The glassblower knows:
while in the heat of beginning, any shape is possible.
Once hardened, the only way to change is to break.
The Book of Awakening, Mark Nepo
That is the opening passage for February 19. I am much further along in the book (started reading it daily last April) so I’m not even sure why I turned to today’s passage, but I did, and there it was. Turns out this is the best way to describe what EMDR has done for me.
Nepo explains that if surgery is performed while in utero, a newborn will bear no scars from it. While we are not newborns, our insides are constantly changing. Our brains are in constant flux, creating new pathways and closing down old ones, which is where EMDR comes in.
Repeated trauma, whether it be from childhood or years spent with a narcissist, literally changes the pathways in our brains. In my case those changes led to two unfortunate results:
- I over react. All problems, big and small, becomes Mt. Everest in my mind.
- After I’m done overreacting, I shut down, quite sure I have no chance of solving the problem.
In addition to being exhausting, the process becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Every time I overreact then shut down, I do, in fact, Not Solve the Problem. Time after time after time I go through this process, until I live in perpetual exhaustion and ineffectiveness, which has led to depression and all sorts of other nasty things.
This is the state I have lived in for the past 20 years. It became a mental state of perpetual fear and helplessness. I was paralyzed with indecision, frustration, and disbelief that I had become who I was. I also became terribly ill; physically ill. And it was all quite real.
Before you stop reading read this: I Am Not Saying “It’s in your head. Change your thoughts, change your life”. This is much more complicated then that. Actually, complicated, yet simple. The same way a child learns to tie their shoes or eat with a spoon, our brains learn to process incoming information and respond accordingly. Living with the narc, we learn that most often whatever path we take will be wrong. We learn that the only constant, the only thing we can really rely on, is the fact that we are helpless and ineffectual. This becomes the pathway our brain takes every time we are faced with an issue. In the same way we are conditioned to look at sneakers and automatically respond by tying the laces, we become conditioned to look at every problem, overreact, then shut down. In the same way we get better and better at tying our laces, we become better and better at shutting down, until we no longer know anything. I have been a helpless mess for years.
It has taken me one and a half years of talk therapy to get to this point, but I now understand enough of what has happened to me that I am able to take advantage of EMDR, and I had my 1st session Tuesday afternoon. I’m just like you – skeptical. My therapist, and the research I’ve read, claimed it will quite literally change how I look at everything, how I respond, how I feel, which seemed a bit too good to be true. And, maybe it is; maybe I’m overreacting to how good I feel right now! (hahaha – that would be funny!)
It was an extremely emotional 2 hours. While listening to sounds which activate long neglected pathways in my brain, I talked, imagined and relived various traumatic moments, changing the ending in my mind. Those memories that I was truely able to process and re frame left me with a feeling of peace more intense then any amount of Valium I’ve ever taken; and I love my Valium! By the end of the session, when the therapist asked me how I felt, all I could think to say was “weird”. She was disappointed because everyone says that, and she is trying to find a more descriptive adjective to describe the effect. It must be hard to market your therapy when all you can say is “my patients say they feel weird”. At that moment though, that was how I felt. She warned me that I might be extra tired, I might see a change in my sleep and dreams, or I might see no change at all.
I did feel tired, and I have seen changes in my sleep and dreams, but something else really crazy happened: I was faced with a problem and I never once thought about overreacting!
I woke up Thursday morning and my kitchen sink was filled with water. I tried to plunge it but had no luck. My normal reaction would have been to start crying, then start bemoaning my bad luck, shouting about how mad I am at the universe. Thursday though, I poured some draino in the sink and went to yoga. It never occurred to me to get upset. Honestly! When I got home my son and I got to work taking apart some pipes and quickly realized the issue was beyond us and Again, I Did Not Get Upset! My cousin came out (he can fix anything) and after about 2 hours he realized the problem would involve cutting pipes and reinstalling new ones and we had no way of knowing how far into the pipes the issue was, so he couldn’t fix it. I was on my own.
By this point I would normally have been overwrought with strife and indecision. I’d be paralyzed with angst and anger. Instead, I thanked him for trying, and I put a message on FB asking for plumber recommendations. And I felt Calm. Today, as I write this, waiting for some plumbers to show up and give what will most likely be outrageously expensive quotes, I feel serene. Do I have the money for this? No. Do I wish it wasn’t happening? Yes. Will it ruin my day? Most likely, in that I won’t get to my favorite yoga class. Will I get through it? YES! It is not Mt. Everest and I will get over it.
It is really hard for me to believe that 1 EMDR session could create this incredible of a change in me, but I think it is entirely possible that the session opened up a pathway that allows me to self-soothe. That seemed to be the focus of my memories, the feeling of being alone in the world. During the session, I changed the endings of some of the times I felt most alone; I showed up and took care of myself, even saved myself in one memory, and I think it is entirely possible that this opened a new channel in my brain. It is entirely possible that, just like learning to tie my shoes, I learned to self-sooth. And I am so, so excited for my next session!
Of course, it is also entirely possible that I am overreacting to my EMDR session! Only time will tell.