Apologies to Wilco for borrowing the title of their amazing album for this post. It just worked. I am hoping you’ll think of it as flattery, rather than unabashed plagiarism.
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During my EMDR therapy session today, I had one of the most profound experiences I have ever had. Some of what is written, I have written about before this post, but I include it here because I think it is necessary to demonstrate how I arrived at the realization that I found so healing.
I recently requested some “touch-up” sessions of EMDR because my PTSD symptoms were retriggered after the holidays, and I simply have too much to do to live in the abyss. My regular therapist was kind enough to orchestrate this all for me, and my EMDR therapist, Hilary, was kind enough to work with me again, though she is a supervisor of the therapists at the Center and does not generally DO the therapy. Hilary is truly gifted. I’ve seen several therapists, and she is just one of those people to whom I look at and think, “Some people choose this job, but this job choose you. You are truly meant to be doing this with your life.” It is an honor to be able to work with her, and I feel enormous gratitude for Hilary, and her talents.
If you want a little background information about what happens in EMDR, you can look it up here:
My experience with EMDR therapy was a little different than what is described in the link above, but generally the same. For instance, I was not asked to formulate a positive belief about myself to replace the negative belief. My therapist had me come up with imagery instead. As you will see, the imagery sort of sneaked up on me and caused me to realize that I possessed some positive beliefs that I had no idea were in my thick noggin’.
Also, I used hand buzzers that buzzed alternately, rather than the eye-tracking. One can use any form of alternating bilateral stimulation: tactile (I used hand buzzers), visual (eyes track the therapist’s fingers as they move left to right), or auditory (earphones that give tones alternately, left and right etc.). The dual stimulation serves to keep one rooted in the present while one recalls the past, and also encourages reprocessing of the trauma because the alternating stimulation causes more of the brain to be utilized during recall. In trauma, it is believed (by some) that the higher brain centers close down, therefore, the traumatic events go partially unprocessed by the higher centers, leaving the traumatic memories sort of “pocketed” in the reptilian brain and/or physically in the body. I hope I described that accurately. It’s a complex topic that is difficult to summarize in a few sentences, so apologies to EMDR therapists everywhere if I blew this.
I originally thought I would want to do the eye-tracking, because even in the midst of the initial horror of finding Alice dead, I could tell my eyes were going haywire. It was very clear to me that my eyes were tracking wildly at that time. But the first time I did EMDR (in the fall of 2013), when it came time for me to try out the three forms of dual stimulation, all I could think about as my therapist moved her fingers to-and-fro was “I feel so bad that she is going to have to do that for two hours.” I knew I was going to sit there the entire time feeling bad for my therapist, and that this would most certainly detract from my progress. So, I tried the earphones. Hated them. They made it hard for me to focus on what I was thinking/feeling/saying. I liked the hand buzzers fine, so I used those. In the end, I loved them. I wish I could walk around with them all day. You know, put them inside some mittens and let them buzz me all day long. If I thought I could get away with it without someone 5150-ing me, I would be walking around with buzzing gloves all damn day, people. They begin to feel like a security blanket after a while.
February 5th was the second of my touch-up sessions; the first session had been January 29th. That session was an hour long session, and we did the set-up, so to speak. This prep is generally done over two sessions, but since I had done this before, we were able to do what we needed to do in one session. I told Hilary what had triggered me and how it was affecting me—my friend’s friend had performed CPR on his teenage daughter who had hung herself—and that this story had triggered my intrusive images of doing CPR on Alice, and had caused other PTSD symptoms to re-surface for me as well. In EMDR, you don’t spend a lot of time on the talking part, the “briefing” part. You go over just enough so that the therapist has an idea of where you might go once it’s showtime, so to speak. During that first session, I also tried various frequencies and intensities of the hand buzzers, and Hilary noted my preferences.
