“EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a psychotherapy that enables people to heal from the symptoms and emotional distress that are the result of disturbing life experiences.”
You can read all about it HERE
I’m not going to educate you on EMDR – it’s not my place, and I’m not a certified therapist (yet).
What I am going to talk about it my experience with EMDR – and how that became not just a way of healing for me (and many, many others), but how it inspired me to create the album titled (ready for a shock?) E M D R.
Now, why was I going to EMDR to start? A lot of reasons. There have been traumas in my past, and there are problems in my present because of it. I am doing it to heal, to repair, to have a way to not feel all the shame/indignity/disgrace/humiliation/pain/torment that I felt. And, what was revealed to me later, I would be able to feel better than I had ever thought possible.
So, I got myself a therapist. I call him Captain Therapy. After an initial meeting, discussing what my goals were, self-limiting beliefs, distress levels (usually 1-10), and traumas that I would like to face down – we got into it. He described it like a pendulum: “You’ll go a little into the red (the trauma), and then a little into the blue (the safety of the here & now). In my mind’s eye I saw him wearing a Victorian era suit and moving his pocket watch to-and-fro in front of my eyes, hypnotizing me. In reality he didn’t use a pocket watch – but he held his hand up, two fingers like a scout, and moved them back and forth and my eyes followed.
Needless to say, it didn’t take much for a flood of tingling to go across my brain and – as I focused on a particularly painful memory – I was immersed into it. From somewhere between first and third person I was able to watch the memory unfold. It took several sessions for everything in the memory to reveal itself to me – the emotional memories that are contained in the mind and body can hide.
Side Note: For some people, like me, the visual style doesn’t work as well as tactile. So, with Captain Therapy, we use hand buzzers. They go back and forth – left hand buzz, right hand buzz. I close my eyes, focus on the memory or feeling that I am going to be working on – and… GO!
Now, while I’m in the thick of it a lot of things happen. I have different reactions. I see things, some are memories, some are my mind’s interpretation, and some are just my mind trying to figure out how to explain what happened to me when the memory first happened.
The mind is always going to try and fill in the blank spaces – be them missing memories, emotions, or even explanations. A part of the EMDR process for me is questioning these things. And accepting certain things.
Something else that happens is physical reactions. I will be in the middle of a pass (one of the times when I am in the middle of the back-and-forth of the buzzers), and I will feel my nerves fire off like I am still in the middle of that initial trauma – my fight, flight, or freeze response fully engaged. More than a few times, between passes, I have had to jump up from my seat and pace the room – usually while shaking out my hands. Captain Therapy assured me that this is common, and I feel that letting go of some of that physical energy is good.
Side Note: Captain Therapy had me buy and read Waking The Tiger by Peter Levine – it explains how we as humans hold in our trauma. Most animals – like the glorious gazelle of the Serengeti – will have some form of trauma happen (being attacked by a predator) and then survive. While going through the fight, flight, or freeze response like us humans, afterwards they will have a Shake. They will literally shake the trauma out of their bodies. But, because we humans have the wonderful advancements of our minds (neo-cortex, people) we don’t have that Shake. We just push it down and store it. Take a moment to let that register. That shit that happened to you when you were just a little kid, it’s still stored somewhere in your mind, and in your body – and by being stored there, it could be keeping you tied to that trauma no matter how much time has passed. Fuckin’ whoa…
If you want to learn more about how we store and deal with trauma, or the fight, flight, or freeze response – read this book!
During my EMDR sessions, when I am going through Passes, I have also had deep visceral reactions. I have gotten stomach cramps. I have puked. I have wished that some other pain would come and rid me of the stabbing in my gut – but it went away as we did more Passes and as I talked with Captain Therapy.
When we begin working on a target Captain Therapy will ask me my distress levels (1-10) and we will discuss those. My negative beliefs associated with the target (I’m not good enough, nobody could ever love me, I’m a monster, etc.) and we gauge those. We also look at my goal beliefs (I am a good man, I am a healthy human being, I deserve love, I am capable of healthy relationships, etc.) and we gauge those, too. After we have done all the Passes that I can hand – or we have time for – he asks me those three things again. We talk about coping skills and exercises. We talk about how I’m feeling, how I used to feel, how I might feel in the coming days as I process this session.
We close our sessions with a positive space activity. Captain Therapy gives me a short guided meditation to my happy place, something to help me calm down after facing the demons of my mind.
I close my eyes and he has me visualize… Playing my beloved white Fender Stratocaster. My dream guitar. In the meditation I plug it into a 1961 Vox AC30 amplifier (a la Dan on That Pedal Show – just watch the mini-piece on it HERE). In the meditation I can feel the guitar, hear it through the amplifier, feel the air moving with the sound and volume, smell the room – I can even feel the heat from the tubes in the amp. Plugging that guitar into that amp and just playing is a place that I daydream about, and it’s a place that puts me at ease. Most days I can put myself right in that space, I can play the music and I can be less fearful or anxious. There have been times when I could barely see anything, let alone feel myself playing music on these wonderful pieces of equipment.
I leave the office of Captain Therapist and prepare myself for the days to come. I’ve come to know what to expect from my mind – but it’s not always the case.
Day 1 – Day of EMDR sessions. After leaving the office I am usually a little tired, but my mind is trying to put emotions to words. I feel a little shaky, but that is just because my consciousness is trying to work in this new information. I tend to feel a strange mix of liberation and exhaustion.
