Cannot be mistaken for wine or gin. No, it’s Guinness and it has transported you from your current 2017 existence back to 1969. You end up in the shower fully clothed as you attempt to scrub yourself clean of their smell and bodily fluids; curled up in the walk in wardrobe in the dark corner hoping not to be discovered, huddled in the corner of the chemist shop where a child has just had a tantrum or in a trance at the dinner table when a family member has mentioned some item from the day’s news that triggers a memory.  That is a flashback.  It is all consuming and it is real.

With repeated flashbacks which are at first surreal and bewildering, comes at times dissociation. This is where you further are removed from the present and your final feather like grip on the connection to around you is lost.

This derealisation allows no one to reach you. You are lost in the past. Lost to the trauma as if it was happening now. It’s devastating grip is complete. The perpetrator’s voices are the one you hear. They talk to you now controlling your every action. My mother becomes me; I become her. Her words of necessary death are imminent and required by her. She forces you to talk in her voice, her idioms, expressions, desires, requests, evaluation of you, devaluing of you erasing all that is normally held, dear. You are not only disconnected from those around you but at times disconnected from yourself. Once the physical symptoms have finished their ravenous consumption you are removed in your mind. For me, that was the commencement of self-harm and suicidality. It is a lonely road alleviated by EMDR and slowly being resolved through its effective treatment.

6 comments

  1. I am about to commence EMDR, I have C-PTSD and major issues with Disassociation, your post hasn’t given me much reassurance…

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    • Sorry if the article raised concerns for you. I have found EMDR terrific for my Complex PTSD and DID. It’s a rough ride sometimes but as you’d know there’s no quick fix. EMDR is amazing and is so good at reprocessing traumatic memories in a way that I found no other therapy has. I do hope it works for you. If you ever want to discuss anything about it or anything else my email is erinfado@gmail.com Erin

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