Lastly, in the first session, Hilary directed me to choose some imagery that may serve to ground me when and if re-living the memories became too intense. This imagery formation goes rather quickly, or at least it did for me. You never know what you going to choose until you hear it come out of your mouth, really. It’s pretty fascinating what our mind will do if you let it loose every now and then. Once I chose an image, we would turn on the buzzers while I thought of it. Hilary calls it “tapping it in.”
She asked me to come with a Calming image, so I did.
Calming Image: I am seated in a meadow in tall grass, facing North, I believe. There are mountains off to the north and slightly west, and stream directly in front of me, nine or ten feet away. I can’t see the stream, because the grass is so high, but I know it’s there. I can hear it. It babbles on sweetly past me and then to the southeast. There are little pink flowers on various blades of grass that look like bluebonnets, except that they are pink. Alice was there, directly ahead of me, playing in the grass, plodding along. Happy. Not really paying much attention to me, but I knew she knew I was there. I sat there, smiling, watching her play. I had an entirely different calming scene the first time I did EMDR.
Hilary asked if I thought it might be problematic to have Alice involved in my calming image, because the work I was doing was related to far less serene images of Alice. I told her I didn’t think so, but that we could re-think it if necessary. I could tell that she didn’t think it was a good idea, but she let me go with it anyway. She turned on the buzzers, and I thought about the scene while they buzzed. “Tapping it in” occurs after each of the following imagery formations as well.
Next, she asked me to form a Nurturing Image: This image was the same as above, except I was leaning back against a man with a strong chest. His arms held me, in a strong, yet loving and relaxed fashion. I was very relaxed as I leaned into his chest and we watched Alice play. I could not see his face, but I knew that I knew him well. Very well. Maybe I’ve known him forever.
Next, the Protective Image: Same scene, except the man gets up from behind me and calmly walks in front of me, his giant sword drawn. It is only then that I see a gang of about 15 men coming toward us, very close. My man raised his sword to his left, then swept right, and in one fell swoop beheaded 15 men. I was not alarmed in the image. I was not scared. Nor was he. He just calmly walked over and beheaded fifteen people without breaking a sweat, as you do. He then calmly came back behind me and took me in his arms. Alice walked toward us, also calmly.
I realize that that is one helluva an image, but it is the one that came to me, so I stuck with it.
Next, I was to formulate a Wise Person Image: I saw two people—a man and a woman. I asked Hilary if that was OK. She said yes, but I still felt a little like a pain in the ass because I could not seem to follow simple instructions when it came to imagery formulation. Or maybe my problem is substantial enough that a solitary Wise Person just will not do. I guess I needed a Wise Couple. Nonetheless, my image was as strong as Hilary’s resolve to just let my mind “do its thing,” so we went with my rogue vision.
Lastly, I was to formulate an image of putting my intrusive thoughts/disturbing thoughts regarding Alice into a container. I had a difficult time with this one, which was a bit frustrating because the other images came so quickly, so immediately. I was to put my disturbing thoughts into a container, so that I could take them out when I needed to deal with them, but they were not with me all of the time so that I could function. I saw a big dark leather chest. The chest and I were in a room I have never seen before, in a small house, maybe even a hut. I imagined placing my intrusive images in the chest, but I had trouble doing this. I had trouble locking it up. I had trouble leaving it alone. I conveyed this to Hilary. Hilary suggested I try putting the chest in a closet or something to see if that helped me leave it. I thought it did.
But when I returned the second week, on February 5, I couldn’t seem to work the chest image again. I realized that this was because I felt that shoving aside any memory of Alice, even the traumatic ones, felt like I was betraying her, and I conveyed this to Hilary with wet eyes. Without batting an eye, Hilary asked what might help me feel OK about setting the traumatic images aside. I erupted into tears, and said, “I just don’t think I can. It feels like such a massive betrayal of her, and it just goes against every motherly cell of my body.” I became inconsolable. I was doubled over crying. Again, without batting an eye, Hilary said, “What about a column of light? You can put the traumatic memories in there, and get in there with them, and bring Alice too, if you like?” I liked that.
So, we tapped that in. I felt better.
