Filling in the Hole In the Soul

 

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The Light at the End of the Tunnel is You!

Just got back from EMDR therapy and thought I would write this right away as I will be very tired over the next few days.

A fundamental difference between PTSD and Complex PTSD is that Complex PTSD also addresses the consequence and effects of emotion dysregulation (the impaired ability to process and regulate negative emotions ) and insecure attachment to a primary care giver.

PTSD can happen in those with secure attachment and adaptive emotion regulation abilities and often relates to specific events or a one off event.

Much of the therapeutic work that goes into PTSD is about reprocessing a particular trauma and the related or associated feelings of guilt, blame and fearful helplessness etc that can result from that moment of traumatic powerlessness over a particular re-experienced traumatic event.

C-PTSD is more complex in it’s treatment as the trauma meshes with wider issues,  in my case, of emotion processing deficits (like alexithymia) and as a result emotion dysregulation.

We need to identify emotions in order to process then cognitively as feelings – we need to find words to put to the emotions before they become feelings – before we can properly regulate or control these feelings and whatever action we take in relation to these feelings will be the direct result of how these emotions are represented in our brain and mind.

If we have difficulty with representing these emotions as feelings then it is because the emotions are not labelled accurately (i.e. remain undifferentiated from other emotions) and do not become specifically represented in our brain and mind as particular and distinct feelings.

If we are not fully aware, cognitively, of emotions then we do not represent them as feelings to act on but act on these undifferentiated emotion states via impulsive and compulsive behaviours as if they are distress states. We act in relation to undifferentiated emotions as if they are distressing, like an emotional white noise.

I often act in an emotionally and experientially avoidant way. Most of my life I have avoided my emotions via maladaptive impulsive/compulsive behaviours.

I need to know my feelings in order to “self soothe” but as I could not “read” my  feelings my attempts at self soothing have normally been external to me in the form of susbtance use and abuse or in behaviours like gambling

The problem of “self soothing” thus is a legacy of emotion dysregulation but it is also a legacy of insecure attachment to my mother which resulted in an avoidant attachment style which can become disorganised when distressed.

This attachment style, I realised today, deep in my mind during bi-lateral stimulation, is partly  because I never learned to self soothe.

I was never taught it from my primary care giver and she did not appear to be able to do it either.

I never learnt to process and regulate emotions from my primary care giver either. So when I,  today, was attempting to  to investigate the horror of that fearful helplessness of watching my mother attempt a “cry for help” suicide attempt by trying to force pills down her throat I did not expect to suddenly understand the interlinking connection between all these things.

I expected to return to the horror of this most distressing scenario. I didn’t return to the horror emotionally but I did return to the scene and saw and felt that it was definitely a cry for help and not a serious attempt to kill herself – not completely otherwise she would not have made such a drama and spectacle out of it and had an audience to observe it.

I saw doubt in her eye, and shock at our reactions, a sudden realisation of “what the hell” am I doing here?

However, as she slumped to the floor, she, to my memory anyway, said it was all too much, that she wanted to die that she had had enough.

To us fearful children this  meant she had had enough of everything including us. That we were not enough, not good enough or not reason enough to keep her from wanting to die.

When asked to describe how I felt, I, to my surprise, had this massive feeling of a huge hole in my soul, as if someone had blasted the biggest hole in my chest with a double barrel  shot gun.

A hole that my alcoholism, addictive behaviours and traumatized self seeped from.

I was asked to act as an adult in this scene and immediately consoled the younger me, then my mother.

I asked mum to reassure the younger me that it was nothing to do with him/me, that she loved me. She did so.

Slowly but surely over ten minutes my younger me became united to my mother and then my sisters, and then my father. We all at on the bathroom floor, in the sunlight, holding each other and reassuring each other of our love for each other and that things would be alright.

My mother told me how she struggled on afterwards, through years of addiction and mental health problems, out of her love for me and my sisters. That this was not my fault, that I was not bad and it was not my fault – she was ill and couldn’t help it just like I could not prevent my own addictive illness.

It was the way it was. The way it is. We had to accept this.

Imperceptibly I could feel a membrane stretching and growing across my chest, over the circled edges of my hole in the soul.  Like a healing.

It is a start, a great start.

The inner child stuff I have often I have thought  a useful idea but not a reality until I married this psychological idea to something  called the resonance circuit in neuroscience. It is the emotional circuit in the brain through which the effects of insecure attachment resonate decades later.

It is like a frequency via which trauma and insecure attachment vibrates when distress in our everyday live strikes this fear circuitry. It may be as real as any neural circuitry in the brain.

Today I felt for the first time at a profound level that this resonance circuit is how the inner child communicates his distress. It is still  a “live ” part of me. A part that requires me to soothe it. To have compassion for.

I suddenly realised this is what healthy people do, they look after themselves, they self soothe. It is a part of emotion regulation.

They do so by having a compassion for their own suffering. They put their emotions and then their feelings first.

Today I experienced the benefits of self soothing, of realising that emotions were not to be avoided but discussed, shared and clarified and that I could eventually have a secure attachment with myself.

This is the main awakening. That the most important relationship is the one I have with myself.

 

Trying to Find the Horror

 

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In most traumatic events there is an accompanying feeling of terrified helplessness. Whether it’s a soldier looking on helplessly as his fellow soldier gets killed or a fireman seeing person burn in a fire, just out of reach or someone looking on as a loved one tries to kill herself.

There is that feeling of falling into an abyss.  A moment of true wordless horror. This the moment of trauma that leads to a life of post trauma, to PTSD.

A moment that is so unbelievably bad and terrifying, that the brain and heart struggles to comprehend the extent of it, fails to process the magnitude of it, fails to lodge the event in their long term memory and script of their life. Instead it makes you roam your life like an emotional Steppenwolf, scared to ever return to the warm of common humanity.

It is like an explosion that detonates in the brain and blows holes in stress systems and lives on in fragmented, fractured memory and in heightened fearful emotional responses to the world which are somehow not explainable. They require post hoc and retrospective explanation because they seem inordinately over reactive to events that prompt them.

This event will haunt the future and appear to  live on in one’s very bones. It has not been exorcised so lives on as a neural ghost haunting one’s reactions to people, places and things.

I know what my explosion is but not the intimate details. I have asked one of my sisters to help me piece together the broken pieces and scattered  debris of my memories of the event but she has struggled to.

First she was sure she was right in describing it a certain way and now has changed her mind to describe it a different way. With a different sequence of events and characters. It has been frustrating not being able to transport oneself back in time and simply look at a previous event in one’s life but there are so many self defense mechanisms making that process extremely difficult.

Either way, we are still not convinced about the aftermath of the event. We seem to be looked at a charcoal penciled sketching of pictures of the past which often get scrubbed out and started over. We have tried desperately, for hours this weekend, to piece and glue our scraps of memory together to make a bigger, more fuller picture, like a collective collage.  We might do this for weeks and still not get a definitive picture and memory of what truly happened.

I spent a few years, many moons ago, trying to write fiction. In fact I wrote about my family and this incident but purely, I believed, from my imagination but mixed with some historical signposts. Looking back, this writing from the heart may be more accurate that our attempts to rescramble our collective memories?

