Finding My Strength

I’ve been really struggling lately. EMDR is hard. It’s not something I can go and do for an hour or two and then put aside until the next session. It really is like being in the deep end without a life jacket, and that is exhausting. I want to keep living my life, and to some extent I am. It’s just this overwhelming feeling of heaviness and exhaustion that I wish would let up. I know in the end this will all be worth it, but the thought of 6 more months like this is really discouraging.

I guess I should just focus on the progress I have already made. The first memory has been stored in the memory part of my brain, not perfectly, but at least I don’t live it every time I think of it. And we started working on the memory of a necklace he gave me that felt to me like a shackle. It was a mark of everything I was being forced to do, a reminder that this was my life and that I belonged to him. That I was helpless. Now I am starting to believe that I am strong.

Lori and I talked about how since the abuse happened at such a key developmental age that it really warped my sense of responsibility. I had been telling her how much it hurt me to see the guilt and regret my parents carry over what happened to me. They say they feel that they really screwed up as parents, and that just kills me. My parents are amazing people, and I love them so much and I have told them over and over that there was nothing they could have done and no way they could have known. Lori said that a big part of the guilt they are feeling is just something they have to work through, but I need to check my motives and see if I am taking responsibility for their emotions.

I am.

I do it all the time. I always feel like if someone around me is unhappy or upset that it is my responsibility to fix it. Lori explained that when the abuse happened (age 6) I was still developing my sense of self.  A child cannot understand that their parent yelled at them because they had a stressful day at work, the child sees the parent getting angry and makes the connection ‘I made Mom angry’. The same happened with me. He abused me for many reasons, none of which were my fault (it feels weird to type that, I still don’t think I completely believe it), but in my six year old mind it was happening because I had done something to deserve it. I took on the shame and responsibility that he should have been carrying. Instead of getting angry at him for crossing boundaries, like most adults would do, I accepted that I was at fault and deserved this treatment at recompense for my mistakes. And it got reinforced over and over. He would get mad at me and I would feel that I deserved his abuse. That I owed him.

And when I finally came forward and tried to get help, everyone turned on me, once again reinforcing the idea that I had done something wrong. I couldn’t understand at age 7/8 any better that those kids were turning on me because of reasons that had nothing to do with the truth, and I put the blame on my heart. I told myself that I was wrong to try and seek help. And every time I was made fun of, teased, or bullied, it reminded me that there was something wrong with me. That I was the reason these people were acting this way. So now I still do this. When someone is mad or hurt I feel personally responsible; I convince myself that it is my fault.

I think the reason why I have been feeling so overwhelmed by the EMDR is by delving into the memories and issues I am truly starting to see how much there is to deal with. It’s one thing to know that I have been through a lot and another thing to lay it all out and look at it closely. Lori has said that given everything I went through, especially given that it was at such key developmental stages, she is amazed at how much I have accomplished with my life. Hearing that felt really nice. I felt validated. To hear a professional say that what I went through was beyond bad isn’t exactly comforting, but realizing that what I have accomplished is all because of me is amazing. Lori said it says a lot about my inner strength and perseverance, as well as my drive to heal, and for the first time I actually acknowledged that part of me. I have always discounted or written off my supposed ‘inner strength’ but for some reason I was finally able to see that at the core of me–below all the struggles and doubts and traumas life has thrown at me–there is a wooden ball of strength that is always, and will always be there. That is my picture of my strength. A small, firm wooden ball, and when I think of it I feel an invigoratingly cool breeze on my face. The kind that makes me feel alive. That picture is me.

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Blessings Overflowing Our Trashcans

This doesn’t have much to do with anything, except that it’s a ministry I am trying to start at my church and I wanted to share. I hope you enjoy.

The idea is simple: give something you don’t need to someone who does. But so many times life gets in the way, and those ‘somethings’ end up in the trash. Most times in our hectic lives the trashcan in the other room makes far more sense than the second hand store across town. It’s no one’s fault. It just seems to happen. But every day, countless resources happen to be wasted. This is just one idea of how we can capture one situation and turn that potential waste into real abundance.

