Category Archives: EMDR

Chrysalis Soup

From National Geographic:

But what goes on inside a pupa? We know that a larva releases enzymes that break down many of its tissues into their constituent proteins. Textbooks will commonly talk about the insect dissolving into a kind of “soup”, but that’s not entirely accurate. Some organs stay intact. Others, like muscles, break down into clumps of cells that can be re-used, like a Lego sculpture decomposing into bricks. And some cells create imaginal discs—structures that produce adult body parts. There’s a pair for the antennae, a pair for the eyes, one for each leg and wing, and so on. So if the pupa contains a soup, it’s an organized broth full of chunky bits.

I have decided that at least for the time being, I am something akin to the ‘goo’ or ‘soup’ within a chrysalis.

I am somewhere in between a cute, chubby caterpillar moseying along, and a majestic and magical butterfly, floating and flitting through life. I am a mess of goop safely enclosed inside of my casing. Working on changing, reforming, and basically reinventing myself. When you think about it like this, it becomes a beautiful mess. A mess filled with hope and limitless possibilities. There are no rules; there is no formula. I can emerge from my sticky space as anything I want.

This feels incredibly powerful, and hope bubbles up effervescently inside of my heart.

In retrospect, as I look back on the last year after my divorce, I was in heaps of denial and running to other guys and relationships to ease the grief and the pain I was so terrified of. It wasn’t a conscious choice – my subconscious fear of abandonment was driving my behavior. And that terror of feeling alone and invisible has been a major player for my entire life.

Running. Always running. 

But something has shifted yet again. And I feel as though my body, my very core, is beginning to take shape within my shell. I am finding my strength and my resilience and using them to assemble what will become a new me.

I had a major breakthrough in therapy today.

My entire life has been about running from grief. I did not want to deal with it as a child or as an adult. I was literally hiding from it – thinking I could live my life and avoid feeling forever.

I was dead wrong.

Last year when my husband left, I was thrown into complete emotional chaos. I was slammed with PTSD and grief; full-body-tackled. I was in a state of fight, flight, or freeze for months because my brain perceived my husband leaving as abandonment (it was) – just like it did when my dad died. My system was on overload and I felt helpless and completely out of control. My husband treated me like I was a crazy person and eventually, he left.

I realized in therapy today that, over the course of my life, I have come to view grieving as something you work through, get over, and eventually move on from. Like there is this ‘end game’ or a fixed point on a timeline where you are miraculously all better. As a result of this mindset, I have been literally exhausted – emotionally and physically -because I am still running; this time, to an imaginary finish line. I have become frustrated, impatient, and fed up with myself which is a completely unhealthy mindset to adopt.

I will never ‘get over’ the loss of my father. NEVER. My entire life I have felt incomplete, broken, like I didn’t fit in. I thought I had a hole in the very core of my being. But I realized today that this isn’t true. At all. What I have failed to understand or accept is that even though my dad has been dead since I was 9 years old, his essence, the values and love and validation he instilled in me as a little girl, are still there; inside of my heart. If I accept that he is still a part of me, and always has been, then that hole fills right up.

My entire life I have neglected to incorporate the parts of him that filled me up as a child: the validation, the connection, the love, the care and compassion, the play and the laughter. My belief was that, because he was dead, my development ceased to follow a ‘normal’ path or trajectory and as a result, I was left incomplete.

There is no reason on earth why I cannot access all of those amazing things, those gifts he gave me as a child, now, as an adult. If I can hold onto those things in my heart and in my mind, and know with certainty that he is there (and always has been), then I am not broken. I am whole. I am safe and loved and I always have been. I can channel those things he instilled in me and use them as a source of strength, peace, and resilience. I can keep him in my heart in a protective way that lifts me up and keeps me feeling safe instead of invisible and alone.

And the best part of all of these realizations? All of that love and care and kindness that he gave me, that I am now anchoring to my heart, all of that is coming from within me.

I am reforming. I am changing and I cannot wait to see what comes next.

Advertisements

Giving In and Letting Go.

*I wrote this post yesterday; today I am just fine*

I cannot escape grief today. It is sitting on my shoulders and won’t leave me alone.

It keeps whispering in my ear things like:

He left you.

He doesn’t love you.

You are a fuck up.

Your kids are damaged.

This is all your fault.

You aren’t worth it.

I know these thoughts are not true. But my brain is insistent on producing them and I am so utterly exhausted that I don’t have the energy to fight back. I am walking with my arms wide open and my heart wide open, right into the maelstrom. I am letting the current sweep me away because I am too tired to fight against it.