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During the February 5 session, I asked Hilary what the body stuff was all about. Meaning, why did my entire body get so damn sore when I was triggered? I told her what my regular therapist, Meredith, had said about the higher brain centers closing down in a trauma, and Hilary agreed that this happened with some regularity. I told her Meredith had recommended the book In An Unspoken Voice, which I had purchased, but had not yet read. Hilary explained some things about how/where/why the body might store trauma, which is fascinating, and is the definitely the next topic on which I will be geeking out.
She asked what my body felt like during the trauma. I said that I really had no awareness of my body at all until the moment I was pulled away so that the paramedics could have access to Alice. At that time, I was pulled back, about five feet away from Alice, but I recall that my body was slanted forward, as if I were lying face down in a cone. It was the first moment I was “away” from her since finding her. Hilary said that it sounded as if I were being pulled in two directions. YES. Exactly. I hadn’t thought of that before. I told her that I felt as if I were in that carnival ride with centrifugal force, where you get sucked back to the wall and the floor drops. Try as you might, you can’t lean away from the wall. When you find your child dead, you most certainly feel like the floor dropped out from under you. I felt as if I were on that carnival ride at the moment I found myself standing back to let the paramedics do their job, except I did not feel spinning, just the pull back, and the floor drop.
Hilary asked where I wanted to start. By start, I mean that we pick a part of the traumatic event that seems to be troubling me, and that is what I start to talk, or think, about when she turns on the buzzers. I prefer to talk, because I have found that sometimes I don’t know that I know something until I hear myself say it. She suggested that maybe we start at the CPR, because that is what triggered me. When I arranged to begin EMDR again, I would have completely agreed that was the place to start. After all, that was most definitely what had triggered my little breakdown after the holidays. But I felt like my little three week episode may have dealt with it, because at that moment I seemed to be thinking more about the part right after that, the part where I was pulled back. For good measure, we decided that I was going to start where I was doing CPR, but I was going to go through the part where I was pulled back, at the very least.
Now, I dive right in during EMDR. I do not hold back. I do not dip my toe in. I go right in there, all the way, and I let it rip. I do not fear “going there.” I fear, instead, living the rest of my life crippled by not going there. So I dive right in. I don’t know if other people do, but I do. I guess I figure, I’m here, I have this amazing person willing to do this for me for almost no money, and I can’t live in the state I’ve been in, so I’m just going to dive right in. I suppose I’ve always been a “dive right into my emotions” kinda gal anyway. Which is good for my mental health, or so I’m told, but probably didn’t feel so good for the young men I dated as a young woman. I’d apologize, but screw you guys, for you probably deserved it, and the fact that I wasn’t able to hide my feelings was probably good for you as well (in the long run at least). Anyway, I’m friends with most of you now, so I guess we all muddled through, somehow.
But I digress.
We started. I took a deep breath, and went back in time.
I recall doing CPR on Alice. On my baby. Thirty thrusts, then two breaths, at the tempo of the disco hit “Staying Alive,” the pace suggested by the folks that teach CPR. Can I just say that whoever had the idea to tie that song to CPR has never done CPR on their child. It’s so fucked up that I can barely think about it. It made me angry as I did it. But I did it.