I and my sister have been trying to get to the moment of horror. To look at it again as adults not children, traumatized children.

We are convinced that it happened only once, thank God but that it has had major consequence and repercussions on all my sisters and I.

It would not be outlandish to suggest that all our lives took a major redirection that day. I, when talking to my sisters, see now that the huge similarities we seen to have are all because we are traumatized by the same event. We have post trauma personalities.

How we reacted to the same trauma seems to have frozen us into certain personalities.

My sister who ran for help is still running, in her personal life she continues to trust no one.

My eldest sisters still pretends, that it did not happen  as she may have dissociated from the actual event when it was happening – not wishing to believe that it  could be happening.

My third sister still bristles with anger and hostility at my “scary monster” of a mother who scared the life out of her children over forty years ago by attempting to swallow a phial of pills.

I am not sure what tablets she tried to kill herself with or if she even consciously tried to kill herself but to her assembled children that is what it looked like and that is what it felt like.

It is hard to describe what this level of rejection  and devastation felt  like. I will try to explore it again tomorrow in my next EMDR sessions.

The problems with asking a sister to help you remember is that you not only view the same scene differently, depending on gender, emotional loyalities, age etc but that the effects the traumatic incident had on you still affects how you recall it.

For example, my sister who ran to get help, talks about the event in a skimming, superficial, running through it type of way. She still doesn’t want to delve deeper into it as it is still  too scary. She is still running with the ten year old shaky, adrenaline fueled legs that took her to my uncle’s house to get help, not knowing how bad her mother was and whether something monumentally terrible had and was occurring.

I was left with my mother after she had taken the pills, slumped on the bathroom floor, without an adult to tell me things were going to be okay?  God knows the feelings I had, being so helpless? The despair I must have gone through in this few minutes between my mother throwing the pills down her throat and my sister returning with help? It must have felt a bit longer than eternity?

I will find out more no doubt tomorrow

Interestingly I would say decades later that one of my major weaknesses in life is my ability to tolerate uncertainty about future events and to handle distress adaptively.

It has been the greatest issue in my recovery, it is tempting to speculate that this behavioural response started as the consequence of not knowing the future prospects for my strewn mother, lying with tablets dribbling out her mouth on the bathroom floor?

 

 

The Thing We most Run Away From is the Truth

 

I started writing this just after I completed my therapy on Wednesday but was quite depressed so stopped, so here we go again.

I have started getting to the horrible heart of stuff, physiologically re-experiencing some of the abuse I had as a child, principally from my mother.

Re-experiencing this physically and emotionally has been tough. It also shatters some of the distorted internal working models I have about me in relation to my mother.

For decades I have been constantly “defending” her against my sisters, who are older than me and see our mother as quite scary, abusive, manipulative, seemingly uncaring, divisive etc.

I have guarded emotionally against these ideas although intellectually I know they are correct  and she was these things and much more.

I could not afford until now not to feel and confront some of deceptions and denials  I have had about in relation to my mother. To be honest I was unaware I harboured so many of them.

My childhood internal working model of the world could not have dealt with the crushing emotional reality that my mother could sometimes act in a violent, apparently “monstrous” way. To me in particular.

I chose instead, in order to survive childhood, an internal working model, continually developed throughout my life, that mother was a victim of circumstances, she was tragic, had mental health issues, addiction issues, that it wasn’t really her fault!?

But this is denial. I have had this model shattered in the last few days. My mother did act in violent, monstrous ways to me for a number of years, especially in very early childhood and this was in addition to all the other emotional heart ache of living with a mother who was rarely there for me as a son needing maternal affection.

These things happened. I have to stop denying this. I have built  a view of the world built on this denial. Instead of addressing the hurt I have experienced, the sense of injustice, the rallying against the world, all the things I felt about my mother deep down inside I have instead projected these feelings onto the world while “protecting” a false view of my relationship  with my mother. Even to the extent I have been hostile to my sisters on occasion for stating things about our past that were true and I did not  want to hear.

My internal working model is a fabrication and needs updating.

The fights I have with the world are really with my mother, the injustice I feel sometimes is really against my mother’s behaviour. It has been a lot to take in but it is what I  have to accept this.

Internal  Working Models colour how we perceive the world and how we think and act in the world. The matrix that is the world, the world we perceive via our senses is also perceived or coloured via our emotions and feelings. We perceive the world not as an objective reality but, subjectively in relation to how we feel about ourselves.

Much of what we feel about our selves is the consequence of our upbringing and also often the unresolved feelings we have about that upbringing. In other words, negative emotions and feelings about ourselves and our significant loved ones can distort how we perceive reality.

My mother is no longer alive and cannot go into recovery like me and make amends – hence therapy is being accountable, not responsible for the hurt of the younger me.

It is the extracting of emotional thorns which I have not stuck into me but which I have increasingly pushed in over the years. Slowly but surely they are being forced to the surface and a new skin will heal over the painful hurt of the past. I feel it is this organic in many ways. Our human organism is set up to heal.

There are sins of commission and omission. Now I am dealing with what was done to me, omission. I dealt with my sins of commission in my steps 4-9.

My sisters were not subjected to the same scale of physical, emotional and mental abuse as me. Paradoxically, this seems to have allowed them an emotional distance to see my mother more as she really was at times.  I have never been able to. I was deep in the hurt and abuse and had to make sense of it more than they had to although it has left lasting emotional scars for them too. My eldest sister seems in a trenchant denial about all of it, as if it never happened which seems the most intractable condition of all.

For years I would return home to visit my family and often there would be a falling out or even physical fights between my sisters and my mother. It used to kill me and I could never figure it out, why my return would provoke such extreme emotional behaviour, such an eruption.

They were unconsciously fighting over our past, and  I was like an emotional bomb ready to go off. I now have an inkling why they argued and fought. They were powerless just like me. They reacted differently, hating my mother on many occasions for what she had subjected us to as children and adolescents. Two sisters dismayed at me for “defending” and protecting mum after all she had done.

They didn’t realise I had to emotionally, it would be too much of an upheaval to suddenly realise what they were aware of and the extent of my maternally-based abuse.

I am getting there, but I will never end up at the same emotional destination of hating my mother. I love her. I understand her predicament. I am just trying to get well. I forgive her completely. I am just attempting to straighten out this emotional reaction to the world, that was  seeded in early childhood and which has reaped a terrible consequence in the succeeding years.

I choose to love rather than hate and always have done and always will do.

The problem with C-PTSD as opposed to PTSD in the insecure attachment and emotion regulation issues that have to be dealt with.

After my first bilateral stimulation session we did not do this process again in my last therapy session. We didn’t need to in fact as the emotions of early childhood came flooding back.

Turns out the thing I have most run from in my life  is the truth.

The truth of my mother’s frequent psychical abuse, the night violence.

All my life I have defended my mother, mainly against what she had done to others.

Getting to the start of realising some pain around this stuff made me realise that this was only the tip of the iceberg.