Before the much-anticipated last day of school comes the highly dreaded locker clean-out day. The day when you have to dig through all the debris you’ve accumulated the past eight months. The day you find the granola bar smashed under that book you never read. And somehow you are supposed to throw away all the trash, return all the texts books, and put everything else—even the granola car—in your backpack. All in the twenty minutes allotted.

But your locker organizer can’t possibly fit into your backpack, and you don’t really want the binders full of Biology notes, so you take the stuff you want—the pictures, the cool pens—and the stuff your parents would make you replace—hello scientific calculator—and you pitch the rest. And so do all the other 800 students at your school.

Pens, pencils, notebooks, binders, rulers, all of it is thrown away. Sent off to take up space in a landfill. But what if it wasn’t thrown away? What if among the trash cans there were donation bins? Boxes where the kids can dump their unwanted binders, the protractors they never used. Now the kids have a choice to donate, and it’s a choice that costs them nothing. But by choosing the donation bin over the trash can they are making a very real difference.

The items in those donation bins will be sorted, and yes some of them will be trash. But a good portion of the supplies (about 50% in my experience) will be like-new. These items—which would otherwise be in a landfill—can now be redistributed to children for whom school supplies are an unattainable dream.

In Psalm 23:5 David writes of his cup overflowing with blessings from the Lord. We are in a unique position in that our blessings are so plentiful that they occasionally overflow into our trashcans. By implementing this project, we can redirect the flow of blessings and pour them into the lives of others. With this simple ministry, we will be able to help the cups of others to overflow.

I’m Remembering More

I remember sitting at that low wooden desk with my book, I think it was Henry and Mudge, waiting for my turn to read aloud. I was wearing long sleeves. I think they were light pink. He was pulling at the sleeves, trying to get his hand in them. I was confused, I thought we were going to read. I didn’t think that that was going to happen every time we sat here. I wanted to learn. He kept trying but could get his hand in the sleeve, the wrist was too tight. I could see him getting mad. I remember trying to spread the sleeve out with the fingers of my right hand while still holding my book flat with my left arm. I was worried that we would get caught, worried that I would get called on and not know where we were, worried that I would get in trouble. He could only get his arm part way up my sleeve. He was getting mad. I was scared and confused–I couldn’t understand why we weren’t just reading. I remember thinking that since he couldn’t get his arm up my sleeve he would just let it go, but he didn’t. I don’t know if he went under my shirt or down my pants, but I do remember thinking that instead of getting a break, it was way worse. After that, I stopped wearing long sleeves. At least that way I got to choose how he abused me.

Some Of It Is Starting To Come Back

Yesterday I was so giddy with the fact that the image of the abuse was fading. It’s an amazing feeling. And it still is faded, but it’s a little clearer than it was yesterday. Ever since my EMDR appointment yesterday I’ve been bringing up the image and the thought “It’s over, I am safe now” at random times. Kind of like picking at a scab. I want to make sure it’s healed. I need to test it. Reassure myself. Well earlier today I was lying in bed and brought it up again in my mind, and it wasn’t so reassuring. The image wasn’t super sharp, but I could feel his hand on my arm, which is very alarming. I still know and believe that It’s Over and I am Safe, but I would say it’s a 6 now. I don’t have that ‘want to shout it from the roof-tops’ confidence, and when I bring up the image, it is slightly disturbing again, probably a 5/10. I don’t know if this is normal and it will take a few sessions for the truth to stick permanently, but it’s a little disappointing. Especially to have felt that euphoric sense of release and now for it to be fading. I know that over time that sensation will fade, and I am fine with that, I just don’t want it to be replaced with the disturbing memory of his hand on my arm.

I guess I will bring this up to Lori next week when we talk. Do any of you have any insights into this? I could really use some advise and/or personal insights.

 

It’s Over, I Am Safe Now

Today was EMDR, and this was the first time we did the bilateral stimulation with the trauma memories. Lori had me bring up the image and feelings that I associate with the abuse–A low wooden desk, plastic and metal chairs around it. I’m looking down at my lap. I can see my bright pink sweatpants with the white cord and the desk is covering part of my knees. I was wearing sweatpants because I had learned that he couldn’t get his hand under the elastic, so he would stay out of my pants. I can feel his hand on my right arm, going up the sleeve of my t-shirt. The phrases we had paired with that memory was “I am helpless and alone” and the phrase I want to change it to is “It’s over, I am safe now”.

