It’s been a while since I’ve mentioned anything about my progress in EMDR therapy, as I’ve mostly just been building the relationship with this new therapist. I was definitely skeptical of her for a while. But, she is starting to grow on me. I’ve still asked J (my group therapist, who is leaving her position as leader of the group) if I can go on her waitlist; however, I am remaining open to things working out okay with K.
Today was my 5th session with K and it went pretty well. Up until this point we’ve mostly been touching the surface of some of the things that have happened to me, to give her a broad idea of what we are working with. We’ve done some safety planning (always a good thing for me to have). And, we covered some grounding skills to use with self-bilateral stimulation (tapping). Today I got to practice with the “buzzies.” The little contraption that goes in both hands and alternates vibrations. It was an interesting experience, nowhere near as scary as I thought it would be. I was terrified to even give this a try, which is why we pushed it until now, so I’m hoping that maybe sharing my experiences as I go can help demystify the process for others.
We started very simply with the thought of a painful memory that has been causing a good bit of my insomnia in the present. I just thought about it, we didn’t start talking about it yet. She respects the need to go slow. We talked about how the brain has spent so long avoiding the thoughts and traumas that we only need to dip our toes in and then come back from the memories. She doesn’t ever want to risk retraumatizing her clients.
As I thought about the memory we addressed what body sensations accompanied the thoughts. At first I couldn’t articulate them. She tried to help me simplify the feelings by using colors or symbols or some non-verbal association but that isn’t how my brain processes so it didn’t really help me. Eventually I settled on it feeling like a “hollowness” in my belly. After identifying the feeling, she asked me if I was ready to talk about the memory. I said, “I guess we can try.” I don’t think she was convinced because we then talked about how to let her know if I’m becoming dissociated. She suggested a hand gesture but I found that silly as I’m still able to articulate when I’m far away. She explained that a lot of people aren’t able to use words when in that state but that if I am then we can proceed with the understanding that I will tell her when it becomes too much.
We never got around to actually talking about the memory, which is fine with me. We explored the body sensations a little further. I identified tension in my shoulders and a feeling of agitation. Before she turned the “buzzies” on, she asked me to picture what those sensations might look like as colors. I saw them as little pieces of yarn all tangled up inside of me. They were red, aqua, yellow, and black. We then visualized pulling all of those feelings out of my body and balling them up all nice and tight in front of me. At this point, she turned on the buzzers to simulate bilateral stimulation (a fancy word for engaging both sides of the brain). She had me picture a container. I imagined an old wooden chest, kind of like a pirates chest. It was reinforced with sturdy metal and had a hefty steel lock. She asked me to imagine putting the ball of feelings into the container and locking the box. She said, “you have the key and get to choose when you return to the feelings.” Then she said I can hide the box wherever I’d like. So, I visualized the box on a ship, sailing off into the distance, becoming smaller and smaller. That was it; we were done.
We started small today, just putting some tools in place for when we go further. But, I have to say, I’m intrigued. I did the same exercise with C, but without the buzzers. And I got nothing from it. The images in my head didn’t feel tangible. This time I had this really strange, warm sensation afterward. It wasn’t bad strange, just unfamiliar. I’m definitely interested enough to see where this can go in the future and I’m glad I finally gave the bilateral stimulation a chance. I didn’t fail at it like I thought I would. And neither of us walked away from the experience thinking I was a hopeless cause, like I imagined would happen. It was rather benign.
My next session, unfortunately, falls on my 30th birthday, since it is exactly a week from today. And we’ve decided Thursdays at noon will be my normal time. She made a joke about therapy that day being the highlight of my day, which is silly of course. But, I don’t hate the idea of starting my day out there and ending it on campus at my second grad class for the week.