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E. M. D. R.: Leave The Past Behind

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I don’t normally talk about personal issues. I have a wife and a therapist for that type of stuff. Besides, most people have their own shit that they are dealing with and don’t need to wade through mine. But since I want to talk about a type of treatment and give a first hand account of its effectiveness, you are going to need some background to better understand what I’m talking about.

This won’t be one of those “oh, my life is so hard” things so don’t take it like that. I’ve lived with it for my whole life and I don’t think that, so there is no reason for you to either.

As a child I was sexually abused by my father for a period of about ten years: infancy to until I was around twelve years old. The dates are bit unclear, because I am unclear about the whole time period. You see, I blocked everything out until I was thirty-three.

Drug and alcohol use started when I was thirteen and closing down was pretty easy with their assistance. My folks wondered why I was so fucked up and kept sending me to shrinks and a variety of councillors when I was in my teens and early twenties. But nothing ever came out of those meetings except some of those glib assessments one associates with ninteen-seventies psychobabble.

One of the reasons everything was so buried were the coercive tactics of my father to ensure his secret was kept safe. Another was anyone else’s refusal to believe me when I told them. The one time I worked up the nerve to tell my mom, she called me nasty and threatened me with reform school.

I was a problem child: shoplifting, lying, etc.These traits continued through until adulthood, along with the addictive behaviour I picked up as I aged. You must remember this was the sixties, I didn’t really understand what was going on, except that talking about it was bad, and my father wouldn’t love me if I said anything.

Imagine what that combination would do to the mind of a kid, and you can see how I ended up not remembering. It was a lot easier than having to figure out what to do, at least that’s the way I see it now. Anyway, didn’t everybody’s father act like that? Who was I going to compare notes with?

Okay, fast forward to when I turned thirty-three. I was a mess, emotionally and physically. When I was thirty-two I had undergone a fourth surgery on my left knee, a previous reconstruction and two arthroscopies. This last reconstruct was to reverse what they had done in the first one (don’t ask). Well, there was only so much my leg could take and I developed a form of nerve damage known as Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy

By the time my aforementioned birthday had rolled around, the skin on my left leg from my knee down was turning black and I was in continual agony. As a birthday present, a friend had arranged for me to visit an acupuncturist to see if there was anything that could be done to assist me.

Do you know what a healing crisis is? It’s when the body kicks into overdrive in order to solve its own problems. It usually means you get a whole lot worse before you get better. It often occurs in the holistic methods of healing that rely on the body’s corrective abilities to effect a cure.

Well I knew nothing about it at the time, so on the day after the treatment and it felt like I was going to die from the pain. To say I was shocked was an understatement. I phoned the acupuncturist to ask what the fuck? That’s when she explained the concept, apologizing for assuming that I knew what to expect.

But I don’t think even she expected the nightmares I would start having. It was like opening the proverbial Pandora’s box. When the flashbacks started I thought I was going crazy. There’s nothing like reliving rapes that you don’t remember to make you question your sanity.

I was lucky. I had a housemate at the time who worked for a sexual assault crises centre in town, and although they only dealt with women, she recognised what was happening and lent me the book that saved my life The Courage to Heal. Written for women, I changed the pronouns and finally understood what was going on.

I went through my first bouts of therapy than, and it helped me with some of the behaviour modifications I needed at the time. I stopped booze and drugs, and thought things were going great. In fact they were. I met the woman who has since become my wife a couple of years later and started to really get my shit together.

Than a couple of years ago it all fell apart again. To ensure that I’d never forget his loving attention, it seems my father has managed to inflict permanent damage on the muscles of my pelvic wall. For years I had been troubled by mysterious pain in my lower abdominal region that no one had ever been able explain.

In 2001, this pain elevated to a crippling level. After having the right half of my colon removed failed to solve anything, (the surgeon had warned me in advance that there was little hope of success but I was desperate) it was finally diagnosed properly. The pain had only been representing in the abdomen, not originating there.

Than the flashbacks started again. They were trying to treat my pain with nerve blocks, which meant injecting the effected area with a mixture of steroids. That could have set them off, but maybe they were just waiting for a chance to come out again, and like a time bomb whose clock strikes they went off.

It was the doctor treating my pain condition who first mentioned Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (E. M. D. R.) as a means of treatment. Fortunately enough I was able to find not only a therapist who practiced the treatment, but also one who was covered by my medical plan.

Now for the $64,000 questions? What the hell is E. M. D. R., how does it work, and does it work? Well, I had no idea about it and quite frankly if anybody aside from the doctor who suggested had told me about it I would have probably dismissed it out of hand. As it was, I was inclined to believe it was just another one of these pop psych bullshit things like: I’m O.K. and You’re a Fuck Up!

Keeping that open-minded approach in place, I went online to check it out. The more I read, the better I felt about it. The best place to start, of course, is with the person who started the whole thing: Francine Shapiro, PhD. This site gives you the theory, the history and all the information you require to get a good understanding of what it is all about.

In a nutshell, it is a process similar to hypnotism but different. The idea is to allow the client to analyse the flashback without reliving the experience. When you relive it you stay stuck in that moment and continue to experience all the emotions and stress that the original event caused.

The client selects a “target” for working on. This could be any scene that they remember that causes a severe emotional reaction. He or she then identifies the emotions it triggers and any physical reaction it causes. Does it make your stomach cramp? Does your chest hurt?