Day 2 – The day after EMDR. I am incredibly sensitive to certain things: seemingly random words or phrases will elicit huge reactions from me; I am more sensitive to light and sound; I am tired. I am usually emotionally susceptible to even the smallest slight. My mind can feel lost, off-kilter, or even foggy. My subconscious is processing the new information from the EMDR work. My dreams are vivid, strange, and leave me feeling either (more) confused or just bring back the memories that are traumatic. Day 2 sucks.
Day 3 – The second day since EMDR. I am more reactive, but it feels more like an instinctual reaction. On this day I tend to walk a tightrope between anger and sorrow – but the joyous moments are incredible. Deep breathing exercises help a lot on these days. So do nachos. The deep layers of the unconscious are integrating the new information from EMDR. I still feel aloof, loopy, and sometimes I am distant. In a lot of ways I feel like a shaken can of soda – just waiting for the top to pop.
Day 4 – Feeling integration in little ways – the newfound information or realizations are changing my habits, actions, reactions, and general state of being.
Example: when it comes to my day to day fears, on a scale of 1-10, they maybe hit a 2 or 3 now. I used to LIVE at a 7. A SEVEN, PEOPLE! And, when something, anything would happen – an argument at work, a problem with a friend, a spider, not enough money – I would instantly go to a 10. Living life like that isn’t living! I was just in a constant state of fear, anxiety, and trying to prevent any of it from being real. Now, I don’t even hit a 7 unless it is for a damn good reason – a life or limb kind of thing. I think it’s incredible. A 7 on the Fear & Distress scale was where I used to be as a baseline! Now, I don’t even come close to hitting that number on a regular basis.
Now, I’m still in the middle of all this – I still go for EMDR every week. I’ve had some changes and I have some stuff I still need to work out. It seems like every week I have some new scar torn open, some new insight into how I can be a better man, and I have some small (or major) revelation that makes its way down to my unconscious mind
Fuckin’ cool, right? Right.
I just want to make sure that anyone who reads this gets a few things:
- I don’t have all the answers. Hell, I barely have any answers at all, and those answers are just for me! Except this – potatoes are always welcome in a meal – that answer is for everyone!
- EMDR is F***ING HARD! It is really, really hard. No matter how strong, how much mental/psychological power you have – or think you have – EMDR will get to you. For me, I have laughed, I have cried, I have gotten angry and scared, I have felt the sheer terror that makes your bones want to jump out of your body and run – that people try to portray in movies – I have gone to the farthest distances my mind will allow and back to the center of my consciousness. I have had every thought questioned again and again, every boundary pushed farther and farther, and every belief, disputed and doubted – all of them challenged and tested and dared by my Self. Captain Therapy and My Lady have helped me in every way they could, and I am so damn grateful for both of them. Truly. And, I have to say that I love and appreciate my family – and even our animals. They are my support system. Music is a major player in it, too. Playing music, listening to music, even thinking about it can help me get through it all one moment at a time.
Long story short (too late) If you are going to do EMDR (or any form of therapy) make sure you have a support system!
- There are different exercises and tools that you can find and use. These resources are invaluable to me – I use meditations, Calm Safe Place exercises, and grounding techniques to help me out. Sure, My Lady helps me with these (A LOT!) (Thank you so much, baby!) – but having the wherewithal and capacity to seek out these resources, and apply them, is very important. Very. Important.VERY! IMPORTANT! So, when you are talking to your therapist ask them for some of these resources.
- There are all kinds of trauma – ALL TRAUMAS GREAT AND SMALL – and they can come to a place of consciousness and attention during EMDR. One piece of advice I have heard and that I will agree with – all trauma is trauma. So you feel something about your brother knocking over your wooden block castle? Sure, it’s not a big deal – but it might be stored as a trauma in your brain and body. Trauma is trauma is trauma. It doesn’t have to be only huge things that affect you, but little things are just as powerful. Really, just look at your everyday life. How much do the little things matter? Don’t be afraid of disappointing your therapist – they are there to help you. Whatever your trauma may be, big or little, great or small, just remember to use your resources, look to your support system, breathe, and
Go With That.
There is still a lot to go for me. I’ve only come a little way down a long road. And that road is not going to get any easier. It is going to be hard, it is going to be like walking barefoot on broken glass and shitty feelings, it is going to take every ounce of strength I have to get through it, it is going to be a road through Hell.
I am going to do it.
“But, Mr. The Page, how did you go from therapy to making an album?”
I’ll tell you.
I don’t know.
One of the things that has always comforted me is playing music. One day, I sat there noodling around (as I so often do), and I had a moment: I needed to get the feeling of what I was going through out.
It took some work. I had to go through the technical stuff – getting the sounds right, the tunings I wanted to use, the barely-there sounds that chime in here and there.
It also took the work of my mind to let the feeling of my own traumas and the road through my EMDR sessions out of my head and into my hands.
There was a lot of try, try, try, fail a whole lot, fail some more, get close – but nowhere near close enough, and then try a lot more before getting it close enough for right.
Even the technical stuff proved problematic.
The tracks Labeled Trauma 1-4 were supposed to be only 1 track – the track that is the trauma in my mind. If you want, go ahead and listen to them all together
– but BE WARNED –
it may traumatize you…
The tracks labeled E, M, D, and R are basically my mind going through the session, the conscious, the subconscious, the unconscious, and the processing.
Oh yeah, the one called Go With That…
During EMDR Captain Therapy and I will focus on a moment, a thought, a feeling, a memory, and before we start in with the next round he will say, “Go With That.” It is what they say to you during EMDR. He and I have made it a punchline to some of our jokes during my sessions. The song was made to be a form of instrumental gallows humor.
And that’s how I made an album from all this.