I grew Alice in my belly for nine months, then I fed her with my breasts for a year, and now I was trying to use my breath to bring her back to life. Belly to the breast to the breath. “I can do this. I can do this,” I thought. But this was not how I thought I was going to spend my Tuesday. This was not how I thought I was going to spend any day of my life. I did chest thrusts and internally counted 1-2-3-4 because by now 911 was on speakerphone and my neighbor was here, and they were both talking. Thin, red, watery stuff started coming out of Alice’s nose and mouth. I screamed to the person on the other end of the phone that this was happening as I counted out chest thrusts….25-26-27…..They screamed at me to keep going…29-30. I gave her two breaths. She had changed color by now; she was no longer blue. There were wheezing sounds. Could it be working? I did not think it would really work when I started, but she was my beloved child so I had to try, and it seemed like it might possibly be working… 11-12-13-14….She’ll surely have brain damage if she does survive. The chances of finding her blue and stiff and surviving without brain damage was very, very low, I reasoned…. 17-18-19-20….. More stuff leaked out of her face. I screamed this out loud as I counted internally. My neighbor took over the phone and screamed that there was red, watery stuff coming out of her nose and mouth. Was it the watermelon she had for breakfast, the only food she’d take that day? Had she been dead so long that autolysis had started? Were her cells decomposing? Oh, shit, was this decomposing cellular matter from my child? 24-25-26-27…. The emergency operator screamed to keep going. I kept going. I kept going. I have studied anatomy and physiology, hell, I have taught anatomy and physiology, I have seen hundreds if not thousands of surgical procedures, but I had no idea what the hell was coming out of her face. Should I be doing this? Am I making it worse? 29-30-breath-breath.
I was hysterically crying as I recounted this scene. I went in so far, it was like I was there again. But the buzzers let me know, “You are not there. You are here, now” so I soldiered on.
I have never been so focused in my life as I was in those moments I was doing CPR on my child. I have never been so “in the moment.”
I continued: I looked up and saw two firemen coming up my steps. I saw their expressions change ENTIRELY when they saw my face. I could tell, in one instant, that they went from thinking they were coming into a garden-variety situation into realizing they were walking into a very serious situation. I cried something at them, but didn’t stop doing CPR. I didn’t stop.
Someone told me to stand back. I did. Or, I think I did. I remember feeling pulled back. But I am not sure that there was an actual human that pulled me back. I felt as if I were pulled back by some unknown force. I stood directly under the archway between then living room and the dining area. No one told me where to stand, but, like a child in elementary school, I found a line, a line on the floor, under the arch and I stood there, toes on the imaginary line. I felt as if I were leaning forward, as if lying face down in a narrow cone, but pulled back at the same time. I felt as if someone pulled me back to that line, that imaginary line in the floor, but I have no idea if anyone actually pulled me there or not. It is possible that a fireman pulled me back; I just have no idea, no recollection of how I arrived there. Odd, because everything else about that time is so clear, and so emblazoned in my mind. Once I was still, I noticed that my eyes were darting all around, like prey. Except nothing was after me. I have a very clear memory of standing on that line, feeling simultaneously pulled toward Alice and away, noticing that my eyes were wildly scanning the scene.
I purposefully refocused my eyes on Alice, on my beautiful daughter. There were two firemen. One to the left of Alice that had gear, and one right next to her, assessing the situation. I saw the gear-guy hand an oxygen mask to the Alice-guy. “Oh my God, there is hope. Is there hope? Really??” I thought. The Alice-guy took the oxygen mask very slowly. “Why so slowly? If there is hope, go faster dammit!” I thought. The Alice-guy gave a look to the gear-guy as he absent-mindedly placed the mask over Alice’s tiny face. “If you are going to do it, do it right!” I thought. They spoke no words, but I knew what the look meant. The look meant, “Are we really going to do this? Are we really going to give hope to this poor mother?” And then the Alice-guy looked up at me with a face full of dread and empathy and said it. I didn’t catch exactly what he said at first, but it ended with, “……….I’m so sorry.”
I collapsed on the floor in a heap as I released an inhuman cry. I was shocked that I was capable of such a sound. I heard myself make the sound, and wondered I how produced it, even I was making it. Was this me? It was like I was both me, and an observer of me. Wild. I may or may not have hit the ground with my fists. (I am fairly certain that I hit the ground with my fists.) I immediately thought, “Why are you so upset, Melissa? You knew. You knew. You knew. You knew, but you needed them to tell you to be sure, because you hoped. You hoped. You hoped. You hoped.”
Well, Melissa, you were upset, of course, because your daughter had just fucking died for no apparent reason, and without warning.
She died? She’s dead? She’s dead.
WHAT THE HELL?!
WHAT. THE. HELL?!?!
