I stood in the break room with my friend and coworker, Missy.
“Why do you think you can’t let it go?” she asked. “Do you feel guilty about something? Or do you…”
Before she could finish her sentence, the phrase popped out of my mouth,
“If I let it go, they’ll be gone.” I said quietly.
Missy looked at me, confused. “What do you mean? They’re already gone.”
I can’t find the words to describe how I felt at that moment. It took only a second to realize what I just said. My eyes widened and my hands flew up to my face and instinctively covered my mouth, as if I had let a secret slip out.
“Oh my god.” I said. “Oh my god, Missy, that’s it!”
So far, I had gone to two EMDR sessions to help me with post traumatic stress disorder. We had been working on helping me with the death of my parents that occurred way back in 1988. When I thought about the day I was told they died, and the week’s events afterwards, I felt intense grief and sadness. I couldn’t speak of it without sobbing. I couldn’t think of it without feeling my gut churn, nausea forming into a gagging sensation in my throat. I had to fight the urge to scream and run as fast as I could, as soon as the thoughts flooded my brain. That’s what I did when I was told that they died. I ran and I ran, in my socks, through the back of my neighborhood, to my boyfriend’s house. I screamed the entire way.
One of the things that happens in EMDR, is that you verbally relive each moment (which is obviously very difficult), and you concentrate on the feelings of the trauma. The object of the session is to make the actual feeling itself move from the place you feel it the most, and the feeling eventually leaves the body. In my case, I felt a heavy pressure of pain and intense grief in my chest.
After a successful EMDR session, you can still “feel”, but the difference is that you don’t feel the emotion, trauma and shock as if it were actually happening. The memory is now in a different location in your brain, which means you can think about the event from a narrative perspective, like you think about other memories. You can recall the event. You can feel sadness about it, or regret, or whatever. The difference is that now, it’s a normal memory. Normal memories don’t take your body, heart, and mind hostage. That is what PTSD does.
We kept focusing on it, and I could feel it lessen somewhat.
“They’re gone. You have to let them go now. It was a long time ago,” the therapist repeated over and over, while moving her finger back and forth in front of my face.
Unfortunately, at the end of the session, I could still feel the pain very intensely. I could still feel grief like it had just happened recently, not 27 years ago. My therapist kind of wrinkled her brow because she knew it hadn’t entirely worked. We decided we should work on it more at the next session.
I drove home that day, puzzled and discouraged about the day’s session. I knew it hadn’t worked and I couldn’t figure out why. The jury was still out for me about the unconventional therapy as well.
It was the next day that I filled Missy in on how it went.
“I haven’t said goodbye,” I told my friend. “That’s why I can’t let it go!” The words quickly came out as my broken heart finally revealed itself to me. “I have hung on to the pain of their death because it makes me able to still feel them, like they’re still here.”
My mind was going in circles. “But I don’t have to hang on to all that pain to feel them and remember them!” I exclaimed. This epiphany would change my life.
I knew what I had to do next.