Thursday, 16 August 2012 15:08

EMDR Part II

Yesterday I talked about how great EMDR is. I explained how it works by essentially allowing you to change your old negative pathways of thinking and develop new, positive ones. This allows those old, negative pathways to heal over and eventually disappear. I tried to describe the feeling and experience of EMDR but in the interest of time I decided to make this a 2-part essay.

Going to an EMDR therapist you should probably be prepared to see and experience things differently than when you go to your regular therapist. While you are doing EMDR it is probably best to put your regular therapy on hold so you can focus solely on your work in this model. A lot of the time, you will only see your EMDR therapist for however many sessions it takes for you to reach your goals. This depends completely on the therapist you choose. Some only do the intense EMDR work and that is all they do. Others mix traditional therapy with EMDR and you may end up seeing them for longer. My main point here is, EMDR is intense, it's draining, it's real, actual work. Going to your traditional therapist while trying to do EMDR may be too much to handle and if it is, that's totally okay. If your therapist cannot or will not work with this, find out why first and foremost. Your therapist knows you, they may have very good, clinical reasons for their opinion. Hear them out and try to figure out what will work best for your specific treatment. If they try to talk you out of EMDR but you still feel strongly about it, then I would say you may either want to wait or visit an EMDR specialist in your area and see what they say. They will likely be completely happy to talk to your therapist and attempt to work out a treatment plan for you together with your therapist.

I should also explain that EMDR is different than a traditional therapy session. Your therapist will ask you questions and will most likely ask you to close your eyes and really visualize your answers. This is helpful in getting you to relax and feel open and ready. Your EMDR therapist will ask you to be aware of your thoughts and your body - how does it feel? Do you feel any particular sensation anywhere in the body and what do you feel or hear as a message when you pay attention to it? Your therapist will ask you to allow your mind to go wherever it needs to go, you may see memories in your minds eye of events you had totally forgotten about. You may experience sensations in your body - warmth, tingling, aching, tightening - pay attention to these sensations and make note of them and what they mean to you.

Your EMDR therapist also uses tools to help speed up your brains processing and building new pathways. These tools can be one or all of the following things - an approximately two foot long bar with small colored lights inside held up on a tripod or set on a desk or table - you will be asked to follow the lights with your eyes. Another possibility will be what I have experienced with both of my EMDR therapists. Small rounded paddles, approximately two inches around held in your hands that vibrate intermittently while you are searching through old memories. Or, your therapist may just ask you to follow his finger with your eyes and stand in front of you moving it back and forth while you focus on the movement with your eyes.

Remember - EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Re-processing. Studies have shown that moving your eyes or focusing your attention left-right, right-left, etc, directly effects the building of new neuro-pathways and brings symptom relief for PTSD, anxiety, and depression sufferers.

Through EMDR I learned the following pathway was alive and kicking in my brain. I began focusing on the sensation of anxiety in my chest, my therapist had me hold the paddles and close my eyes. I let my brain bounce around, go wherever it needed to, and after a minute or so I saw my teenage self sitting on the porch of my boyfriend's house when I was about 17. I recognized this as a memory of my smoking pot and completely freaking out. I was not the pot-head type but the boyfriend was so I had gone for it. Only to find out, it made me want to die (I believe this may have been a panic attack brought on by the paranoia I got from smoking pot. Awesome.)
My brain then bounced to several other long forgotten incidents of my throwing up or panicking or freaking out. Eventually my brain bounced its way to a memory I had completely forgotten. It explained why I hated Boston and didn't want to go there ever. Apparently, in college I had gone to Boston with some friends and at some point, the T (metro) broke down. Underground. And it was really dark and really freaky for about 15-20 minutes. Surrounded by strangers, clinging to my friends and amazingly, not freaking out during the period of darkness, probably because I knew instinctively it wouldn't do any good.

Basically, my brain had built a pathway with all sorts of delightful stops along the way, that I had largely forgotten. And somehow along the line they became tangled and the messages I received from these long forgotten experiences were "You ruin everything. You kill the fun. You suck. You can't do anything right so you should just stay home. Boston hates you, it's out to get you. You ruin everything. You ruin everything. It is all your fault."

Um...well if that's not a Panic Attack Cocktail I don't know what is! And there were loads of these pathways in my brain created by many other incidents and traumas that had stuck with me. Never processed or resolved, just...basically squatted in my brain rent free for years. Years. Many of them. Seeing these memories allowed me to take the power out of them.

