It’s been weeks in therapy where we mostly just talk like normal people who like each other except that we focus fairly exclusively on me. “What do you still need from this?” Lisa asks me, “What would you like to focus on?”
We’ve processed with very little complication my reaction to the Durham explosion, the abrupt resignation of the man who was inappropriate with me, and my marathon. I’ve grown increasingly resilient. It’s not a revelation when Lisa praises my progress–it’s what I already know. I am better. Still, I tell her, I know I don’t feel this well every day. I want to do more work on my attachment issues.
We discuss a recent few exchanges where I struggled to calm myself after fairly minor situations where I felt afraid people were displeased with me. We zero in on an encounter where a friend’s husband checked after I went out their front door to see whether I’d locked it. It was a brief, ordinary exchange. He hadn’t been upset and nothing bad had happened. Still, it was one of a series of times I felt a surge of panic at the prospect of someone possibly being upset.
“What does that feel like?” she asks.
“Confusion, worry, anxiety, fear, dread…frustration.”
She asks what’s happening in my body recalling it. I tell her about my faster heart rate and the catch in my breathing, that sick frightened feeling in my gut and how my face pinches. She asks what I’m afraid this means about me. This time I’m puzzled.
She finds a list of negative core beliefs for me to look over; I frown. The usual suspects do not ring true. I am not powerless. I am not unsafe. I have not failed. “I don’t believe I’m untrustworthy, but that’s closer. He doesn’t trust me. I’m not trusted. I know that isn’t about me but it feels like what’s bothering me.”
Can I remember the last time I felt like that? I’ve felt it around this particular person a number of times. “But,” I say, “I don’t think it’s my fault and I’m not having a particularly strong reaction to it. This is confusing.”
“Can you float back a bit further to a different time you felt like this?”
I close my eyes and the memory of Kevin pulling away from me hits me like a punch to the gut. I feel like I’m choking for a moment and when I speak my voice is low and guttural; “That night with Kevin. He didn’t trust me either. I trusted him but he didn’t trust me.” She scribbles notes and I wrap my arms around myself, blinking back tears. Lisa makes eye contact with me.
“What does that mean about you?”
“I’m alone!” I rasp, reaching for tissues. “Fuck, that still hurts.” She nods and waits, patient and understanding. She knows I will settle down, and I do.
“When else have you felt like that?”
All the time in my marriage, the very trigger that had been activated that night. Lying alone in bed with a partner who felt far away was inexplicably, singularly terrifying in a way that largely defies articulation. Certainly, I couldn’t explain it to someone who felt my fear as an assault on his autonomy.
All the time in childhood. I describe fixating on every sign from my volatile father that I might be in trouble. I even have one particularly potent memory of relaxing alone one summer day when I heard his car pull in and my entire body gripped with sudden fear over what I might have done or neglected to do to set him off.
When we get to EMDR though, something new happens. I am stunned and a little amused that while Lisa waves her fingers my brain doesn’t produce more awful old memories or alarming associations. It doesn’t try to avoid the hurt of processing. I don’t sit and weep at an endless barrage of shit from my painful, traumatic past. Instead, I keep remembering what I did after that slightly triggering encounter over the unlocked door.
I remember the smooth wood of my gymnastic rings. I see myself cinching the cam buckles. I feel the dirt I lie in to do core work between sets of pull-ups hanging from the neighbor’s tree and see the lush green above me. I’m alone–and I’m fine. I’m alone having a great time. I laugh; my mind is taking me forward to how I’ve solved a problem ingeniously. This process has never been so simple and painless.
“Now on a scale of 0 to 10 with zero being no disturbance, how disturbing is that memory?” I don’t know how many times we’ve done EMDR and the memory is either still really disturbing or I don’t completely process it or I’m numb with exhaustion–but this time I smile and sit tall.
“Dunno, 2 maybe?”