I was in hysterics as I recalled this part of the scene.
I continued: I was on the floor under the archway that still proudly bore her birthday banner from her party just ten days ago. “But it was just her birthday!!’ I screamed. I guess, in my state of shock, I thought she couldn’t have died if it was just her birthday. She couldn’t have died if her birthday stuff was still up. If her birthday cards were still all over the piano. If her birthday dinosaurs were still at the dinosaur lake chatting up the tiny princesses in toy cars, as they do. These should have protected her from death, my shocked brain apparently thought.
Magical thinking, that’s what that was. It’s part of the grieving deal. It’s so annoying to discover that you have some predictable responses to tragedy. Why? Mainly, because you never think this will happen to YOU in the first damn place, so having any predictable response is just further evidence that you are not beyond the hands of fate, I suppose.
I continued: When I started screaming that it was her birthday, I saw a fireman, about six foot four, with his face in the corner, shoulders shaking. He was not just crying, he was REALLY crying. “Oh my God,” I thought. “This is really bad. REALLY BAD. Something happened in my house that is so bad that this giant man, who sees terrible shit every day, is in my corner crying.” Of course, I already knew that Alice being dead was very, very bad, but for some reason seeing all these giant, tough, guys crying really drove that home in an unpredictable way.
When I went to that line, it was the first time I had stepped back from the situation, both literally and figuratively. I was totally IN it, and then I was five feet back. Part of me wanted to stay in it, stay with her—I was her mother, after all. The other part knew I had to step back so they could do their job. They were professionals, after all. Although I also have professional CPR training, I did not have gear, I was related to the victim, and it’s not ideal to work on a family member, so they say. They would be right, in this case. It was certainly not ideal, and it ended up being a huge part of what traumatized me in the end.
But I had no choice. I had to try. If I hadn’t tried CPR on my darling daughter, I could have never lived with myself. No way.
The moment I went to the line on the floor in my home after the firemen arrived was the moment I ceded control. The moment I realized I had no control over the situation, and just prior to realizing that I didn’t have any control over a damn thing in this entire world.
I continued: I recall sitting outside alone, in the middle of the night, after she died. The two men inside the house were sleeping. I didn’t have to lie down to know that I wasn’t going to sleep. I was more awake than I have ever been in my life, perhaps. But, I was a zombie. I just sat and stared and tried to take in what had just happened. It was so quiet now, so quiet, after all that horrific hubbub. I felt empty. Literally empty. As if my body were hollow, formless. I felt as if I consisted of a giant, heavy head that was slumped over a stake that ran through the area where my abdomen would be if I still had a body. I could see my limbs moving, but I had no consciousness of moving them, nor of them being attached to what I knew as “me.” I watched my arms move and thought, “Am I making them move? How? Why? And why can’t I feel them. I can’t feel my limbs.” I had no awareness of sending the commands to my arms to move. Nor could I feel them. It felt like my body was just a faint, wispy outline. My body did not feel solid. It also felt larger, more spacious, just not solid. Airy. As if I were made of light and air. I watched my body move, and did not feel like it was my body. I felt like I had nothing to do with it.
A bit later, I still had the “heavy-head-slumped-over-a-stake” feeling and noticed that I felt as if I had a hole in my chest, as if there were a hole in my heart. Actually, it was more like a hole had replaced my heart, for I had no image or feeling of a heart. Bizarre. You hear people talk of this and it all sounds like sappy bullshit, but there I was feeling it. When I drew my attention to the hole in my chest where a heart should be, I saw a black cavern with crazy neon lights blasting through it. The lights were similar in color to the colors used in the old Lite-Brite toys. I saw mainly pink and green and yellow and blue streaming through like electrons. I thought, “That’s love.” I was sober as a judge at this point, so I have no idea what brought on this bizarre vision.
