Confessions XII


My therapist made me cry today. She proposed a new therapy for my anxiety. “It’s called EMDR, which stands for Eye Movement…Desensitization…Let me see, I can’t remember what the R stands for. Let me just go get the paper. That’ll make it a lot easier.”

She told me that oftentimes panic or anxiety attacks stem from a traumatic experience way back in ones childhood that one re-lives in the present. It is re-lived in the sense that you feel the same feelings you did when the trauma happened minus the actual event. My heart started beating more rapidly as the thought occurred to me that maybe something traumatic had happened to me that I couldn’t remember.

“There are 8 phases to the treatment,” she said, reading off of a paper in her hand. Several seconds of silence passed as she scanned down the page before she read to me the first phase. “Sorry, my last client – that was really intense,” she said as if to excuse her absentmindedness. When she got back her bearing, she said, “Now I want you to think about the most recent emotionally disturbing event, and then come up with an image of it.”

I imagined and said, “I remember when my sister pulled down my pants and then pulled down her own and said we should rub our butts on the bed. She then quickly pulled her pants back up and then ordered me to do the same.”

The therapist eyed me carefully through her glasses and said, “Is that the most recent?”

“No. That was when I was 8,” I answered. So I searched in my mind for a more recent trauma and before I could speak the therapist said, “And remember, don’t recount the experience to me, just create a picture in your head that represents the event.” I thought and thought and couldn’t create an image, so I lied and said, “Okay, I have it.”

In phase 2, she must have been feeling me out as she asked me if I was okay and encouraged me to take a deep breath. And so I did. I felt lightheaded but didn’t say so.

She then showed me a laminated list of negative feelings and asked my to identify one or two that this recent traumatic event made me feel. “I am unworthy and ashamed.” I pointed at this one, even though I wasn’t sure of what I was unworthy or ashamed. She then asked me to pinpoint on the opposite side of the page a preferred positive belief. This was too obvious: “I am worthy and deserving of love.”

I was then asked to focus on the negative image that I had supposedly conjured up and at the same time the negative feelings that came with it, simultaneously moving my eyes back and forth following her fingers. The purpose of this would be to allow new insights and associations to emerge, or to trigger a traumatic memory that reaches far back. She asked what distance felt most comfortable and at what speed. My eyes moved back and forth as she swept her fingers back and forth about midway between us, slowly from right to left, left to right. My heart beat faster and faster as I expected to witness an image of me being molested or raped at the age of 5 or 6, or maybe even younger. Nothing. Maybe the memory was repressed too deep. Back and forth, left to right. Any moment now. She told me to just notice. Nothing. Back and forth, right to left. Is this distance okay, she asked as her hand moved a little closer to me. Maybe she thought I would panic if she got too close. Yes, I said. I’m not going too fast? No, that’s just right. I felt dizzy and nearly out of breath. Just let whatever happens happen. Scream if you feel like it. It would surface any second now. I don’t know if I can handle this…nothing. Her hand stopped.

“How do you feel?”

“I feel like crying.” And I did.

On the drive home, I listed in my head missing memories:

No heart-to-heart talk of sex, with either of my parents.
No explanation of my first period.
No explanation of why you had to get married first before having sex.

Memories of what was said:

God made man and woman.
God made one man for one woman.
When a man and a woman love each other, they marry each other and are bonded for life.
Love is not love unless it lasts forever.

Memories of what was not said but understood:

Sex = Love.
God is in charge of love, thereby he’s in charge of sex.
Don’t make God blush.

The therapist had said to take a deep breath and release. And so I took a deep breath and released. Somehow I felt like crying.

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