Yesterday, I had an EMDR session.
I sat in a chair, across from my therapist, whom I love and trust, and boarded the train I hate to ride.
The train started at the earliest place where I could remember feeling desperate and panicked at being abandoned. It was the day my brother and I were taken out of my mother’s custody. A Christmas morning, punctured by screaming and hitting, and an angry man with a baseball bat. What I remember most was my older brother–a fifth grader–crying and frantically calling my grandmother, begging her to come and get us.
She left right away–but the normal commute time passed and, still, she did not arrive. This was pre-cell phone era. Early ’90’s. After waiting and waiting, we called again. My grandpa didn’t know why she wasn’t there–but he left to get us.
The fear that I felt that day? It was from watching the fear on my brother’s face. It was from worrying about what might have happened to my grandmother, because she did not come like I needed her to. It was from being afraid of being left behind. It was from wondering–what about my mom? Where would she be?
What it wasn’t? It wasn’t a fear of leaving my mother.
This strikes me, in a way. I can’t remember really caring that I was leaving her. I can’t remember a conversation where she explained anything to me.
All I can remember? I can remember feeling relief.
I may not have known it at the time, but going to live with my grandmother would be the one and only time in my childhood where I would have a stable home, with consistent care and love. Was it perfect? It wasn’t. But it was so much more than I had experienced.
The real fear, the real anxiety…it all started when I was forced to leave this house. This stability. I was forced to live with my mother.
As I rode the EMDR train, scenes slowly flowed by.
I remembered the first panic attack.
I remembered the fear and worry that I felt at the thought of even being alone.
I remembered being punished for things that weren’t my fault.
I remembered my fears being called “stupid” and “melodramatic.”
I remembered feeling stupid and melodramatic.
I remembered the first person that I loved, so fully, and the pain and confusion I felt when the relationship fell apart–with me, sobbing and begging. Clinging and desperate…and being left.
I pictured myself, as I was. Sitting in a chair in my therapist’s office, holding the pulsers in my hands. Suddenly, I could acutely feel the shame and embarrassment I have at knowing how much I fear losing her. Her care…her stability. As I saw myself, the floor opened up and the chair fell, me included. I hung there–holding onto to the pulsers for dear life, wondering if my therapist would pull me up or let me fall.
The train stopped, and I saw myself, sitting on the floor of my childhood home–the place where I had my first panic attack. The place where the fear and desperation overcame me–so much so that, in my panic, I practically broke open the front door trying to get out–to get to my grandma–to not be left alone.
I sat on the floor, arms around my knees. The front door was open and the sky was a vivid blue. Suddenly, it slammed shut. I was crying, head in my hands, eyes shut…trying to block out the world.
Somewhere, in the room with me, I could feel the presence of my therapist. I couldn’t see her. But I could feel her safety.
I could hear her saying, “Don’t bleed before you are cut!!”
I was overwhelmed. I opened my eyes, and sobbing, realized that the tears coming down my face were bloody. I was crying blood.
In my desperation, I tried to tell my therapist, “Don’t you see!! Can’t you see? I am already cut! The damage? The damage is done!!”
At this point, I tried to get back on the train. I really did. But the train ride had ended. There didn’t feel like there was any place I could go.
I opened my eyes–with real tears streaming down my cheeks–all at once grateful, and uncomfortable, that my therapist really was there with me…but, also knowing that it was time to talk.
This train ride? It did succeed in showing me one thing: my childhood, at every turn, felt unstable.
It felt like, no matter what I did, the floor could drop out from underneath me at any moment. I might lose my parents. I might lose my siblings. I might lose whatever semblance of safety I had cobbled together.
I tried, so very hard, to make myself ENOUGH. So very hard.
I was a good little girl. A sweet, caring girl. I worked hard to be as perfect as I could be, hoping…always hoping…that the reward for my perfection might be my mother’s love.
But, it wasn’t enough. I was taught, from a tender, vulnerable age, that I was not enough. That I was not worth time, or love, or attention. When I did receive some of these things, it came with conditions–punishments, fear, and worry.
To this day? I still feel these things. (I know, cognitively, that I should not…but, deep down, the feelings are there.)
I do not feel worthy of anything.
I do not feel lovable.
I do not feel like I–the real ME–could ever be enough.
I will tell you one thing, however. I am tired of being the little girl, sitting on the floor. For so long, I have been that person–sitting there, arms wrapped around my knees, face hidden, trying so hard to block out the real world. Crying, and feeling full of fear.
I don’t want to be that girl anymore.
I want to stand up, stretch my arms up, and stare at the blue sky–marveling at how bright and warm the sunshine can be.
I am ready. I am ready to be enough.
I am ready to be, finally, truly…free.
I understand so much of this. This is powerful writing, in a painful yet hope-filled way. EMDR is certainly a highly efficient tool for helping us move forwards. Thank you for all your honest sharings.
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