I realized that I had become an observer of myself, my experience, my feelings, and wondered if this is what “they” are talking about when they tell you what to aim for during meditation: to become an observer of your experience. If so, why did I pick such a shitty moment to become an observer of my experience? Why couldn’t I have done this in India, or in meditation class where there are pretty pillows, nice incense, and a lady with a soothing voice? What the fuck is wrong with me that I didn’t learn my lesson in a less costly way? What the fuck is wrong with me that my daughter had to die before I would get it?
I was shouting and crying hysterically as I said these things out loud. I was doubled over crying as I spoke these words. I was a mess, frankly.
Hilary calmly asked me what my wise people would have to say to these questions of mine. I asked if I could lie down. She said yes, so I quickly reclined on the short couch, with my legs bent over the far arm.
I reclined and tried to get quiet so I could hear my wise people. I saw my two wise people. The woman was on my left, in blue, and looked somewhat like a 70s version of a woman, but in medieval attire. The man, looking somewhat wizardly, was on the right. They smiled compassionate smiles at me.
As they spoke, I spoke aloud to Hilary. They said, “That isn’t how it works, and you know it. You have the order wrong. It is not that you chose not to learn your lesson, so she died. It is that she died, and now you can choose to learn a lesson, or not. You can choose to love, or not. You can choose to live, or not. She did not die because of anything you did, or did not do. She died. And the only choice you have in the matter is about how YOU are going to live.”
As soon as I uttered those words aloud, I felt as if a hand released its grip on my neck. I hadn’t been aware that I felt as if I were being choked prior, but I had a clear feeling of being released from the grip of a hand. I then felt, and saw, a thick, heavy blanket of black goo being peeled off of my chest. My entire body relaxed noticeably after this. I felt so relaxed that my head dropped over to the left, because of the placement on the crappy therapy couch cushions. I relayed these feelings to Hilary, minus the harsh judgment of the crappiness of the couch.
She asked me to go to my nurturing scene. I did. I felt myself release back into the big chest and arms behind me — a true and full release. I was relaxed, content, and at peace. We watched Alice play in the meadow. I noted how it felt to lean back into the man. I was no longer pulled forward and simultaneously back. I was relaxed. I let go. I truly let go into the man behind me. I experienced that feeling of letting go for a moment or two. Just then, I saw, and felt, Alice crawl up onto my chest and nuzzle her head into my neck and right shoulder—the place she nestled in every night at bedtime. The scene went black except I could see Alice’s head, and I could feel her little body on mine, and my body against the larger body behind me. She whispered, “I love you, Mama.”
We sat there for some time. Relaxed. So relaxed.
Whole. I felt whole.
I then realized that my entire struggle in the aftermath of Alice’s death, stemmed from the nanosecond where I was separated from my daughter. The nanosecond where I stepped away from her. In the nanosecond I stepped away from her, I ceded control over the situation, or, more accurately, the illusion of control over the situation. In that nanosecond, I saw the situation from the outside for the first time. In that nanosecond, I was no longer holding my daughter. I was no longer “in it.” But not just that: in that split nanosecond, I had clearly assumed full responsibility for her death. In that split nanosecond, I felt torn between feeling I needed to step back to let them do their job and feeling like I needed to go to her, to do SOMETHING, because I was her mother. And in the next nanosecond, it was confirmed that she was dead. In that next nanosecond, I discovered that we were not only separated by five or six feet of floor space, but also by space and time, life and death, and possibly other dimensions.
The separation. THAT was the problem. The separation from Alice—physically and spiritually. The separation of myself—simultaneously torn between wanting to go to her, and realizing that I had to let the firemen do their job. The separation of my psyche—feeling that I should have control over the situation, yet knowing that I had no control over the situation. Feeling that, as her mother, I was existentially responsible for her death, yet knowing sometimes no amount of motherly love can save a child.
It’s the separation, stupid.
And all of these layers of separation had manifested in my body, which remembered this struggle of feeling pulled forward and backward simultaneously, and thus caused my physical symptoms.
Wow. The mind-body connection is no freakin’ joke.
