I decided to go back to college for a second degree, and it hasn’t been easy. I loved college before, and I am enjoying it now, what’s hard is finding the time and sometimes the motivation. After a long day of work, when the only option I have is to study, I feel more defeated than energized.
So I looked to myself for help. I thought back on when I was first in college. I remembered coming home after classes and putting on music by Marshall Crenshaw and Buddy Holly and dancing. I would look out on the Russian River from my Grandmother’s summer cabin, dancing, laughing, and feeling good about myself probably for the first time in my life.
So this month when I felt like I didn’t want to study, I went back to that young woman that I was, and I asked her, “What’s motivating you?” Her answer was, “I feel like my whole life is ahead of me and college is going to help me get there.” That’s right, and it will. I got right back to studying, as much for the person I am today, as for the young woman I once was.
I learned this technique, when I was working with a therapist to treat my Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PSTD) using EMDR. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) was developed by Francine Shapiro, Ph.D. She discovered that combining eye movement with a process of remembering the trauma allowed the patient to heal from the symptoms and emotional distress associated with the trauma.
The process went something like this: I am discussing with my therapist a situation in my life that is upsetting me more than I think it should. We realize that the issue relates to a specific trauma from my past. She asks me things like, “how old are you?” and “where do you feel the pain in your body?” and “on a scale of 1 to 10 how disturbing is this memory?." She waves a pointer with a cotton ball on the end (which always made me think of s’mores), and asks me to follow it with my eyes while I remember what that traumatic experience was like. We do this until she stops or I say “stop“ and then we talk about what I am experiencing. Remembering can be so painful. As we go on, I find myself in a place where I don’t want to go on. She suggests that I bring in resources to help me. I decided to call on my adult self, the person I grew up to be to rescue my child. The child-me is four years old, abandoned in a dark, cold hole, surrounded by desolation. My adult self reaches into the hole, picks up my child self, and tells her everything was going to be OK and that I am there to help her. In my mind, I held her tight, and told her how much I loved her. I take her out of the hole, and bring her to a beautiful home where we both live. I move my eyes again, back and forth following the pointer. “How do you feel now?” My therapist asks. I say, “Good. Really good.” She always ended with asking me, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how disturbing is the memory now?” You’d have to experience this to know what it is like, because it is an absolute miracle to start with a “10” and end with, “It’s not disturbing at all.”
I know I can always return to myself and talk to the child that I was or reach forward in time and seek guidance from the person I will be. The healing that I have gained through EMDR has helped me to be more comfortable with myself and see life situations as experiences that I define for myself, instead of experiences that define me. And when you are brave enough to be honest with yourself, you learn what it means to be your own hero.