Once the target is established, the client is asked to picture the event. When they are ready, the therapist begins the process of alternating stimulation of both sides of the brain. By either inducing the eyes to move from side to side, using hand pulses, or listening to a tone in alternate ears over headphones the client should be able to “watch” the memory play out dispassionately.

By watching instead of re-experiencing, a person is able to escape the trap of endlessly reliving the same moment. By processing, analysing and keeping track of how you feel between sessions, then discussing those results with your therapist, you begin to connect the behaviour and coping mechanisms that have resulted from your abuse.

Therapists love to say, and for good reason, awareness is half the battle. Knowing that your fear of the dark is caused by the fact your father used to sneak into your bedroom late at night and rape you in your dark bedroom gives you a logical explanation for something you could never explain before.

With E. M. D. R. neutralizing the effects of the flashbacks, you can combine that with your knowledge of where your fear came from and overcome it. The rapes were in the past, not occurring now, so there is nothing to fear. That is a rather simplistic example but it gives you the general idea.

E. M. D. R won’t work for everyone. A good indication that it will work for you is if you are able to meditate with any degree of success or have proven susceptible to hypnotic suggestion. There’s also no guarantee that it will work on every occasion either. It all depends on your state of mind that day.

I have found that on days when I’m overtired or am dealing with some other external distraction that I can’t control, like my pain level being too high, there is no point in attempting it. You have to be able to concentrate or hold a point of focus to some degree.

E. M. D. R. has worked wonders for me. I have accomplished more working with my current doctor in less then a year than all the years of my previous therapy combined. It’s not a miracle cure by any means, but what it does is establish the things you need to work on.

Unlike behaviour modification therapies, you go deep enough to find the root of what causes you to behave in a certain manner. It’s much easier to change inappropriate behaviour when you know there’s no longer any need for it.

It’s been a difficult year, thinking about shit that I haven’t really wanted to think about, but E. M. D. R. has made it easier. The onus has still been on me to want to change, but at least I feel like I’m really doing it this time, and won’t have to go through this again in five to ten years time.

Every year seems to bring a new sure-fire cure onto the market. From Chicken Soup for your Gall Bladder to I’m Hot Stuff, Your Not somebody is always willing to guarantee they know how to make you “feel good about yourself”. E. M. D. R. doesn’t come with any guarantees, and it’s definitely not a self-help therapy. What it does do is offer you a means to find your way clear of a past that could be crippling your future. For that I’m eternally grateful.

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About Richard Marcus

Richard Marcus is the author of two books commissioned by Ulysses Press, "What Will Happen In Eragon IV?" (2009) and "The Unofficial Heroes Of Olympus Companion". Aside from Blogcritics his work has appeared around the world in publications like the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine and the multilingual web site Qantara.de. He has been writing for Blogcritics.org since 2005 and has published around 1900 articles at the site.
  • http://antwatching.blogspot.com/ Laura Young

    Oh gypsyman, rock on for putting this out there on sooo many levels.
    I worked as a therapist in a pain management program for 11 years before starting my coaching business. I have certainly seen my share of RSD (my heart truly goes out to you…nasty business that is) and, as you will surely understand, I’ve seen many people with histories such as you have shared.
    I want to add to the encouragement you are giving here for people to explore EMDR.
    I put off getting trained in it for quite sometime because it was so unconventional and no one could explain it to me. The therapist doesn’t talk a lot and waves their arms around mostly. It just sounded odd and fadish and I’m too practical for that nonsense.
    But then people I respected started to tell me about breakthroughs they were having with clients and I had to pay attention.
    I got certified and put off actually doing it for a while because I was afraid the pain patients would think I was a nut. I mean, someone, like gypsyman comes in with RSD or multiple back surgeries or, god help me, a worker’s comp injury and I’m going to tell them to watch my hand waving around?
    But, I decided I had to try and I have to tell you, the results BLEW ME AWAY.
    It remains hard to explain in terms of the mechanism and even clients can’t explain it well. It seems to bypass the verbal processing so well (where the sometimes overtold and over-rehearsed “story” is stored, separate from the emotions)that translating how it feels and works is somewhat elusive.
    As gypsyman states, no guarantees, but absolutely worth checking in to, ESPECIALLY if you feel like you’ve talked through your issues eight ways to Sunday and you still can’t get unstuck.

  • Michael Tinker

    Glad EMDR has been helpful for you two!

    EMDR Doctors across USA should donate time to Victims of Hurricate Katrina. Such traumatized people can be greatly helped with EMDR.

    EMDR can be used for traumatized children too. Robert Tinker is one of the top EMDR doctors in the world working with children.

    Check out his book, “Through the eyes of a Child.”

    http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0393702871/qid=1126109154/sr=2-3/ref=pd_bbs_b_2_3/102-4563055-8516163?v=glance&s=books

    Thanks and best regards,
    Michael Tinker

  • Michael Tinker

    Regarding EMDR help for the victims of hurricane Katrina, I wanted to mention these sites:

    The EMDR Humanitarian Assistance Programs at http://www.emdrhap.org

    EMDR International at http://www.emdria.org

    and http://www.EMDR.org

    Thanks again.

    Best regards, Michael Tinker

  • David

    Thank you so much for sharing your story of healing and hope!!