I learned today that a new memory triggers a much stronger physical response for me.
EMDR was hard for me when I first started. Sometimes, it still is. I have to really work on calming my body and calming my mind–taking deep breaths and releasing the tension and the expectation that I have to produce something specific. I am getting better at letting my mind go where it needs to go–but it is not my natural inclination to allow it to just do its thing and give up control.
Normally, as my therapist taps, I get visualizations of memories and images–usually from farther back in my past–but the emotions are harder to reach. They are on the edges of the memory, more dull and full of static. My body might tense, might feel uncomfortable remembering and saying the words aloud…but the physical response from the moment feels less sharp.
Today, I got hit by two memories that were newer. The memories were as clear as day, heavy with emotion, filling my body up with the sensations I felt in those moments.
I walk into a nurturing friend in the hallway. She smiles warmly and asks me how I am doing…in this moment, I am not doing well. I am feeling anxious, shaky, and like I am falling apart. In the moment it takes me to formulate a politely suitable response, she looks into my eyes, knowingly. I don’t have to say a word–I just give her a wobbly smile and she gives me a strong, warm hug. I feel my forehead against her shoulder and my eyes immediately begin to fill with tears.
I could see this moment so realistically. This hug–full of empathy and understanding, with absolutely no strings attached, represents a sense of warmth and release that I have been needing. Wanting. Even thinking about that moment where my eyes started to tear up causes the same thing to happen to me right this second–this is the kind of hug I need when I am emotionally over-wrought–one that says, “I understand. Let it out. It is okay to feel what you are feeling.” Of course, at the time, I was absolutely embarrassed at my reaction–I can’t believe I started crying and letting it all out right then and there…I know this person, though not super well–and I don’t typically behave all vulnerably like that.
I made another connection as I wrote this. When I first went to therapy, I described myself as somewhat uncomfortable with being touchy-feely. The truth is, this is totally un-true. What I often want more than anything is for my husband to just wrap me in a hug, for my friend to give me a squeeze and tell me it is okay. What is true, though, is that my mom always asks for a hug and I feel really uncomfortable giving her one. So I stopped hugging. Hugging her was not without some underlying mixed up meaning–it was not free. It did not come with a sense of warmth or a sense of safety. It felt like I had to earn her love and protect myself. Hugging her was about HER. A warm, safe hug represents a warm, safe place to finally cry and let all my emotions out–a moment that I was never given.
I am sitting on the bathroom floor, wrapped in a towel. I am sobbing and shaking uncontrollably. I have just gotten sick, again, and I can’t breathe. My husband is there–urging me to get up, to move. I can’t. I just…can’t. I am so exhausted, so drained…so scared that I am dying. I think I need to go to the hospital…something is just not right. I shouldn’t feel like this. My husband asks if there is someone I can talk to–can I call my counselor? “No!” I say, “She’s out of town on vacation, and I am already bugging her enough!” He calls her anyway. I hear her answer and he walks away, leaving me alone in the bathroom. I feel small…I know they are concerned and I feel ashamed to be where I am, while they talk about me. He comes into the room and hands me the phone, and I hear her voice. I can hear my own desperation, as I say the words out loud–“I think I maybe just need to go to the hospital.” She gives me my options, explains what would happen if I go, and let’s me know that it would be okay to do that, but that she thinks I can get through this. I feel haunted–I’m so sick. I can’t eat–I haven’t eaten in days and have lost 9 pounds in a week. It scares me. I am grateful for her help, for his protection. But I am scared and ashamed to find myself in this spot.
This moment feels so traumatic to me. In my session today, it literally hit me like a bus–I could feel ALL of the emotions like they were happening right now. The panic, the fear, and, worst of all, the shame boiling up inside me. This memory is not fuzzy or full of static. It is clear, loud, and full of feeling. It made my ears buzz. I didn’t just visualize it. I felt it.
It felt a little overwhelming. I don’t want to remember that moment. I don’t ever want to feel all of those feelings again. I don’t ever want to feel that fear.
I was able to push the memory away, and imagine my husband holding me in a protective embrace. Anytime the memory came back, I would bury my face in his chest and close my eyes–and my second protector, a strong mama bear, would chase it off. This is what I will try to imagine when I feel overwhelmed.
I am mostly processing through writing.
Thank god for writing. ❤