It was too much for me to become aware of , my mum as a violent night time monster so I did not, I constructed another view of her as victim and me as being the reason why she acted the way she did. I constructed a lie to protect me, although it appeared to simply be protecting her. This is what my sisters and me also have not realised before.

The truth is sometimes unbearable.

I had to re-experience the violence and finally express the feelings of being subjected to it.

Throughout my adolescence I was I was also an enabler to my mother, serving her her Valium, her solpadeine, be codeine prescription, her cocktail of legal, medically prescribed “buzzes” .

Her drugs, I helped service, unwittingly serve her the drugs she had become addicted to, I anticipated that our chemical bonding would raise her spirits, overcome her depression, soothe her anxiety,  our forthcoming chats and chemically heightened affection and warmth.

I loved it, this medically prescribed attachment, it was a whole lot better than nothing at all.

It was here that I learnt the mechanics of being an addict. I would use this working model in later life with my pseudo family of drug abusing friends, the same rituals of chemically induced attachment to other human beings.

It was all I knew , it was how I reared, how I grew up.

Her drug use was like one of those intimation fires around which we congregated to feel the second hand glow of enhanced human warmth. Via her drug use.

It was a lot better than nothing.

The artificial fire of drug using and belonging.

The second hand love.

My heart would even soar as I saw and heard those nose tingling bubbles of solpadeine  fizz and gently hiss in the bubbly water as I brought my mother her next fix.

My mum took drugs increasing as she become more addicted and more divorced from the self than beat her son.

This is where I learnt my drug taking behviour.

The truth had been become a foreign country for my mother and then increasingly for me.

I am still trying to get back home. To me.

Almost Time?

Tomorrow I am set for my next EMDR session.

The one thing I haven’t mentioned about EMDR and I should really for any of you lovely people considering this excellent treatment and that is that the treatment is very exhausting.

I spent three days on an adrenaline high followed by three days of pure exhaustion.

This is worth noting as it certainly effects one’s ability to do the things they normally do, such as their job!

I run my own business, I am self employed and I am not convinced I could do this EMDR treatment if I was not self employed. My wife did it while on sickness leave from her work.

Although, equally, I know of other people who have had to hold down a job while having EMDR therapy and did so. I am only talking from my own experience. My experience is that by the time the next EMDR therapy session is about to begin I am still recovering from the last one.

I have been dog tired, way beyond how tired I normally get and I do get tired quite often as I have a tendency to over do things, well everything really.

In addition to running my business, I do academic research with two Professors in a UK University, I blog on two blogsites, and I am carrying our hard manual building at least twice a week on a regular basis which is physically taxing. Most of this I haven’t had the energy for, in the last couple of weeks of EMDR.

EMDR treatment is fairly quick in it’s ability to quickly positive outcomes compared to some treatments  but it does  have the price of being very tiring.

I am writing this because I do not want to give the impression that it is simply a case of rolling up to treatment, it being great and then back for some of the same the next week! It is not like that, as I say it is exhausting.

I have also had over ten years in recovery which has helped greatly. I am not sure how I could have coped with this level of exhaustion eight years ago? Maybe I could, it is difficult to say.

I am not saying this to put anyone off, I think EMDR works for people in recovery whatever their length of recovery. I am just stating that it is very tiring and this should be factored into one’s awareness about doing EMDR.

Obviously I do not like being this tired but it is part of it I guess?

I find this level of tiredness makes me a bit more snappy with people, not as able to cope with frustration as usual and also it can create a low or sometimes negative mood that is not really linked to anything in particular other than being very tired. I have panda black rings under my eyes.

Okay that’s me done. An unusually short blog from me this time (shows how tired I am, lol!)

I do try to write shorter blogs but it rarely happens. Things gush our of me a bit and then I have written a chapter rather than a blog!!

All grist to the mill as they say in the UK. I would like to put this writing in a book one day. Explaining what happens in the brain of recovery but also using personal stories of recovery like the blogs I am writing now.

I noticed in my other blogsite Inside the Alcoholic Brain   that the most popular blogs by far have been on the topics of PTSD and C_PTSD and the treatment thereof via EMDR.

I think many people in recovery catch on to the idea eventually that they actually suffer C-PTSD (and other co-occurring disorders) and also insecure attachment the longer they are in recovery.

Through time recovery is about more than not relapsing, more than addiction and becomes a voyage of discovery and a search for increased well being and quality of life – William White calls it “better than well!”

These factors are also prompting me to do EMDR and finally get past my past. A past that has troubled me for over forty years.

I want to fully engage in the now, the present, I want the past fractures to be mended and the love that  I know is scattered across different areas of past and present life to finally be reconciled. .

I have choice now, I never had when in active alcoholism and addiction.

What a wonderful thing, choice!

 

There is A Solution! To Complex Trauma

There is A Solution – To Complex Trauma

I suffered from my own active alcoholism for over twenty years and found a solution to my alcoholism via the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous and their 12 step program of recovery. A program of recovery  I still, for a large extent,  follow today. I generally trust God, clean house and help others, the three basics.

This program has not only saved my life but helped me acquire a new sense of self and a way of life and manner of living that I never knew existed.

I have added to my program of recovery by coming to understanding my disorder of addiction as one of emotional dysfunction.

I have difficulty identifying, labeling and verbalising emotions and this can lead to impulsive behaviour, poor decision making and  at times distress via undifferentiated emotions. In other words, I am not always sure what or how I am feeling.

I often need to discuss my emotions with others so that I can cognitively process them and identify them as feelings.

It is in identifying what I am feeling that then leads to rational goal directed behaviours rather than distress based impulsive decisions and behaviour. Processing my emotions, so that I actually know what I am feeling, helps with subsequent emotion regulation so that I do not emotionally react as much I used to, I do not need to react as much via ego defense mechanism, I do not need to have a life shot through with fear and resentment.

I can now say this situation or person made me feel like this, e.g. they upset me and I can then act accordingly and adaptively rather having rampaging revengeful thoughts fueled by  resentments and reactive behaviour.

These are some of the reasons why I have ten years in recovery, I have learnt ways, coping skills for dealing with me and my emotions, usually my negative emotions.

Via this new attitude and behaviour my brain I  believe has changed for the better, via neuroplasticity prompted by the adaptive behaviours of more mature emotional regulation, as opposed to immature emotional responding, the regions of my brain that control emotional response have altered and recovered.

My brain is now wired in such a way as to encourage more effective emotion regulation. Even when i do take something personally it does not last a mere fraction of the time it used and the intensity of the negative emotional reactions is so small compared to early recovery and the succeeding years. I can now live life on life’s terms a lot better (although far from perfectly).

However, regardless of all this improvement in my brain and behaviours, in my stress and emotion regulation, there have been several times when my recovery has been threatened.

Six years into recovery I thought I was going to relapse. I did not want to drink but I was so distressed emotionally that it seemed inevitable at one point. The more distressed I got the more my brain was screaming at me to drink. I was understandably shocked and dismayed, frightened and upset by coming so close to relapse.

To learn that I have a brain that will lead me to drinking alcohol when I have not desired to drink again ever! I showed me what could possibly meant in my case by the Big Book when it states “the alcoholic at certain times has no effective mental defense against the first drink” !