As I sat there in my Nurturing Scene relaxing with Alice and the man behind me, I felt myself begin to smile. I spontaneously and immediately began to recall happy memories of Alice. I recalled how she was so friendly to everyone. I recalled how we called her “The Mayor” because she talked to everyone, but didn’t want those folks to touch her. I recalled what an easy baby she was. She was just so easy to care for, so easy to love, so easy to be around. Alice was almost entirely devoid of strife. Easy. And now, I felt at ease as well. I could tell I was smiling as I recounted these things to Hilary. And though my eyes were closed, and Hilary was muttering only “mmm-hmms” etc. I could hear a smile in her voice as well. This made me feel good.
I had never smiled before in EMDR, so I felt like I was onto something. I kept at it, and Hilary just let me rip.
I wondered aloud if Alice any idea of all the love that had been sent forth to me in her absence. If she knew how much love had poured through our home in the days and months after her death. I wondered if she knew how deeply I loved her then, and now. I wondered if she had any idea of how much more deeply I can love now, after going through this awful experience, and how I wish to God I could have learned to love more deeply in any other way. Any other way. I wondered if she had any idea of how many people loved her. If she had any idea how many notes I get from friends and if she knew how many hundreds of notes I have received from total strangers telling me that they loved Alice, and me, and Grace. Does she know she was basically a little Harbinger of Love, I wondered aloud.
As soon as I said that, I saw, and felt, Alice crawl up higher onto my chest. She whispered in my ear, “I know, Mama.”
I felt like I exploded into stars.
I cried, but this time it was happy tears, and the tears were not accompanied by any physical tension at all. I just felt happy and like water was coming out of my happy face.
I felt whole. And relaxed. And a peaceful happiness that defies description.
I marveled that the entire basis for every struggle I have had in my “grieving process” (insert Archie Bunker raspberry here) stemmed from the nanosecond I realized I was separated from her, both spiritually and physically. The separation from my daughter was the core issue. OF COURSE. OF COURSE. OF COURSE. I mean, duh, really. It was the reason my subconscious mind placed her in the calming scene, despite my therapist not thinking that was a good idea. It was why I just couldn’t remove her from the scene, despite being a person that really likes to “get things right” for my elders/mentors. It was why I couldn’t put the traumatic images of her away in a box, or hide the box, I could only deal with the box when it became a stream of light that included the traumatic memories, as well as both Alice and myself. It was why I felt psychologically stuck at the moment I was pulled away from her after performing CPR, despite the fact that my latest trigger had been the CPR itself. It’s why I felt pulled in two directions, and why I felt full body pain when I am triggered. It is why when I finally accepted that I did not kill her by “not learning my lesson,” I felt myself relax. And when I gave that up, she CAME TO ME.
I accepted the separation without guilt or blame, and then she came to me. We were no longer separated.
# # #
It seems so obvious in the re-telling, and it probably seems so obvious to you, the reader, but you don’t get it until you get it. You can “get it” with your head, but you don’t really “get it” until you get it with your entire body, mind, and soul. You don’t get it until you have that “aha moment.” The aha moment is a full body thing. Even your pinkie finger gets it in an aha moment. Even your red blood cells get it in an aha moment.
And still, it absolutely BLOWS MY MIND that when I got to the part where I relinquished existential responsibility for her death, that I was able to release into the arms behind me. I could only let go once I stopped blaming myself, for real. And it further blows my mind that once I did let go, once I did lean back, SHE. CAME. TO. ME. and I no longer felt separated. I felt whole for the first time in over a year and a half. I am still amazed, a week later now, that the minute I accepted this, the moment I let go, was the moment she came to me in my mind. I let go of guilt, and she came to me.
In other words: We were never separated, except by my own self-flagellation.
My traumatized mind became stuck on the separation, and so that is what bore out in my body, and in my psychology. Subsequently, it was the mental construct of separation that was really causing the separation. Alice, and the love of Alice, was there all along for me to access whenever I could get past my own self-punishing mentality.
The brain is a wonderland and the mind-body connection never ceases to amaze me. It’s amazing.