The best part of EMDR is using a memory of a time when things were amazing or wonderful. This is the heart of the experience - you will use this memory to flood your brain with delightful, delicious endorphins  and dopamine! Yum! When you end your session you will likely end it on this memory. You will use this memory like a mouthwash to rinse the icky off the session and replace it with minty freshness.

Find your truth and own it baby!
Published in Therapists Blog
Wednesday, 15 August 2012 15:00

EMDR Part I

"If it's hysterical, it's historical." - Words to remember when freaking out. My former therapist used this phrase to explain to me how far back the anxiety and panic response goes. It wasn't until I began EMDR therapy that I began to understand exactly how true those words are.

EMDR is an amazing form of treatment that is slowly gaining attention in the larger world thanks to the power of Google. EMDR is: Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprogramming. In a nut shell it helps you build new neuro-pathways in your brain which allows old, negative pathways to grow over. Picture your brain as a forest. If you walk the same way day after day, you will create a path. EMDR allows you to see, in your minds eye, all the stops along that pathway. What will blow your mind is how seemingly random the events that created that path appear. By bringing these old, buried memories to the surface of your conscious mind you are able to process them and take the power of negativity away from them.

You are then able to build new, healthy, happy pathways by flooding your brain with powerful, sensory memories of a time in your life when things were wonderful. Eventually, like any other trail, when your old pathways go unused, nature will reclaim itself and those old pathways will heal over. This is also why positive affirmations work. Because by repeating something over and over it eventually wears a pathway, affirmations are great, but it can take a long time to get results whereas with EMDR you have a direct line to your subconscious. EMDR is used to treat trauma but can also be used for just about anything you can think of.

In my case, EMDR blew my mind. I experienced it in my mid-twenties with my first therapist. I was nearly phobic of travel but really wanted to see my godmother and cousins who lived in Mexico. My brother and I planned a trip together and I was desperate to ensure my panic disorder wouldn't stop me from having a good time. I did the EMDR once and seriously had the best trip I have ever had. We climbed pyramids and ruin sites, we went into Mexico City and shopped, ate at awesome restaurants, and all without a hint of anxiety or panic. I became a believer of EMDR.

More recently, in the past year and a half I switched from my traditional therapist to another EMDR therapist. This EMDR experience was much deeper and more intense than my first one because I had a whole new decades worth of trauma, hurt, panic, and pain to dig through. It was hard. EMDR is serious. You will feel exhausted and wonky after a session. You will be more sensitive because you have literally dragged your subconscious into the light of intense examination and that feels awful a lot of the time.

Nobody ever tells you this so I'm going to - Growth and Change - the biggies that everyone wants? Feel awful. AWFUL. When they are happening. It is in the moments of struggle and hopelessness that we experience true growth. Lasting change. Intimacy. All of those things come from being vulnerable. We, however, are hardwired to avoid pain.

We're taught that pain is bad, we should make it go away as fast as possible. I challenge you to stay in the moment next time you find yourself trying to shut down when things get uncomfortable. See if you can allow yourself to feel whatever it is you're experiencing and name it:  Fear, Guilt, Shame, Anxiety, Panic, Hurt, Worthless, Angry, Awkward, Silly, Stupid, Sad, Frustrated, whatever. 

Feel it. Feel it and see - your feelings will not eat you up, you are not what you feel, you are separate from your emotions. Just because you feel worthless or guilty doesn't mean you are either of those things. It means that you are experiencing them and you have a responsibility to yourself (and your loved ones) to find the root of those feelings and make peace with it.

I couldn't have said it better myself.
Published in Therapists Blog
Wednesday, 01 August 2012 13:23

Why I Became A Therapist

The question I get asked the most - Why did you decide to become a therapist? This is a completely acceptable, normal question for pretty much any therapist but I know I am extra mysterious and confusing because my bachelor's degree is from the Hartt School of Music and has absolutely nothing to do with my current (and correct) occupation.


Hartt = fun. Period. I was 17, had visited a friend there and met kids who were doing a major in music business. Perfect! I get to play piano and sing and get business training! Yay!

So I started in there and absolutely loved it. I loved my ear training classes and being in a master choir and having a great roommate who was a music theater major. Freshman year was amazing.
Sophomore year? Not so much.

I did manage to land another excellent roommate who was also a music theater major so that was cool. And I managed to live in the same suite as my best friend and have easy access at all times to see friends because dorms are cool like that. I lived in RCA - Residential Complex of the Arts - so I was surrounded by amazing artists and musicians and basically given the experience of living in an artist colony that so happened to require walking up four flights of stairs because two years in a row, I managed to be on the 4th floor. I had thighs of steel from those steps I tell you.