The distress that led to me having scant mental defense against the first drink was not prompted solely by my alcoholism. It was my alcoholism, which is it seems a parasite that feeds on motivation and emotion, was feeding like a parasite on the distress caused by unresolved complex trauma from childhood. In fact the distress in this instance was at Christmas and I could not stop thinking and feeling very emotional about my parents, who are now both sadly deceased.

It was more than grief, however, it was traumatic distress I now understand.

Why was I so distressed. It was this distress that was so active and apparent in my alcoholic drinking, the unbearableness of this distress prompted many a drinking spree.

It took six years of recovery to realise that I was still very effected by something profound to do with my parents. I then in later months became aware of the fact I often dissociate in a variety of ways. So badly that I can almost return to real childhood experience, or rather the somatic re-experiencing of being a traumatized child.

On one occasion I was so worried that I had inadvertently hurt the feelings of some one in AA that  I was convinced it would lead to their relapse and  I kept saying to my wife that I thought this guy will relapse and die because of me and what I thought I had done, which was a minor incident blown up to extreme madness by my catastrophic and paranoid  thought processes. It became evident that this minor episode was a trauma trigger to another incident in childhood, still unresolved in my psyche after decades.

My reactions were not actually about this guy in recovery who was fine and oblivious to my mad thoughts or even what my crazy mind had convinced me I had done to hurt him. This smallest of triggers propelled me experientially back through time to early childhood experiences

Interestingly, what I thought at the time and what I now know to be true is that a misconstruction of what is going at one point in time can be internalised as the truth and live on in our bodliy and mental responses to similar episodes decades later. The past quite literally lives in our bones.

My miscontruction by which I mean I perceive or build up a picture of what is happening now based on what I have pictured in my mind as happening in similar episodes in the past.

Over the next few months and through year 7 of my recovery I was steeling myself to start therapy again. Then my wife had a car accident and ended up suffering PTSD herself. I then shelved my own treatment plans as my wifes’ condition needed more urgent attention. For the next year and a half I helped my wife recuperate and get steadily more mentally well.

She used this therapeutic process that I had read about called EMDR and which after much research I recommended to her although I wasn’t really sure it would work. It was more hope than faith.

Miraculously it did seem to work, in fact it seemed way to good to be true. The effects were so profound.

My wife would say that she felt like some vital part of her brain had been “plugged in again”

She had felt the trauma had pulled some plug out in her brain and it had led to a whole assortment of psychological difficulties such as hyper-vigilance and perceptual distortions, e.g. seeing Bees as flying zeppelins, or constantly seeing errors every where. She felt she had lost her mind, as life seemed to overwhelm her, there was too much information somehow which she struggled to mentally filter.

The part of the brain that supposedly deals with these things is called  the cingulate cortex, mainly the anterior cingulate cortex, wedged  between the neo-cortex and the limbic regions of the brain. it deals with among other things, attention, stress and emotion regulation, emotion processing, with monitoring error in the environment.

It seemed to have been overloaded and compromised by her trauma and the reactions of her brain afterwards to that trauma. amazingly for her and for me the EMDR therapy seemed to put it all back in place, got her broken brain working again.

I thought this amazing but remained cautious and at times skeptical about ti it. To be honest, part of me did not want it to be true, as it meant I would have to give it a go myself at some stage.

I researched and researched trying to find some holes in this miraculous therapy. All the studies universally said it worked well, that the patient outcomes were positive and long lasting.

Damn I thought.

How could reprocessing memories from the past lead to such a profound alteration in one’s consciousness. The cingulate  cortex is also said to be the seat of consciousness in the brain.

How could this be? All that was really happening, to me at least, in her therapy sessions was a therapist moving her finger from one side to the other  while her eyes tracked these fingers, and while simultaneously thinking about a trauma experience from childhood.

The therapist also supported this process  by prompting her to  talk about what she was feeling in relation to whatever came up in her mind in relation to this bilateral stimulation.

There is so much to this therapeutic process than this I can assure you  but I don’t want to go into details now – if you want the technical stuff please go to http://insidethealcoholicbrain.com/2016/01/14/how-the-brain-reacts-to-emdr/

to see what happens to the brain etc during EMDR.

Here I want to describe how it makes you feel and maybe even suggest how it works.

The reason I am disclosing all of this, the inner workings of my traumatized and healing brain is simple – this EMDR does seems to be miraculous in it’s healing potential

Admittedly I have only had one bilateral stimulation session but i think I had good results already.

I have been a thirsty man for psychic healing for nearly 45 years so you will have to excuse me being so overwhelmingly grateful and overjoyed to have finally found a solution to the problems I had years before alcoholism and addiction and which not only fed into these disorders but which could actually prompt relapse in these conditions.

I left the session thinking what came up in our therapeutic exchange prior to the bilateral stimulation touched on things I had heard a thousand times before from the mouths of hundreds of people in AA meetings.

Are the majority of us in AA actually traumatised? If not by childhood or other traumas but by the trauma of addiction itself, having addiction or having had to live with addiction?

Is trauma the main reason people relapse?

All these questions have become increasingly pressing and urgent.

What is the bilateral stimulation like? Well originally you think what the hell is a bit of finger and eye moving going to achieve but I have to say that, under my therapist’s expert guidance I seemed to go back and find roots of some of my traumas, the roots of the self loathing and low self esteem and concept, the reason for  not thinking I am lovable, some of the reasons why my family grew into the thorny bush of recrimination in the way it did, out of the rough ground of our shared family trauma.

All from sometimes singular events.

In revisiting and re-experiencing one particular trauma that involved my sisters and i it suddenly occurred to me in my heart why everyone in my family grew up to be how they are, how they were amazingly based to a large extent on how they reacted to the actual trauma incident. We all reacted to trauma in different ways and this could have led us to have views about ourselves in the present that are steeped in reactions from the past. It showed how brain mechanisms conjure neural ghosts that haunt us decades later.

Echos of the past are materialised in  jaundiced perceptions of ourselves in the succeeding minutes, hours, days and decades, throughout the rest of our lives.

It is a startling insight.

How reacting to an event leads to a distress so powerful that flows around in the brain memory networks to fester in our psyches ever since. It is like a splinter that one knows is there but can’t quite get at.

The splinter,  the more you try to get at it, the worse it festers and day on day it gets worse and worse, more poisonous. It pollutes how we feel about ourselves, for years and years.

All because of not emotionally processing what was going on at the time, in a time long long ago. How profound is that?

When you are tracking the fingers as they move, and thinking about a trauma it feels like your brain elevates as the brain is super stimulated by all the activity –  one can almost feel like one is free falling to quote Tom Petty , free associating and free falling through the past to childhood. Or it is coming up the other way?

Either way,  one is suspended in lived experience, the amgydala has been hypoactivated so it is not as stressful as it could be – the brain is not cognitively imprisoned in the moment but letting the brain free to be how it is. It felt like the Matrix losing it’s coding script.

I returned to events prior to a major trauma and left my amazingly fractured memory of the trauma to come to the surface of my mind. As I did so I discussed the emotions I was feeling, being mindful of the sensations, seeing the past in a new light.