All of this stemmed from ONE NANOSECOND. Your life really can change in an instant, and your ability to reframe it can change in a nanosecond also. One has to hope that life can change for the better in a nanosecond as well, and that you aren’t too clueless to notice it when that happens.
I knew, in those moments during my EMDR session, how profound, yet seemingly obvious, my realizations were. It seems so ridiculous to have “profound” and “obvious” in the same sentence, but I’m sticking with it and don’t try to stop me. I suppose all deep realizations have a touch of “HOW DID I NOT REALIZE THIS BEFORE?!” to them.
I was relaxed all day, after my EMDR session. I mean, I was relaxed as I have ever been, and still functional. I was as relaxed as I was the time I received a Watsu massage–which is one of the top five best things that has ever happened to me, and left me thinking “MAMA” for the duration of the massage—except now I was that relaxed and going about my business. I am fairly certain I have never been productive at the level of relaxation I sported that day. I had not slept for more than four-hour chunks in weeks, but I knew I was going to sleep that night. I could tell.
I slept seven hours straight for the first time in ten weeks that night. I continue to sleep soundly. Although some neck tension has returned, it is nowhere near previous levels, and I no longer have pain throughout my entire body.
And I’ve been able to maintain a new level of relaxation ever since that day.
It is perhaps the most therapeutic hour of my life. It was a game-changer. I knew it while it was unfolding, and I can see it bearing out in my life. Actually, that’s not accurate. The first time I did EMDR, it was a game-changer. A huge game changer. This session of EMDR was a life-changer.
None of this could have happened without a lot of trust between patient and therapist. I have to trust the therapist to lead me in the right way, to know when to redirect me, to know when to let me just go, and to know when I needed one of my grounding images to get me off the course of self-blame and negativity. And she had to trust me enough to let me leave Alice in my images, though she clearly did not think this wise at first. I could tell she was allowing me to do something that was perhaps unconventional in the session, but our mutual trust really took us somewhere. It took us to one of the most profound realizations I have ever had in my life.
Alice was dead when I found her, I know now, but the moment I stepped away, the moment I watched the firemen do what they do, was the moment I REALLY understood the level of separation that had just occurred in my house. In the end, I just really, really wanted Alice with me. Duh. I mean, really: Duh. I wanted her with me so badly, I could not even place the traumatic images of her aside. My subconscious mind would not allow it. I. Just. Could. Not. Do. It. And once I included her in the images, I came to a place where I understood that the separation was not my fault, and I leaned back and let go. This paid off, for when I came to the place where I let go, she came to me. She came to me, and all my physical symptoms evaporated. My tears immediately dried. My heart rate dropped 20 points. I was breathing deeply again. I relaxed. I felt love. I felt loved.
I guess you really do have to step back from the situation, in order to “get it” sometimes.
I can’t stop thinking about what my wise people told me: “….now you can choose to learn a lesson, or not. You can choose to love, or not. You can choose to live, or not.”
I choose to learn my lessons. I choose to live. And I choose to love, and be loved, as deeply as is humanly possible. And will do this to honor both of my daughters, because I love them both. And I now know, in my bones, that the only thing that can separate me from them, is my own self-blame, my own guilt, my own negativity. When I love, when I love anyone, and when I am loved in return, my girls are both there, with me. Always.
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Anyway, so that was my big reveal in my EMDR session. Again, it seems so obvious in the re-telling, but it changed my life course, and this is why I will continue to raise money for EMDR training through my Agastock concert. I could raise it for SUDC, sure. But SUDC is a big problem, with a bottomless budget, and the amount I can raise with a little concert can go so much further at the Southern California Counseling Center’s Trauma Treatment Program. And, for now at least, I feel better about doing something that can have some fairly immediate results. I can’t bring Alice back no matter what I do, no matter how much money I raise for SUDC research. But if I can help bring even one grieving mother back from the edge of a cliff because she has access to therapy she wouldn’t otherwise be able to obtain, well then, I can feel a lot better about living.