Sophomore year was looking like it was going to be just as awesome as freshman year, if not more so. Sadly, however, that was not meant to be. You see, going back a little ways to high school, I met Shannon when I was a high school senior. Shannon was a boy btw. With a very Celtic name. And he was The One. We literally met at a friends house and that was it. From that moment on I loved that boy. It was the first time I'd been seriously deep down in the trenches of love and it was intense.

To provide a little background info - he was the perfect broken baby bird for me. I have always been a rescuer. It's encoded in my DNA I swear to you. His parents were divorced. He technically lived in Mass but he went to school in Manchester, CT hence how I met him. His mother was awful, I literally saw her twice in the entire three years we spent together. His father was very wealthy but never showed it and preferred the friend role, he was also a cheater who was more concerned with his girlfriend and the effort of cheating on his wife to really give a shit about what his son was up to. Shannon had zero parental supervision unless you counted my parents and you probably should seeing as how they let him stay over for at least one night most weekends. This was largely so I wouldn't have to drive him home to Mass more than because of their interest or concern for him. I don't think my parents ever liked him and that hurt. It hurts to have your parents dislike the person you're head over heels for.

It's also a basic guarantee you will fight like hell to stay with that person rather than be proven wrong.

The biggest difference between Shannon and I, was that he loved to party. With drugs. And alcohol. And I...didn't. But I put up with it because I loved him and because he was a brilliant liar. Truly, he should be on the NY Times bestseller list because he had an amazing imagination when it came to lying. And I had an amazing ability to not see anything I didn't want to see or didn't know to look for. One of my clients read through my blog entries and he said he thinks I am a person who loves too much and he is right.

So even when he did coke at a party and I threw a fit, or when he did 8 hits of acid at my senior prom, I pretended not to notice he was a zombie and ruined everyone's night. I refused to see he was on the thinnest of ice with his drug use. Until he discovered heroin. That freaked the shit out of me. Because, of course, he loved it. He loved it so much I didn't realize he loved it more than he loved me until I had no choice but to see it and accept it. I had many opportunities to get away but I never had the heart to keep to it. I broke up with him at least three times but each time he said he was going to die without me and I was the only person in the world who loved him. And, honestly, he was kind of right. His parents sucked, he had no extended family, and friends aren't the same kind of love as what he was searching for. What made him impossible for me to quit was knowing he was completely alone and needed love. (Love addict? Pathological rescuer? Yes to both.)

I definitely had denial. Like, superhero strong denial. All my friends tried to tell me he sucked and I should move on. I wish I had realized at the time how bad things were but even when presented with glaringly disturbing evidence I stuck by him. Like the time he decided to break into his dad and step-moms house with me and he stole a bunch of silverware. Like, a lot of it. Because apparently it was real silver and worth money. I can't remember how he sold me on that one. I don't think he told me the plan prior to getting there. Or the time we went to this terrifying motel so he could buy heroin and he told me it was too dangerous for me inside so I had to wait in the car. Alone. In an extremely bad section of town. Until I couldn't take it anymore and went to the room door and knocked. Only to have it opened by a spaced out junkie who was panicked because his friend had just OD'd in the bathroom and they were all running away after calling 911.

Or even the awesome time a girlfriend of mine and I went to pick Shannon up to go play pool when I SAW needles on the floor with my own eyes. And I pointed them out to Shannon and he insisted he was just selling clean needles to junkies for the money. And I believed him. That was about a month before sophomore year began.

It was about a month into the new semester when I got the call. That he couldn't hide it from me anymore, my friend from the night of the needle sightings knew because she had hung out with him after I'd gone home that night and he'd confessed everything to her. But she didn't tell me. Because she fell for his bullshit as well. I cannot express in words how good at lying an addict is. It is their entire life. Everything an addict has is built on lies, they have no choice but to be brilliant at it.

But I was then 19 and still naive. After everything I had seen. So when the phone call came from Shannon when he said "I'm a junkie. I've been lying to you. I've been shooting up for months and months and I can't stop. My dad is sending me to rehab" I just went into a kind of shock/coma thing.

Ah rehab. That he ran away from. And then tested positive for cocaine in.  The last time I spoke to or saw him was at his father's apartment where his dad gave me the money he owed me. (It would be 10 years before I saw him again.) His dad, had actually come to see me at school while looking for Shannon when he was missing. He accused me time and time again of hiding him in my dorm but I think he was just hoping that was the truth. It upset and traumatized me to have someone else's dad leaning on me so heavily. We went for car rides and talked about what to do. He'd call me to check to see if Shannon had shown up and would get angry and frustrated when time after time I would have to tell him I hadn't heard from or seen him. I think his dad cared about me and maybe I haven't been fair to him. He loved his son, he just didn't know how to be a parent. He was much better at being a friend.

