This first session was a getting-to-know-you, but my real goal was to dive into EMDR
“Welcome” Gail extended her hand. “Have a seat.” I raised an eyebrow. The choice of seats were several beanbags and a large Indian rung. Lowering myself carefully onto a beanbag, I took in Gail’s office. The new-age crystals and batiks decorating the walls seemed like a foreign world to me. But she came highly recommended by Chaya, our support group leader, and I was determined to see this through. This first session was a getting-to-know-you, but my real goal was to dive into EMDR.
As we spoke, I tried to focus on the details that most disturbed me. “The irony is,” I struggled to find a comfortable spot in the beanbag, “that when I applied for Chezky’s group-home placement, I was at the lowest I’d ever been, coming on the heels of his psychotic episodes. But — and here’s the important part — it’s been two years, and he’s never had another attack since! If I’d known he’d be stable like this, I never would’ve agreed to out-of-home placement!”
I paused, to gauge her reaction. I know how Layee, my long-term therapist, has responded to this thought, which had been festering in me. She felt that the irony had been bashert. That Hashem knew I’d never agree to this placement, so He orchestrated that “end-of-my-rope” to do what was best for Chezky.
Gail, however, was obviously not Layee. She flipped her long fall behind one shoulder and spoke softly while staring deep into my eyes. “Run with that thought,” she encouraged.
Run with it? To where? I was stuck here!
“This is where we’ll do the EMDR work,” she promised. “You need to embrace this thought and see what your choices are.”
Do I have any choices? Did I ever have a choice where this placement was concerned? That’s one of those thoughts that rankled. I felt I’d never been given a choice, had been bulldozed by well-meaning people who loved me but claimed to know better as to what was best for me and for Chezky!
Her next question jolted me. “Do you want to bring Chezky back home again?”
Now? Honestly, I’d never thought it was an option. Chezky was learning and becoming much more independent through his apartment living. They were able to give him space to learn to do his own shopping, cooking, laundry, money-handling — things I didn’t have the time or ability to do properly at home. And he was settled there, liking his friends and his madrich, although he was still often homesick.
Was I willing to throw the whole family and Chezky into upheaval just to make myself feel better? Would anyone thank me for that, Chezky included?
I left Gail’s office feeling even more tense. But at our next session, she was all geared up. “Today we’re going to tackle EMDR,” she said, as I wiggled again in the beanbag. I wasn’t as young as she was. Where was a good solid couch?
“Before you start,” I told her, feeling nerves tight in my stomach, “I have to tell you that I am squeamish about eyes. I don’t even like talking about them.” My stomach clenched again. “So I’m not sure how we’re going to do EMDR if I need to follow your hand movements with my eyes! Even the thought makes me nauseous!”
“Look,” she said, sitting perfectly comfortable cross-legged on a mat. “EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. It uses bilateral stimulation to reprocess painful or traumatic information that’s frozen in your brain.
“However, there are more ways to get your eyes to move, and cross your midline than just following with sight. Let’s try this.” She opened a box and removed a pair of pyramid-looking shapes.
Each was the size to fit comfortably in the hand, with a light on the tip that resembled an eye. I felt like I’d entered some science fiction movie as she handed them to me and instructed me to hold one in each hand. Would Big Brother be watching me through that eye light?
What was I doing here? I was a talk therapy person. This was getting way out of my comfort zone.
“Close your eyes,” she said gently. “And picture a hard scene that you remember relating to Chezky. I want you envision that scene in all its detail.
“Then I’m going to start vibrations in those handles you’re holding. The vibrations will jump from right hand to left. And your brain and eye movements, without you even realizing, will jump as well, creating bilateral movement as you reprocess this event.”
I felt the two weights in my hand and had a sudden urge to start laughing. Earth, this is Houston calling. We have a problem….
Okay, Tzips. Get with the program. Taking a deep breath, I closed my eyes.
I didn’t have to go far to find a painful scene. Chezky standing in the dining room this past Motzaei Shabbos when he’d spent Shabbos at home. Despite his acclimation to his apartment, the transition of switching back from home was still difficult for him, and this Motzaei Shabbos was no exception.
He was standing with his suitcases and his hat and jacket, but despite his six-foot build, he looked so vulnerable — a young child banished from his home.
He had starting crying and — oh! the pain jolted through me — begging me to let him stay home. He didn’t want to go. “Because, Mommy, no one there loves me like you do!”
My hands were pulsing from the EMDR tools I held, and suddenly I was crying. Sobbing. Choking.
What had I done to my Chezky? Why didn’t I stop them? Why didn’t I protect my baby? Oh! There were such depths to my agony! The deep dark place inside of me erupted outward, spewing guilt and self-flagellation. I should have protected Chezky! He needed me, and I let them take him away!
The pain radiated, peaked, swelled, and crashed over me. I was sinking into the tears, the maelstrom of emotions closing over me.
I was drowning.
“Don’t leave me like this!” I gasped to Gail, lifting my head and opening my eyes. “This hurts so much!”
She nodded, making eye contact. “You’ll pull through, and we’ll get you on solid ground again.”
I don’t know how long I sat there, crying and crying. I do know that I probably pushed her completely off schedule as I couldn’t stop. And to her credit, she didn’t leave me like that. She let me calm down, recuperate, and regulate my emotions before I walked out her door. But I felt like a bombed-out shell.
I was meant to go from there to work, but instead I just went home. Walking into my house, I could barely stand. I collapsed into bed, pulled the covers tight over me, and just lay there. Not sleeping, not awake. Just being.
It took a few days to find my equilibrium. But remarkably enough, when I did, I felt so much lighter. I walked into Gail’s office the next week with a bounce to my step. “Is it possible that that’s it?” I asked her. “I can feel better already?”
“It’s possible,” she said. “You reached some very deep places last session. But let’s try to work through some more.”
I did four more sessions with Gail, but never reached that level of intensity again. Yet remarkably enough I didn’t need it. Touching that spot now was not as raw, not as throbbing as it had been. I somehow had made peace with my emotions and my guilt.
Then one night, the idea for this serial was born. Perhaps it would be cathartic. Perhaps it would be inspirational.
I was ready to put down my thoughts and feelings in words. I was ready to express what had been, until now, a private and intense journey with my sons. And now I was stable enough and confident enough to share.
To be continued…
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 852)
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