Taking out or allowing the emotional poison to be poulticed. In scientific terms I was properly processing the emotion, exorcising the emotional ghost.

It is the negative emotion, the traumatic distress which screams it’s echo through our lives. In taking the sting out of the emotion and the emotion out of the memory, we can not only silence the scream but put it to bed.

As I left the therapy session I remembered what my wife had said about some part of her being plugged back in again. I felt that some part of me that had been replugged that hadn’t been plugged in properly plugged in  for 45 years.

Is this not the root of my troubles when it comes to relapse risk – this trauma.

Should we not treat co-morbidity as soon as possible in addicts with co-morbid conditions? Do the high relapse rates reflect also  untreated co-morbid conditions and the effect this lack of treatment has on relapse.

Alcoholics and addicts often relapse due to distress or overwhelming negative or crippling negative self concept, most of which are exacerbated by co-morbidity.

Doesn’t this co-morbidity simply makes one’s addictve behaviour more chronic more severe?

I left the therapy on cloud nine, all strangely at one and attached to the world and it’s people. It was a very similar feeling to the feeling I had after doing my step 5 when I had confronted some of the damage of my past by admitting my wrongdoing to another person. It had that same cleansing feeling. That feeling that something was being or had been put right.

It turns out that marvelous feeling was on the surface of one layer of this onion called me. No doubt there will be more peeling of the onion to come, more tears and more wonderful days like today.

I have a way to go for sure. But I have that wonderful precious gift of faith that this will work, that I will one day get past my past.

I walked for miles afterwards stopping to have full blown conversations with people I know and haven’t seen in years. The sun shun on our conversations.

It felt like my emotional thawing is well under way.

I noticed the majestic clouds you get when you live by the hills which roll to  a seaside. I was fascinated by clouds in early recovery. And there they were again – floating past like great fluffy elephants,  great to be looking up, not always looking down, your downward gaze heavy with the past.

So far so good. I am energised today, I  thought I would be exhausted – I may be tomorrow but that will be another day.

Wrapped up warm tonight in bed with the knowledge there is a solution! Like in the early days of recovery when the Big Book, near by sleeping head, reminded of that fact too.

Self Compassion Eases the Distress at the Heart of Addiction

This blog was just linked to by an article in The Huffington Post – so good enough for then, good enough to get a reblog! 🙂

Inside The Alcoholic Brain

I can change my brain and behaviour via neuroplasticity by behaving differently towards myself!

Here we look at one study on self compassion in relation to those who have alcohol  use disorders.

It will be a first in a series of blogs about the role of the heart in addiction and recovery.

Why the heart?

I thought this blog was about neuroscience and the brain which is the head? Not completely true. The heart has a role to play in stress and emotion regulation and in craving and helps prompt neuro transmission of various brain chemicals. The heart has a reciprocal relationship with the brain as we will see in later blogs.

We have had a neuroscientific “decade of the brain” so perhaps we need a “decade of the heart”? As we say in recovery circles, recovery is a journey from the head to the heart, which is so true whatever…

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A Safe Place To Visit

Just finished my third EMDR terapy session and thought I would write now otherwise I probably will not get around to it. I find I am so exhausted the next day that it is difficult to blog.

I am finding that I have a lot of therapeutic benefit already from the treatment.

Today we got into the EMDR  protocol which mainly looked at mechanisms we will adopt if I dissociate while doing the actual eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) which we will tentatively start next week.

Essentially we spent 15-20 minutes learning the relaxing techniques and “safe place” techniques I will use if I dissociate as the result of the EMDR.

It is mainly to do with “safety of the client” protocols. I felt a great relaxing benefit from doing it today. I will practice the techniques once a day while I am doing this course of treatment.

We will also use smell as a way of coming out of dissociation if need be.

We may not need these techniques but they have to be put in place just in case.

My recent dissociation has been to do with feeling detached from “me” – my body and immediate environment. We discussed how we could deal with this possibility.

I have also dissociated to childhood on occasion and this was discussed too. This type of dissociation seems to take one back to the heart of the trauma. It is like a re-experiencing without having the memory associated  with it.  It is like being behind a wall on the other side of our life, aware of certain things but not able to see it clearly

I am not fearful of dissociating – I have a grasp now of what it is and how much I have been doing it over the course of my life.

I even research the brain regions involved in dissociation and it seems the parts that deal with self reference deactivate and there is a “coming away” from representations of self and associated memory.

I have the type of head that likes to know these things – you may have noticed!?

It is a disquieting, unsettling and stressful experience but is manageable I believe with these techniques.

I  have noticed how after only a few weeks my mind and behaviour has been tied to looking at photos of the past, my old friends and my family.

My nephew also contacted me out of the blue to say he wanted to visit  and I have resumed closer contact with one of my  sisters.

I have made it clear that I am doing therapy for trauma, whether my sisters need it too I am not sure. I am the youngest in the family and a boy so my circumstances might have meant I was more traumatised by events in my early childhood than others.

Interestingly I have found a school photo  of my sister and I which is a photo of us looking a bit shell shocked, in comparison to our smiling faces of the previous year’s school photo when we were beaming more confident, mischievous smiles at the camera. I am presuming this second photo was around the time of the major trauma(s) .

I also found a photo of me in my late 20s after a cocaine psychosis and I look haunted in the same way as the school photo.

I had presumed this was due to the psychosis which is not a very pleasant experience I can assure you. I now know where the phrase “climbing the walls” comes from after that experience I can assure  you!

Now, although the psychosis obviously affect me deeply I can also see trauma in this photo and many other photos of me. My wife told me I was very paranoid at the time too which is linked to psychosis but much of the paranoia linked clearly to what I had experienced in childhood.

It was not only alcoholism and addiction that ate into my soul like a parasite feeding on my troubled emotions,  in these photos of my emaciated drug using self but also complex post trauma.

Unresolved trauma too is like a parasite feed on one’s nerves too.

Then yesterday a person who married my cousin sent me a photo of me in a underage football team that  my dad and his friend organised. My dad is in the photo too of our team.   I suddenly realised how heart breaking it must have been for my dad, what happened to our family, my mothers breakdown and eventual Valium dependence. And the decades of consequence after.

My heart  went out o him. God bless him, he was a loving father, I miss greatly.

The plan now is to finish treatment – finish a novel I was writing for many years while drinking (which is 2/3s finished) and get my driving licence. I once passed the theory part but banged my head , got concussion and could not take the practical test.

So I will try again and then take time out, a month or so to travel back to Ireland and revisit my past and see some people I haven’t seen in many many  years.

Northern Ireland has been at peace for two decades but I have yet to call a complete ceasefire with myself and my past. Hopefully I will later this yer.

Recovery has given me so much and while others hit their mid life crisis I have barely begun living. I am a published scientific writer and want to follow that by the end of this year with a published novel too.

I have a very fragmented self, blow to bits by my traumatised mother and family and my traumatised, brutalised and war torn upbringing in Northern Ireland.

I can feel these disparate parts of self slowly and naturally drifting back into shape.

It will be a new me, the composite parts that make up me no doubt but it will have the same character I am sure.

