EMDR, trauma, and PTSD?

I’ve been avoiding this post like the plague. I’ve sat down at least a dozen times, closing out of the page with a few measly words written. I think what I’ve realized is that there will never be a “right time.” The fear won’t entirely go away. This is me feeling the fear and doing it anyways.

This is one of the hardest posts I have written. It is vulnerability to the extreme. I can count on one hand the number of people who know anything at all about this, yet here I am, sharing it on my blog for who knows how many people to see.

I’ve wavered back and worth whether I should actually post about this. I barely can admit some of what’s going on and happened. I made a pros/cons list and realized that I needed to write about it. This space is my journal and a place where I can hope to impact others. A goal I’ve kept from the very beginning is for this to be the authentic version of myself. That means not hiding behind a facade that all is perfect in my life. It means facing fears head on by being completely honest. It means putting my story out there in the way it truly happens. I don’t want to sugarcoat things. There is no point in calling this a recovery blog if I do that. After all that rambling, I have to take a deep breath and share.

I don’t quite know where to start. Should I begin with the first time I realized something was wrong, talking about in treatment, or even have it begin once I started having specific therapy for it? I think the best solution will be to lay it all out there because I think that’s important to understand.

This all began with my first and only true relationship. I was 14 and he was somewhat older. Right away, we grew very close and probably enmeshed. It seemed like sunshine and rainbows on the outside. Hell, I even believed that it was. Underneath that all was a very unhealthy relationship. No specifics here, but it involved manipulation, pushing boundaries, angry outbursts, an emotional abuse, to name a few. Almost the entire time I was stuck in this cycle of feeling like I needed to be the perfect girlfriend, then guilt and shame when I didn’t do enough. Other core beliefs that began there include: I am defective, I am unlovable, I am not worthy. I knew that something was wrong in our relationship. I never saw the truth or tried to do anything to stop it. I just kept rationalizing and denying. I broke things off after 3.5 years. That was the hardest thing I’d ever done at the time.

This next period, which lasted right around 4 years, involved pushing everything down. I could make a few connections that maybe some of how he treated me affected my mental health. I didn’t focus on it too long, though. Any time I would think of him, our relationship, or things that happened would bring intense shame. I immediately felt disgusting, worthless, and plain wrong. Although I started therapy a few months later, I consistently avoided the topic for over 3 years. Not a soul knew anything bad happened, and I didn’t believe it myself.

The first time it ever came up was around this time last year. We were playing recovery jenga in IOP and the question “what have you not talked about in therapy before but should?” came up. I answered my ex relationship. Naturally, this got back to R and she asked about it the next session. I gave her a very generic answer: it worsened my depression, made me feel isolated, maybe manipulation, self-esteem issues, etc.  can see now that I was minimizing it. We spent maybe 10 minutes on it and then it was never brought up again.

6 months later the truth (well, parts of it) came out. I was with my therapist at CFD, and when something was brought up (during assessment maybe? I don’t remember) I began to open up a little. We then made the goal to write out more details and then read them to her in session. I ended up being able to read it first to my favorite counselor. That was such a God thing. Her response gave me more confidence to open up. The entire time I was terrified, but met with tons and tons of support. For the first time, I had someone fighting against my thoughts and saying none of it was my fault. The way that things happened in residential set up for how  I would continue to open up. I didn’t believe all J said, but it still helped.  [Also the greatest thing ever happened when I was there. I had my mom send me my promise ring and then a nurse helped me break it in half. On my last outing I threw one half in a nasty public toilet and the other in the ocean. It felt SO good.]

PHP was very different. I had one session a week, so we had zero time to talk about it more. I did have a step forward in two ERP’s (exposure response therapy). I wrote in more detail about relationship and then read it to the group. I think that set me up for going home to R again.

The first thing R did (after I read her what I wrote) was suggest EMDR. I was 100% certain I didn’t need it at all. I figured maybe we could talk about it a few sessions and then it would just clear up. That sort of therapy required something extremely terrible to happen, and what I went through didn’t even come close. Eventually she did convince me, and we began the therapy. The first target I set was on some beliefs stemming from childhood. This involved feeling different, not worthy, and others. That target only took a month to work through. In the last week of September we switched to the topic of my past relationship, which was absolutely terrifying to me.

EMDR is hard. There’s no way around that. I’ve had over a dozen sessions for this target, yet I feel like we haven’t gotten all that far. A few weeks in, I began to notice subtle changes. I was having some dreams about him and that something bad would happen. I’m forever anxious walking alone, but it has now exploded so much that I can’t even walk on our campus without looking around me every minute or less. A trip to Meijer isn’t as easy as it used to be. I sometimes will have periods where the memories are so clear and seem closer to reality compared to when I thought about them before. Basically, things have just gotten worse in how the relationship affects me.

Around a month ago, R started using the term trauma when talking about what I’ve been through. That word made me sick. There was no way this was that serious. Everything was my fault because I had a choice, screamed shame. I felt like i could and should snap out of it, but that wasn’t happening. She began explaining how it’s different for everyone and doesn’t have to be the worst possible situation in the world. A few weeks ago she mentioned an acronym I really hated to hear: PTSD. She explained some of the symptoms that I’m showing. I got a good explanation about what the diagnosis actually looks like. Still, I didn’t buy it. I couldn’t. If it were true, that means I id go through something a lot harder than I wanted to admit. It would prove that I do deserve to get help. The thing is, I already knew I had multiple symptoms of PTSD. We finished our trauma/abuse/disorders lectures the week before R talked to me. I saw myself in those symptoms, but I was in denial. I ignored the fact that I may be close to having it.

In the past two weeks I’ve realized that I cannot heal without accepting that I need help. I think maybe this is why EMDR so far has been just a few steps forward. I don’t want to accept the T word or PTSD. I’m not entirely sure how to feel, but I am coming to an acceptance. I hate it more than anything. Still, I am trying my best to look into the truth. I know that I can’t heal if I am stuck in denial. I want to believe I need help and that things will change. I’m not ready to say I have PTSD or talk extensively about having gone through some things that were traumatic to me. Maybe one day it will come. For now, I’m just going to fight like hell.

I have 2 quotes that I connect with right now:

  • The only way out is through
  • No one can have power over you without your control

*I want to add a little note. I am not at all insinuating that PTSD is invalid, you need to be very bad to get help or have it, etc. This is simply how I feel about MYSELF. I would never, ever go tell anyone that their experiences/trauma are invalid. I’m also not saying having PTSD is a bad or shameful thing.