I didn’t intend to write a book. I started writing and I couldn’t stop.
When I hit about fifty pages, I finally admitted this was turning into a memoir. Then I threw up. Then I kept writing.
I didn’t realize what I was getting into. It’s been a profoundly healing experience, wrought with unexpected, exhausting highs and lows. I wouldn’t trade it for a thing, though. Here’s how it all started…
Trying to Understand My Trauma
With her help, I began to understand how the trauma had wired itself into my brain, and how that was affecting me decades later.
Something clicked as I learned about my brain’s physiological responses to trauma. I was relieved when I realized my feelings of anxiety, fear, shame and anger were not always conscious feelings of choice, they were baked into my brain as automatic responses when my brain programmatically decided I was in danger.
I further learned my traumatized brain sensed danger in unexpected ways, like when it flagged a large man walking down the street in a yellow T-shirt as “dangerous” and whipped me into a fight or flight panic. I didn’t consciously notice that person at the time, but my brain remembered one of the cult leaders who whipped me with a leather belt was wearing a yellow T-shirt.
A yellow T-shirt. That’s all it can take sometimes to whip me into a body-shaking panic attack.
Startled by the sudden rise of fear and anxiety, I ducked into an alley, tears streaming down my face. As I tried to calm myself, I wondered why the hell I was having a panic attack/mental breakdown in the middle the day for seemingly no reason. These kinds of confusing trauma responses left me feeling out of control and terrified of the world at large.
It wasn’t until years in therapy later did I understand the stupid yellow shirt had triggered that “freak out”. I had beaten myself up for years thinking I wasn’t strong enough to overcome random feelings of anxiety and fear, but now I was learning where they were coming from. Pieces started coming together, and more understanding led to me feeling more in control. If I knew what the problem was, I could work it out.
Enter EMDR Therapy
My therapist eventually introduced me to EMDR, which stands for “Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing”. For me, it changed everything.
In my unqualified layman’s explanation, EMDR therapy uses eye movement to heal trauma/PTSD responses that have been wired into your brain. Coordinated eye movement activates both hemispheres of your brain, which then kicks off a sort of rapid-fire processing reaction. The therapist then uses techniques to apply that rapid processing to your trauma, so your brain can finally logically process it (learn more about how EMDR works here).
I was a little skeptical at first, but along with trusting my therapist, I kept hearing people’s success stories, so I gave it a try. I’m now a firm believer after experiencing more than fifteen EMDR sessions over the last two and half years.
As I worked my way through therapy, I started to gain more control over my emotions and some of my unhealthy c-PTSD coping mechanisms.
EMDR has helped “re-wire” my brain. I still have more work in front of me, but instead of living in the trauma daily, my brain is starting to understand the trauma is in the past. It’s realizing that I am safe today, and it’s allowing the trauma to just become a memory. In short, it’s changing my life.
Prioritizing Healing, The Book Begins
After some strategic planning, I quit an unfulfilling high-stress marketing job that had made me very unhappy (and I would later learn, triggered many of my trauma responses) and took time off. I entered a self-declared (and self-funded) sabbatical of sorts. Around this time, the love of my life and our two dogs moved from Chicago to Louisville for a change of pace.
My plan was to take a few months off to focus on therapy and just unplug after more than fifteen years of functioning as a workaholic. After I recharged, I’d begin working full-time on my partner and I’s small business, an online organic spice shop.
A few weeks into my sabbatical, I took a short road trip to Nashville and attended an intensive three-day EMDR session with a therapist, who was referred to me by my therapist back in Chicago.
It was another perfect therapist match. The intensive long weekend unleashed memories and pain that had tormented my subconscious and conscious brain for decades. I felt lighter, happier and more centered than ever.
Then the Laptop Came Out
I got home from Nashville and almost immediately started typing. You might have called me possessed. The memories rushed forward. My voiceless child self finally had an outlet. I was in tune with her once again, and she typed with a vengeance.
As I wrote about my trauma, the characters of my early life resurrected clearly. I almost smelled their scent as I relived our encounters out on my laptop. Some people left me giggling in gratitude, others shaking in anger.
Sometimes I tasted my own fear as I wrote about the hard experiences. It bubbled up from a once familiar corner of my gut, where it had been living in the shadows and fueling my anxieties for two decades.
It was both horrifying and satisfying to finally reacquaint with my fear face-to-face, but there’s something about addressing it head on that made it less powerful.
A few months later, I’m sitting here with a memoir nearly done, my heart less tormented. EMDR is freeing my brain, and writing is freeing my soul.