I got lost thanks to trauma and chronic alcoholism and addiction. Ten years into recovery I am still beginning the amazingly exciting journey of uncovering, recovering, the person I am and the person I am supposed to become.

When the parts reunite I will be the fullness of me.

 

Well that’s the First Session Done!?

Just had my first session of therapy for my Complex-PTSD (C-PTSD) two days ago. Still a bit tired. It is good to have gotten the process going.

But it may take some time. I was hoping the therapist would say we should get this done in 20 sessions but it seems we will be in this process for quite a while.

Possibly most of this year!

My Complex PTSD is very complex and involves repeated traumas inside and outside the home so will take time to process my past.

The good news is that I really like and respect the therapist.

I like her as a person, she is nice and considerate which is important.

I have heard it mentioned that the relationship with the therapist is often key in these therapeutic sessions.

She looks like she knows her stuff and can help me get a bit healthier.

C-PTSD appears to fragment the self and the processing and reprocessing memories from the past also appears to be a process of unifying shattered fragments of the self at the same time. This is my intuition that this will occur anyway.

One of my main issues with C-PTSD is dissociation. I simply had not realised how much I  dissociate and have dissociated throughout my life. In fact, I have probably been doing this since very early childhood.

So what is dissociation?

In psychology, the term dissociation describes a wide array of experiences from mild detachment from immediate surroundings to more severe detachment from physical and emotional experience. The major characteristic of all dissociative phenomena involves a detachment from reality, rather than a loss of reality as in psychosis.

Dissociation is commonly displayed on a continuum.[5] In mild cases, dissociation can be regarded as a coping mechanism or defense mechanisms in seeking to master, minimize or tolerate stress – including boredom or conflict.

More pathological dissociation involves dissociative disorders – These alterations can include: a sense that self or the world is unreal (depersonalization and derealization); a loss of memory (amnesia); forgetting identity or assuming a new self (fugue); and fragmentation of identity or self into separate streams of consciousness (dissociative identity disorder, formerly termed multiple personality disorder) and complex post-traumatic stress disorder.

Disassociation is very common to PTSD and C-PTSD.

Obviously it is something that has bothered me. I have thought that maybe I have dissociated a few times in recovery under extreme distress but there appears to be smaller more moderate dissociations going on a lot of the time.

It is essentially a coping mechanism against  emotional distress and anxiety but also it seems to have become a coping mechanisms in terms of troubling emotions.

I have learnt to regulate my emotions in maladaptive ways. I dissociate and use other use immature ego defense mechanisms such as denial, rationalising, minimising, justifying, projection etc. I hasten to add that after 10 years in recovery I also have learnt to adaptively regulate emotions so this process has become more automatic as my brain as healed and my emotion regulation improved.

However, this ego defense mechanisms have been rife throughout most of my life.

Especially denial.

One of my first reactions to any extreme emotional disturbance is to deny it’s happening or has happened.

This is the main reason I have not entered into treatment for PTSD before. There is a large part of me that denies I was traumatized although the evidence is there in so many ways. Chronic dissociation, regression to traumatized childhood experience, explicit memories of trauma incidents  etc etc would suggest not only that I have been traumatized but on multiple occasions over a long period of time.

Regardless, my head tells me “are you sure this happened? But your parents loved you?” It is very similar to when I finally went into recovery after almost dying from alcoholism, my head would say “yeah but you didn’t drink that much?” This isn’t simply denying alcoholism it is also denying the fact I have lost control over me. My denial minimised and rationalised this so that it was not overwhelming. This is why we need to be careful accusing newcomers about being in denial about their alcoholism. We tell them our story and let them identify, this is much better as it does not scare them into even more denial as ego defense.

It was less about denying alcoholism than denying reality and actual lived experience. I will deny anything which I find threatening to my sense of self.  Without consciously knowing I am in denial.

Anyway, my dissociation also appears linked to very insecure attachment to primary care giver, e.g. a parent like one’s mother. It is particularly common among those with disorganised attachment styles and very much so with children how have reacted at a young age to their mother’s fear and trauma.

Basically when events are traumatic or overwhelming emotionally it is often common for children to dissociate. Also growing up in a extremely stressful outside environment and society can lead to using this coping mechanism to survive. So in essence a survival mechanism that was crucial to surviving trauma in childhood.

My dissociations over the years has covered so many emotional states. I grew up in a very violent society so dissociated to deal with physical threat. I could and still can dissociate into a “powerful alpha male” state when threatened with violence for example.

I can dissociate to the extent I have no idea who significant people are in my life are, can’t remember names, etc, can dissociate to the extent that I feel my body isn’t mine and so on. I can also dissociate in a way which somehow returns me to feelings of early childhood, almost like I am temporarily a child again which is very traumatic to re-experience. I discussed some of these with my therapist.

She was very enlightened about the subject. She said it was just as it is,  for now, it is neither good or bad. It was and is a coping mechanism.

It is not to be feared as it passes but we will become more aware of it’s triggers. It is good to know that it is not “Bad” it just is. It will be dealt with in due time. I liked how she took the “sting” out of my anxieties over it.

I actually dissociated prior to the therapist session, a couple of nights previously as it was obviously distressing me at some unconscious level, the idea of starting treatment, the idea of the emotional pain to come.

The other point that was discussed a lot was the overlap between guilt and shame.

I generally believe shame is a major controlling emotion with me but that I had dealt with my guilt a lot during my 12 steps, steps 4-9 in particular. I have since realised that this guilt over wrongdoings to others primarily as a result of my drinking is very different to post traumatic guilt. All the way through the session I had this knot of guilt in my heart so tightly wound up it felt like a chestnut.  I tried to talk about shame but the guilt kept getting in the way.

We discussed this. Essentially PTSD and C-PTDSD are linked, one affects the other. Essentially we have PTSD with complex other issues added on.

I had trauma incidents which would constitute PTSD diagnosis alone plus other things too.

When a person has experienced trauma,  one has an overriding feeling of terror and helplessness and a very strong feeling of guilt.

This guilt tells one that they are somehow to blame for everything happening as it did – it whispers that one could have somehow prevented it happening. The self balks against helplessness.

We may feel that it was our fault that it happened. For me this is one of the roots of my troubles.

I once dissociated back to childhood (regressed perhaps) and I suddenly said “when I make mistakes people die!” which is a very extreme thing to say and a statement obviously steeped in trauma.

This memory related response and  associated networks of memory still lives in me and it is this and other traumatic memory  associations which need to be reprocessed.

It may even be that there are memories preceding this that I cannot access in my memory at present but which will crop  up in my mind as all memories are linked in memory networks to other memories. It is in reprocessing certain memories that other memories appear in one’s mind too.

It may even be a “memory” of something that did not happen in the sense that I interpreted something as happening in a way it didn’t. For example, two parents having a violent argument in front of a child may lead to the child blaming himself instead of the parents as it would be too emotionally overwhelming to blame the idealised “perfect” parents. This is more interpretation of events rather than the actual events themselves.