Essentially, that phone call from Shannon, where he confessed to being a junkie who shot up so hey, I should probably get tested for HIV and Hep C...that broke me. I was terrified, traumatized, and had absolutely no idea what to do. My friends did the best they could but at that point I was unreachable. I just wanted to go to bed and never wake up.

And then it got worse.

Shannon's dad had been cheating on his wife with a woman named (I shit you not) Candy. And because it's a tiny fucking world we live in, Candy knew my mom's entire family because she'd grown up across the street from them. So, Candy, in all her wisdom, purposely told my aunt about Shannon (at least it was the best aunt possible). Because she knew who I was and I think she hated my mom because when she asked about her she got this look on her face like something smelled bad. Bitch. And, of course, my aunt told my mother. (Apparently she took her for a car ride and gave her a cigarette which, according to my mom, made her nauseous.)

So as I was tucked away in my dorm trying to find the ground beneath my feet, I received a totally unexpected phone call from my mom. "We know about Shannon. When were you going to tell us? Were you going to ever tell us? You know your father doesn't know yet. I'm going to have to take him out to a restaurant so he can't totally freak out in public." She probably said she loved me and attempted some words of comfort but I don't remember them because I was shattered. I was barely keeping it together with Shannon being missing and my thinking I was going to die from some horrible needle disease. I could not do this. I could not comfort my parents and I was completely humiliated and broken. Lost. Traumatized.

And Candy? To this day, if I ever see that bitch I will punch her in the face. I have yet to forgive her because I knew then and I know it today, she did that to fuck with me because of her weird issue with my mom. Psycho. Bitch. Life ruiner.

My poor roommate. She thought she was getting a fun roomie. She put up with the crazy phone calls and with me literally being in my bed as much as humanly possible giving her virtually no privacy in the room because I was always there, usually sleeping. Classes were not my priority anymore. Everything lost its meaning. I was clinically depressed and had been changed on a cellular level. I was not the same girl any more.

I attempted to use the on-campus counseling service, I think my friends recommended it. The intake lady was amazing and if she'd been my therapist I probably would have been about a million times better off. But she wasn't. My therapist was an intern and when I told her what was going on she basically fell out of her chair. Not exactly helpful. But for the first time, I was exposed to therapy land. A seed was planted.

I made it through sophomore year by the skin of my teeth grades-wise. Piano was no longer fun but a necessary evil. I met a new boy and he was amazing and just what the doctor ordered. A complete distraction from the suck that was my life. It was at that time I began experiencing panic attacks. I didn't know what they were. That's also when my anxiety started. I remember running to the campus store to buy Immodium because my digestive system had shut down and I was constantly dealing with what can only be described as ass-plosions. For what would be the next 14 years.

By junior year I was a completely different person. I barely cared about my major. I did my work because I had to but that was about it. My required internship was a plum job at Sony Music in Boston - just what I had wanted. That internship was so good in so many ways and so awful in so many ways. I liked doing the work but I couldn't stand most of the people I had to deal with and I think it showed. The extreme extroversion required to work in the music industry went against my core make-up and I didn't really connect with anyone that strongly. They were nice and it was fun to meet artists and get tons of free stuff but it was also frustrating to not really enjoy something I knew my classmates would kill for. The music industry is an ego-fest. I couldn't keep up and barely tried. I knew by the end of summer I needed to do something meaningful with my life. This shallow world held no appeal for me anymore.

Senior year I was hit with another bomb that someone else in my life was addicted. To heroin. And it knocked me down. Again. But it was almost over. I was almost free of school. I kept plugging away as best I could. I sucked it up to graduate because I just wanted to be done. I wanted the degree so I could move on and start my life. I had been working with special needs children for years by that point and knew I loved it. I knew I didn't want to be with kids who had physical special needs but I was extremely drawn to the trouble-makers. The outsiders. So upon graduation I took a job as a special ed paraprofessional in an alternative middle/high school. I loved it. I decided to get my masters in special ed. But then I hated the classes and realized I didn't want to teach kids math, I wanted to help them survive life and channel their hurt into positive things. While at St. Joseph College one day I noticed a pamphlet for their Marriage and Family Therapy program. I was instantly hooked. I got in without problem despite my music background.

Some shit is just meant to be. Because despite all of that, I wouldn't trade the life I have now for anything. There's even more to the story but frankly, I'm tired and this post is redonkulous long.

Published in Diary