TW: Sexual Assault
Last week I started EMDR. My first session was the hardest thing I have done in this lifetime.
And god damn it, I’ve done some fucking hard things.
I once had an acting professor who is now a dear friend that often said, “it should take a pound of flesh”. He was referring to the amount of yourself you give to your art. If my lifetime is my work of art; this process has taken 24 pounds of flesh. It has ripped, shredded, pounded, and cleaved from my body and soul with each echoing year and year of pain.
This is taking all of me. There is not a moment when I do not live in this journey. But I am starting to see the light.
I am sitting in my hollowed, wounded body within the caverns of our mind. It is still so dark in this crevice. But faintly…oh so faintly…I can see the stars. They flicker and glimmer reminding me that the shadows are receding, the dragons are surrendering, the night is only darkest before the dawn.
Dawn is coming. I can feel it in these hollowed bones. I can feel it within the aches of my weary body. I can feel it in the darkest caverns of my consciousness. Light is coming, because the sun will rise again.
You may be asking, “What is EMDR therapy”? That is a great question because before my entire life exploded and solely became engrossed in trauma healing, I also had no idea.
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing or EMDR therapy was developed by Dr. Francine Shapiro in the late 1980’s when she (yes queen!) discovered a connection between eye movement and persistent distressing memories. It is a well-recognized and highly affective psychotherapy treatment for many things including PTSD.
There is so much science behind this phenomenal healing method and even if I took the time, I could not do it justice behind this keyboard. Check below for a couple basic sources if you want to learn more. But for now, here is my simplified (albeit very lived in) version.
We often talk about the left side and the right side of the brain. The basic trope we all know is that the left side of the brain is responsible for everything analytical and the right side is responsible for everything creative. However, there is more to it than that. The left side of the brain is also the side that stores memory.
Picture Inside Out, the Pixar film.
The left side of your brain is all the rows and shelves of memory globes in Riley’s brain.
Your left brain is like your own little index recipe card box of processed memory.
This processing naturally occurs during our sleep throughout the REM cycle, where your eyes dart from right to left processing memory.
The right side of the brain thinks in colors, shapes, images, and sounds.
Continuing with Inside Out, the right side is the outside land where everything is colorful, visceral, and very much real. The right side is also where traumatic memory is trapped when it is not properly processed.
Let’s say I walk outside, and I am attacked by a bear. Unlikely, but who knows these days?
My body and brain will instantly go into Fight or Flight mode.
What if my feet are glued to the ground and my arms are stuck at my side? My body cannot perform its natural instinct to fight off or run from this giant bear. So, my body freezes. The attack happens.
I escape the bear (lucky I guess?), but for the next two weeks my mind keeps flashing back to the moment in time where I froze when I wanted to flee.
This memory is stuck in the right side of my brain, and it is most likely extraordinarily fuzzy. I may only remember the color of the bear. Or maybe I can only hear the growls. The memory is certainly fragmented because it is STUCK. It was not able to be processed.
24 pounds of flesh. 24 years of a fragmented memory of an assault stuck within my mind.
The bear wasn’t really a bear. The bear was a man. And I was a 3-year-old girl. And little girls cannot fight or flee from heavy men. So, she/I froze. And we have been frozen ever since.
In my first EMDR session, Ann sat very close to me. She asked me to go back to the first flashback. She asked me to picture it vividly and allow my body to move into terror. She asked me to tell her if I ever reached outside of my window of tolerance.
And so, I did. I went back.
Ann guided my eyes left to right as my body shook and jolted. Occasionally she would stop and ask what was I observing in my mind or body…
“Okay, let’s observe that”, Anne said.
“I’m scared, I am so scared”
“Can you hang on to that? Can you stay in it?”, she said.
Towards the end of my session, my body had calmed itself for a moment until during a pass, vividly I went into memory. And I saw the 3-year-old, and she was terrified.
My 27-year-old body yanked itself until it was pressed up against the couch cowering away from an invisible threat.
“Can you stay here Kasey? What can you observe?”, she said.
“It is so sad. It is so so sad.”
Anne had tears in her eyes as she whispered back,
“Yes. Yes, it is, and you are so brave. I am going to ask you to do one more thing. We are going to go back in there, you are going to take that young girl out of that memory, and you are finally going to bring her somewhere she can be safe. Can you do that?”
Left to right, Ann’s hand guided my eyes as I steered myself back into memory. I took that 3-year-old girl. I scooped her into my arms, and I ran.
I ran and I ran, and I ran, and I ran.
And then we landed on an Irish Beach. It is the place in my mind I’ve created where I am always safe. Only good things can happen within that Irish Cove.
I held the 3-year-old in my arms, and I rocked her back and forth weeping.
“We’re safe now Ann. We’re finally safe”.
I share this very personal and very visceral thing because this session was the masterpiece of my life thus far.
I dug into a fortress of courage, and I faced my demons. I faced my dragons. I faced the monster under the bed. I faced the monster on the bed.
And now we are safe. They can hurt us no longer. What they did to us no longer defines us.
This moment defines me. The moment I conquered my dragon, the moment I faced my darkest night.
Now we are safe. I am safe.
I, Kasey Eileen am safe. I am brave. I am courageous.
And I am safe.
And she is building sandcastles on an Irish beach.
And the dawn is rising.