This is called the encoding of a memory. Memories are often encoded emotionally especially if the memory was encoded during a moment of emotional distress. Mood congruent memories, for example, happen when we remember something from the past because we are in similar mood to when other memories were encoded, hence the emotion helps us retrieve this and similar memories.

The same happens with trauma memories. They are often retrieved during similar heightened distress or states of hyperarousal as when first encoded.

A problem with C-PTSD memories is that we cannot always consciously access them at times or sometimes we have little memory at all of traumatic events.

This does not mean they are not in our memory banks are that they do not have influence on our behaviours, they simply do so implicitly without much explicit and conscious representation in our minds.

They do still influence our reactions and behaviours regardless of being really recalled. I used to say they lived in our bones but they more accurately they  live in our nervous systems.

The guilt and helplessness is linked to shame in me. The situations of my trauma were exposed to the community I lived in – people in the surrounding area had to intervene  in certain traumatic episodes to help us and so knew about our crazy family.

My guilt has thus been compound by shame, by not only being guilt but my self-perceived “guilt” and it’s repercussions had been exposed to wider society. Everyone knew what I did and that I was to blame  for everything that happened. They knew it was all my fault and what I was really like. A secret I have kept hidden since then, decades later. So toxic shame is linked to traumatic guilt.

This fear that people die when I make mistakes has led to a chronic perfectionism for myself and those around me. If I am perfect then all will be well. All will be controlled and bad things will not happen and everyone will be not fighting.

I set the bar high for many other people too as well as myself. It is like I can’t afford to make mistakes and either can others, particularly men as I have obviously blamed my father for our shared traumas and assigned my mother as the victim of the trauma. Hence I am wary often of men and protective of woman.

In fact, I grew up too quickly because of this, to protect my mother and guard against my father.

Although I consciously love both and have forgiven both and myself for what happened in our shared traumatic past, the memories of the events live on and colour my responses to and views of the world, men and women, even today. My memories of decades ago are like a computer virus corrupting my data files.

I write all this to process my therapy but hopefully to connect with others who are experiencing this stuff too.

I need to write to understand exactly how I am feeling and also to make connections in my brain/mind.

Whatever happened prior to my trauma episodes from childhood which led I believed to a life and death situation in more than one occasion was not the fault of a child who was say 6-7 years old. A child does not affect the behaviour of adults in such a profound way.

What happened, as is common in PTSD, is a mis-appraisal of what happened, a levying of unfair guilt on the person who witnessed the event. This guilt,  that it was their fault or they could have done something, keeps the trauma going – it becomes post trauma but still lives on in one’s mind and body and behaviours.

It is the misinterpretation of events that is internalised and processed as memory. It is this mis-appraisal that gets embedded in memory as if it was the truth, as a true reflection and recollection of what actually occurred when it was not what actually occurred.

Sometimes the trauma is so profound that the child does not want to think his parents did not love him or would hurt him (why would the be acting the way they do if they did?) and takes the blame rather than face this overwhelming emotion.

It being his or her fault is more tolerable at the moment. This too lies on in inaccurately embedded memory. It is a memory that perpetuates a traumatic lie throughout our lives. It is this lie which lives on in our negative self concepts. Telling us untruths about ourselves, that we are defective, not good enough, that if people really knew US?

It is a poisonous, malevolent neural and mnemonic ghost which haunts us decades later.

It needs to be re-addressed and the memories need to re- encoded accurately instead, that way we allow them to rest, embedded in our long term memory.

Via this process memories are reconsolidated, all the fragmented parts of self, stored away from each other in faulty interpretations and falsehoods about ourselves, that we keep alive in our memory networks and listen to as if they were the truth.

This is how I think EMDR helps exorcise the past leaving a past reality closer to the truth.

More will be revealed…

 

“My Name Is Paul. I’m A Recovering Alcoholic”

For all my US friends and friends from around the world who did not have access to UK television here is the link to “I’m An Alcoholic: My Name Is…” documentary on alcoholism which aired last night on Channel 5. Well worth checking out.

It was like a “collective” experience strength and hope (to use 12 step terminology) and will hopefully have highlighted the progressive nature of alcoholism as well as highlighting that there is treatment for and recovery from alcoholism. It was a message of hope. I’m sure it will be a useful starting point for many in “identifying” with other alcoholics to help in the process of self diagnosing.

It was great to see a documentary in the UK address alcoholism and recovery “from the horses mouth” – too often in the UK alcoholics are marginalised or absent in informing the public, by telling their story, of their alcoholism.
It was informative also that we could see the progression of this condition via all the interviewees regardless of how they later described or named their condition, how they “treated” it themselves or described their “recovery” from it.
So at least we can all agree, it starts in a seemingly innocuous manner, gets worse, then a whole lot worse, then chronic and life threatening, causes untold emotional damage to loved ones and requires both acute and long term therapeutic redress. Sounds a bit like a disease state to me that but each to their own.

As long as we all pass on the message, you can stop, you can recover from your present condition. There are lots of help in various places, in different organisations, thousands of people who suffer from the same condtion as you. They want to help you too, and you can even recovery to such an an extent that life becomes more fulfilling than anything you could ever have imagined. All the things you “treated” with substances and behaviours can be “treated” via recovery, this will happen and a whole lot more it you put the effort in.

Just click the image.

full_left_column_HD_My-Name-is---And-I'm-Alcoholic_40

Getting Past Your Past

 

For those of you who read this blog, you will know I start EMDR treatment this week for my Complex PTSD.

In order to follow my progress it may be useful to know a bit more about what I am letting myself in for therapeutically.

Below I simply use excerpts from a great paper by Dr Shapiro, the originator of EMDR treatment who explains more eloquently than I can how EMDR works in freeing oneself from one’s past, suggesting perhaps that the negative “voice” of the past, but which stalks our living present,  talks to us via unprocessed memories from the past.

This makes sense to me because without memory we cease to be our SELF. It seems reasonable to suggest then that ironing out the temporal  wrinkles of the traumatic past by physiologically re-experiencing them in EMDR therapy will free us from maladaptive influence they have on our self perception and for them naturally to be replaced by more adaptive and realistic views of ourself as reflected by our relationships with significant others and via our life achievements.

The negative voices of the self are neural ghosts which still haunt us because they contain emotional and cognitive information in memory networks – previous experience became stuck like ghosts in the machine and by reprocessing these memories to disentangle their emotional grip we can safely exorcise these neural ghosts from our representations of self.

Borne in trauma, these responses were the responses often of children to trauma, they were traumatised responding to traumatising events.

They are out of kilter reactions to these events which colour present responding to everyday events although these events are no longer traumatising in themselves.

Previous events continue to colour our emotional responses to others and to ourselves. The critical voice that previous events were somehow our fault continue to live in negative critical self talk.

In other words we continue to be re-traumatised in our reactions to the world and ourselves. The voices of the child traumatised is the voice we still hear in our minds as adults. We still listen internally to a traumatised child’s voice in leading us in our responses.

It is not dificult to see how this becomes maladaptive and pathological. We are acting on cues from the past rather than seeing reality in the present as it is.

The past exercises an influence in us via these memory networks – when they are reprocessed and embedded in long term memory, replaced with more adaptive memory of who we are now then the past exerts less of an negative influence in the present. And we begin to heal in the present having gotten past our sometimes traumatic pasts.