I am not afraid of being swept away by my emotions anymore.

When you have PTSD, you become adept at keeping your emotions in check; it becomes second nature to numb out. Every single feeling is muted – dumbed down. Even happiness feels too scary. Your brain trusts nothing and no one; it is looking for danger everywhere, and for me that danger had always been a fear of feeling my emotions. And never trusting people not to leave and abandon me. I compartmentalized my emotions and my feelings toward the people I love(d) most in this world – my husband and my children, my mother, brother, and my sister. It breaks my heart to know that I unknowingly spent the last 30 plus years living a life of fear, and clinging to the lie that if I felt less, I would be safe.

That is no way to live.

But here’s the thing: I knew what it felt like to love with a reckless abandon that only a little girl who loved her father completely and unconditionally could. And then he dropped dead, right in front of me, and my brain broke.

I NEVER WANTED TO FEEL ANYTHING OR LOVE ANYONE THAT MUCH AGAIN.

EMDR is changing my brain and my life. I am awake, aware, and filled with love and life (and hurt and grief). And though some days are brutal, most days are not. I am learning to trust my emotions, myself, and the people in my life.

I am loved and I am enough.

Typically, when the negative and caustic thoughts pop up, I have been very quick to shut them off. I recognize them as unhealthy and unhelpful. But today, I decided to try something different. I am letting the thoughts come and wash over me; through me. I am releasing myself to the hurt and the grief and embracing a ‘bring-it’ attitude. It feels somehow better than the constant struggle to battle the thoughts away.

To throw up my walls feels exhausting to me now as it is not automatic or second nature any longer.

I am letting them come crumbling down.

For good.

Vulnerability and Expectation

(Trigger warning. Some mildly graphic details of parental death)

There are two themes that keep coming up for me. In my thoughts, conversations, reading, and in my writing.

The first is vulnerability. The second, expectation.

I don’t think the two are in any way connected, but I am certain that they are a part of this puzzle – of life, love, longing, grief, and moving forward through the trauma and the pain.

I’ve been reading Brene Brown’s book, Rising Strong. It’s goddamn amazing. I feel like I am doing the hard work she writes about – being a badass, being vulnerable and present, being my most aware self. And it is hard as fuck. Never in my life have I been faced with such insurmountable challenges. I am literally facing down my demons; and I am winning. She talks about vulnerability and our ‘stories’ (what we believe to be true in our minds) – for me that piece translates to expectations.

My dad died right in front of me when I was 9. He had pneumonia and one of his lungs exploded at home. I watched as my mother scooped vomit out of his mouth and tried to give him CPR. I tried to run out of that hallway where his body had fallen but she made me come back to help her. I was NINE. I watched as his nose turned blue and then a vivid shade of purple. He wasn’t breathing. He wasn’t getting any oxygen. He was dying. He was dead.

I didn’t want to watch any of that; I had no choice. That memory is seared into my mind like a painting. I have played and replayed that moment over a million times. I have asked myself why he died a million more. My PTSD brain, from that moment on, effectively robbed me of any ability to love fully, feel whole, feel self-worth, and be vulnerable. My PTSD brain, from that moment on, tried to control everything; from my day-to-day life to my relationships. It wanted predictability, safety, and never, ever surprises of any kind.

Guarantees. There are no guarantees; a fact that still pisses me off.

When your brain is hardwired to view everything as a threat, you cannot possibly be vulnerable. It is not an option. My brain was quite literally rewired in that moment of severe trauma. I disassociated from myself for the first time that day. I completely left my body as my mind perceived imminent danger and did what brains do. They fight, flee, or freeze. I didn’t fight – I was not a fighter then. I froze and I fled.

I know that my mother, at age 37, was doing the best that she could. I know that she needed help. There were no cell phones in 1984. I had to call the police. I had to do what she told me. I am a mother now; my son is 9 years old. And I know in my gut that I would never, EVER let him watch someone he loved more than life itself die in front of him. “I’ve got this!”, I’d say. “Go! Get out of here!”, I’d tell him. And I would take care of it. I would absorb all of that terror.

Maybe I am really saying those things to my 9-yr-old self. That little girl needed protecting. She needed saving. I can do that for her now. I can help her. I can hold her hand and we can walk away. My 42-year-old self is in a space of strength and courage that I can tap into. I can take that child and protect her. I can and will heal her. EMDR is saving my life.