Lori asked me to rate on a scale from 1 to 7 how true the phrase “It’s over, I am safe now” felt. I said a 2. I knew logically that it was over, but in my heart it didn’t feel that way. Then she asked me to bring up the image and tell her on a scale of 1 to 10 how disturbing it was. Tears burned my eyes and my voice shook as I said “Ten”.

Lori started the bilateral stimulation by having me follow her pen with my eyes while she moved it horizontally at varying speeds, all while I kept the image in my head along with the phrase “It’s over and I am safe now”. Every time she stopped she asked me to tell her what impression I was getting. It could be anything, from a color, to a physical sensation, to an image. I just had to be honest. I don’t remember all of my responses, but I know some of them were ‘blurry’, clouds, and clouds with a little red kite.  With each new impression, she had me focus on that impression, so it was kind of like a chain leading away from the original image. After a while she asked me to again rate how true the phrase “It’s over, I am safe now” felt. This time it was at a 4. She asked me to bring up the original image of the trauma and the phrase “It’s over, I am safe now” and I couldn’t find the image in my mind.

I COULDN’T FIND THE IMAGE!!!!

This is something that has haunted me for 19 years, and in the span of a half an hour, I went from crying when I thought of it, to not being able to find the image. I was completely thrown. I told Lori what I was experiencing, explaining that it was like when you are searching for a specific word and it’s on the tip of your tongue but you just can’t reach it. She told me to close my eyes and take my time and bring up what I could of the image and when I had that paired with the phrase “It’s over, I am safe now” to open my eyes and follow her pen, concentrating on those two thoughts. I did manage to find the image, but it seemed almost faded, like it was a memory, not reality. It didn’t have all the details I could see just minutes ago. I knew that there were scratches on the wooden tabletop, but I couldn’t see them. I knew my pink sweatpants had a white drawstring, but I couldn’t see it. I knew his hand was on my arm, but I couldn’t feel it. When her pen stopped, she had me take a deep breath in and out, and asked me to rate how true it felt. This time it was a 6. I told her how it felt true, but there was still this little part of me that was holding back, that wasn’t breaking through.

We repeated the exercise, and when I let out my deep breath my eyes filled with tears and I felt a huge smile on my face. It was a 7. I started laughing and crying. I am safe. I couldn’t believe I’ve never felt this way before. I AM SAFE! IT’S OVER AND I AM SAFE!!!!!! I was practically giddy. I wanted to run through the street laughing, I felt so amazing. Part of me never truly believed I would feel this way. When our session was done, Lori and I were talking and she said how she could see the joy on my face. That’s what I feel. Joy. I have a part of myself back that I never thought possible. I still don’t think it has completely sunk in. I want to run up to everyone I know and tell them how awesome of a day this is, how much I have gained. I AM SAFE!!!!!! It’s just so amazing.

When I stopped laughing and crying, Lori had me visualize the ‘safe place’ I had created in one of our earlier sessions (a forest with the sun shining through the trees) and to describe any changes I could see or feel. It looked the same, but it wasn’t. It was still a pleasant place, but it didn’t do anything special for me. It wasn’t a sanctuary, a retreat. I felt like I had outgrown it. Lori asked if a new safe place came to mind, and instantly the thought of being with Rob came to mind. I have never thought of a safe place with another person. It’s always been just me. But the thought of us together, just laughing and talking and being together made me feel amazing. I could feel myself smiling. Lori asked how that image made me feel. Loved, safe–truly safe–warm, happy, complete, whole. She asked me to assign a word to that image and feelings, and I chose Love. My safe place is now the love I share with my husband. It’s not me hiding out on my own, it’s being close and sharing my heart with the man I love. This is only the beginning of my EMDR journey, and I already feel I have been blessed beyond measure. As I am writing this I am smiling with pure joy and my eyes are filled with tears because I never thought I could feel this way. I can’t thank God enough for what He has done for me, nor can I thank all the people who have and continue to support me. I love you all.

 

Laura