That’s my take on the theory anyhow.

Here’s Shapiro’s take on it.

“EMDR is a comprehensive psychotherapy approach that is compatible with all contemporary theoretical orientations. Internationally recognized as a frontline trauma treatment, it is also applicable to a broad range of clinical issues. As a distinct form of psychotherapy, the treatment emphasis is placed on directly processing the neurophysiologically stored memories of events that set the foundation for pathology and health.

The adaptive information processing model that governs EMDR practice invites the therapist to address the overall clinical picture that includes the past experiences that contribute to a client’s current difficulties, the present events that trigger maladaptive responses, and to develop more adaptive neural networks of memory in order to enhance positive responses in the future.

While clinicians from the various psychological modalities agree on the symptomatology of the well-known disorders, their ways of conceptualizing and treating them differ as a result of the specific theoretical paradigm to which they adhere (Barlow et al. 2005). For EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing), this paradigm entails the view that psychopathology is based on memories of earlier disturbing experiences that have been incompletely processed by the brain’s inherent information processing system.

Incomplete processing means that a disturbing event has been stored in memory as it was originally experienced with the emotions, physical sensations, and beliefs fundamentally unchanged. Regardless of how much time has elapsed or whether the person remembers it, the memory remains unaltered and provides the basis of current responses and behaviors.

Most mental health professionals would agree that current clinical issues are based at least in part, on previous life experiences. However, the hallmark of EMDR therapy is the emphasis on the physiologically stored memory as the primary foundation of pathology, and the application of specifically targeted information processing as the primary agent of change.

The Adaptive Information Processing (AIP) model (Shapiro 1995, 2001, 2002, 2007; Solomon and Shapiro 2008) guides the clinical application of EMDR…

EMDR’s three-pronged approach of past, present and future guides the clinician in identifying and processing, (1) the relevant past experiences that inform the client’s problems in the present; (2) the ongoing present experiences that continue to trigger maladaptive responses to current life demands; and, (3) templates of future actions to optimize the client’s capacity to respond adaptively given the current context of their lives. This article provides an overview of both the theory and practice of EMDR as a distinct integrative psychotherapy approach…

EMDR processing can eliminate the dysfunctional emotions and physical sensations inherent in the memory itself changing the client’s experience in the present. Similarly, the processing of pivotal memories has been reported to result in the normalization of attachment style in adults and children (Madrid et al. 2006; Kaslow et al. 2002; Wesselman 2007; Wesselmann and Potter 2009). It is important to emphasize that memories of even ubiquitous events appear to set the foundation for a wide range of pathologies…

… its overarching goal is to achieve an alteration of the underlying condition that is generating the dysfunctional response in the present as part of a comprehensive treatment effect. These outcomes are achieved by placing memory networks and information processing at the center of both treatment and practice.

Adaptive Information Processing Model

The theoretical foundation for the therapeutic application of EMDR is the Adaptive Information Processing (AIP) model developed by Shapiro (1995, 2001, 2002, 2007)…

According to this model, and consistent with neurobiological findings, one identifies and makes sense of new experiences within the context of existing memory networks. In addition, the information processing system functions to move disturbances to a level of adaptive resolution. What is useful is incorporated, what is useless is discarded, and the event serves to guide the person appropriately in the future…

when an event is not fully processed, the experience remains stored in memory with the emotions, physical sensations, and beliefs that were part of the original event. As a result, the memory is not integrated with other memories that were successfully processed. Consequently, when a similar experience occurs in the future, perhaps involving an authority figure like an insulting teacher, it triggers the unprocessed memory, which then automatically colors the perception of the present experience.

When clients seek psychotherapy for current problems in their lives, they are often focused on their symptoms as the problem. Consequently, the clinician wants to understand what the client is actually experiencing in the present, i.e., negative thoughts and feelings, uncomfortable body sensations that are out of proportion to the situations that are triggering the negative responses. Additionally, similar to other approaches such as psychodynamic therapy, the EMDR clinician seeks to identify the relevant past experiences that are perpetuating the maladaptive patterns of response, resulting in the client’s clinical complaints. According to the AIP model, the pathology is not driven by the person’s reaction (e.g., belief, emotion) to the past event as is postulated in cognitive-behavioral approaches. Rather, the reaction itself is informed by the responses and/or perceptions inherent within a dysfunctionally stored memory or network of memories that are disconnected from networks containing adaptive information.

…Clients are often relieved to understand that their problems have a neurobiological basis, as well as the universality of their human experience as a counterpoint to the common belief that they ‘‘should have’’ been able to resolve their problems on their own. We suggest that the presence of these unmetabolized components of memory explains why clients will often describe their childhood traumas in the same kind of language and intonation they used when the event occurred, and demonstrate the emotions, postures and beliefs consistent with that developmental stage. They do not merely describe the feelings of shame and helplessness of the past, but actually experience these emotions and physical sensations in the present.

These unmetabolized components of memory are accessed in a systematic way during EMDR processing. The targeted memory that is ‘‘frozen’’ in time becomes ‘‘unfrozen,’’ and new associations are made with previously disconnected adaptive information related to survival, positive experiences, and one’s sense of identity…

…processing allows an unpeeling of the veil to reveal and then resolve the core emotional source of the imagery (Shapiro 2001; Wachtel 2002). As this assimilation occurs, new insights and emotions emerge and the earlier affect states and perceptions are generally discarded. With the foundation of the fully processed memory, clients are no longer subject to the same emotional volatility, distorted perceptions and intense somatic responses, and instead experience a new sense of self that is congruent with their current life situation…

The client’s experience is more informed by the present, allowing for greater flexibility in their reactions, thus increasing the likelihood of developing more adaptive patterns of response that are informed by the current context of their lives…

In addition, new memories can be successfully incorporated as the therapist assists clients to acquire the social learning necessary to fill in their developmental deficits. However, until the processing of the earlier memories is complete, the dysfunctional neural storage will hamper the desired personal growth…

While specific stabilization and affect regulation techniques may be effective and highly desirable in many cases (Schore 2003), the instability is often caused by the unprocessed memories that are contributing to the dysfunction.

The overall goal of EMDR, therefore, is to address the current problems of daily living by accessing the dysfunctionally stored memories that are being triggered by the client’s current life conditions, and engage the natural neural processes by which these memories are transmuted into appropriately stored memories (Shapiro 1995, 2001, 2007; Shapiro et al. 2007; Siegel 2002; Stickgold 2002, 2008; van der Kolk 2002). The end result is an assimilation of the new information into extant memory structures. When this has occurred, individuals discover that, while they are able to verbalize the event and what they have learned from it, they no longer experience the associated negative affects and physical sensations. It is this rapid form of learning (i.e., reprocessing) that is the essence of EMDR treatment.

If you link to this reference below it contains a case study of EMDR in practice.

Reference

  1. Shapiro, F., & Laliotis, D. (2011). EMDR and the adaptive information processing model: Integrative treatment and case conceptualization. Clinical Social Work Journal, 39(2), 191-200.