What about this expectation piece? I read something the other day that said something to the effect of; “No one has broken your heart, they broke your expectations”. Damn did that to get me. I am still trying to untangle that statement. My ex hurt me; didn’t he? Did he not break my heart? Or did he make selfish choices that I reacted to? Perhaps my hurt and my heartbreak were my own and I needed to react and fall apart so I could reemerge and put myself back together.

He certainly broke all of my expectations around having an intact family and someone to grow old with. What do I do now that the future I expected to have is GONE? The future I expected to have as a little girl with a mother and a father – GONE. Is this the true source of my hurt? The loss of my predictable and planned out future?

If I let go of expectations around love and life, what am I left with? My own shit. My vulnerability (HA! They are connected!). I have to let myself be present in the moment. Right now. Right here. Not a week from now, not 30 years ago, not last year. NOW. Letting go of possible futures with possible endings. When I let go of any and all expectations I might have, I am forcing myself into a state of vulnerability as I am entering into a space where I literally have no control or say in what happens – save my own decisions and the choices that I make.

July 24, 1984. My brain broke that day. My daughter was born on July 24, 2009. Exactly 25 years to the day that her grandfather died. My little girl is a magical creature filled with love, light, and an emotional capacity I marvel at every single damn day.

I cannot predict the future. I do not know what today or tomorrow hold. There are no certainties. There are no guarantees. People die, babies are born, people will leave you, and people will walk into your life seemingly out of the blue. To let go of expectation is to be vulnerable. This is my life goal. I am right here, right now. I am doing the best that I can as I bumble along this winding path on my crazy journey. My heart is opening up for the first time in 33 years. I am completely terrified but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Badassery

I am just so happy that I had to write again.

The absolute nuttiest thing just happened. Okay, it happened over 3 hours ago, but it happened and it was nutty.

My ex texted me a fucking bomb. I knew it would come eventually, that it was inevitable, but man, this feels like too much too soon. He and his girlfriend and a couple of other ‘friends’ are moving in together.

My initial reaction was one of pure trauma. My brain went all reptile on me; I could feel the adrenaline start to travel its way through my system. But instead of jumping on that train to crazy town, I stayed calm. I immediately put all of my EMDR strategies into practice. I focused on my happy place (a solitary enormous tree in a meadow where I go to feel safe and calm and regain control and strength). I did my ‘butterfly taps’ – crossing my hands across my sternum and tapping my chest with my hands in an alternating rhythm.

And it was working until I started getting into it with the ex via text. TEXT! I cannot believe he had the audacity to text me something that big. Something he knew would likely send me over the edge. He is such a damn coward. And I’m sorry, but I have every right to be angry. He is making a decision that involves my children without any input from me, THEIR MOTHER. He expects my kids to live with his girlfriend and two COMPLETE strangers? Is he out of his damn mind? Is this Real World Denver? What in the utter hell?

So I breathed deeply and created a mantra on the spot:

I BELIEVE IN YOU.

I kept silently repeating this in my head while I did some seriously illegal EMDR on myself. I did the eye tracking with my own damn fingers – something any therapist will explicitly tell you not to do. I was desperate. And it paid off. I instantly felt calm and totally grounded in my body. I did not dissociate from myself or black out. I did not rage; I did not crumble to the ground and bawl my brains out. I kept up the bi-lateral eye movement and did a few brief sessions of it for about 20 minutes.

I should mention that when I have done this type of trauma work in the past, it brings up visions that are incredibly poignant and powerful. This time was no exception. As I was repeating my mantra and tracking my own hand movements, I saw my little 9-year-old self cowering under a table. I told her she was safe and that she had nothing to fear. There was no danger. I took her hand and I tried to give her a hug – she resisted.

It was all that I could do in that moment. I acknowledged that she was there and that she was scared. And I backed off when she showed me a reluctance to engage. I knew that I was about to touch on something I don’t have the training to handle. I am not a professional. I know that eventually, and with a lot of work, that little girl will be fully healed and integrated into my mind and into my past where she belongs. She won’t be able to call the shots anymore because my father’s death, and her trauma related to that, will be a distant memory that I can access instead of a trigger that hijacks my entire being.

This day marks the very first time I was faced with a huge and enormous perceived threat and I beat it. I did not lose control – I was in control. I have never been so proud in my life. I have never felt happier. I am officially a BADASS.

And someday soon, I will share the story of my dad with you guys. It’s almost time.