Brain Sculpting


eye 31D8A42400000578-3479457-image-a-2_1457300278047

Did not do any EMDR yesterday as I was too exhausted still, a week after the previous session!

My wife was like this too, so very very tired until the day before the next session, the following week, so she was averaging one day in seven when she wasn’t knackered. It is hard work, I have to say, being this tired all the time.

I asked my therapist about this, she wasn’t sure why it is so tiring so we decided I would research it.

There is not much out there in the research about why EMDR is so tiring. Most research said EMDR was so much more rapid in getting positive treatment outcome than other “talk therapies”  so I guess there is a lot of soul surgery and healing which accounts for me being so tired.

I have had to put most of my life on hold which kinda annoys me. Part of my attachment disorder is always doing stuff to make myself feel better about my self. Much of my self esteem is attached be getting approval for being good at stuff, being talented.

I am often too busy being a human doing rather than a human being to quote one of my old counselers!

I buffer my sometimes fragile and sometimes low self esteem through various achievements such as research and running my own business.

Not being able to do this stuff to the same extent has been tough.

The last couple of days have been full of sadness and anger.

I am seeping out sadness from  my past and then being really angry about it.

It seems incredible I am healing stuff that has been eating away at my very soul for forty years!  It seems a colossal waste of time some days. Why so much suffering for so long?

I wish I had come across  EMDR decades ago. Maybe I wasn’t ready for it then?

Anyway I am full of grieving for a multitude of losses.

The loss of my mother who’s passing I have not really grieved in recovery, the loss a self defining part of me (now I gotta grow a new shell?) the losses that trauma, C-PTSD and my alcoholism and addictions have caused in my life, the loss of opportunity, choices such as having had a child with my wife as we kinda decided against this due to my rampant alcoholism,  addictions and at times chronic mental health.

I have to be careful of not slipping into shame and self pity. It is a balancing act, feeling the pain I have blocked out on one hand and not indulging in it on the other.

I have to be careful sadness does not slide into self pity. I have to remember I am not a normal person doing EMDR for PTSD related incidents. I am a chronic alcoholic in recovery who has to guard that the treatment of one disorder does not trigger off the other. Which is kinda why I am doing this treatment in the first place?

Equally I have to feel this stuff, the decades of pain, sadness, anger that I have numbed out, run away from. I have to fully experience and let it be part of me and who I am.

I have to let it be and not react. Instead of avoiding it, only for it to constantly seep through into my consciousness and trigger my emotionally overreactive behaviours.

I have still to get to the root of many of my behaviours, to the source of where they began.

I have hit a milestone moment for sure in therapy recently but there are other layers of this psyche onion to unpeel.

Many years of emotional pain seems to be seeping out, like a puss and I have to accept this, not run or avoid, as this has been my way of coping from the past, a maladpative coping mechanism.

I have also been grappling with my pride and shame.

I do not think I have been explaining fully enough the process of EMDR which is remiss of me and has made me feel a bit stupid.

Although I am fairly intelligent, I live in fear that my “stupidity” will be outed one day and every one will know the real me, the “not as bright as I would like to think I am” me. As my cleverness or otherwise is linked to my sense of self esteem, I feel pained when I do not research something properly. It feels like a self inflicted wound.

My sense of self is threatened even.

I have not described the process of reprocessing properly I believe.

When I had my major therapeutic breakthrough last week I did not clearly state that the reprocessing bit was when I acted as an adult to my childlike self, to my childlike sibling and then to my parents. I was in charge, in control with making things right, in consoling and comforting way to make sure everyone was okay, loved and comforted. This is what I mean by cognitively reprocessing the past.

I revisited a traumatic memory, the scene of a traumatic memory, I was desensitized to this memory to a large extent because I was acting doing the bi lateral stimulation, the watching of the therapist’s finger moving from left and right, left to right. This desensitization is supposed to happen as the amygdala, implicated in distress states,  is somehow calmed by this process so the brain and mind are not as distressed as normal, so the revisiting of a traumatic scene is not as usually distressing.

This allowed us to adaptively  reprocess this scene and traumatic experience on three levels. First we feel it on a physiological level, we become aware of our body sensations and where they are on the body and just observe them. Secondly we are aware of the emotions that accompany these sensations and the trauma experience.

We discussed these to understand the unprocessed feelings. Then we cognitively challenged these feelings. For example feeling guilty for doing something any child would have done or feeling guilty for something that was not one’s fault is achieved and the emotions are somehow quelled. Then cognitively we can think about what we would say or do in relation to this scenario, to the child or the others in the scene from the perspective of now as an adult.

I consoled my child, spoke to my mother and asked her to speak reassuringly and in a comforting way to my child, then I extended this invitation towards my sisters, then my father joined us and we were all consoled my older adult me, in a way no one was at the time of the trauma. This was in essence a cognitive reprocessing of the event.

The reprocessing means that this memory will now have a different  cognitive, emotional and physiological resonance for me from now on. It was lodged in more long term memory.

The memory is still there in a sense but it does not have the cognitive, emotional or physiological  charge as previously. Hence it does not have the same influence, impact or prompt to certain behaviours that it once had.

For me thus far, this desensitizing and reprocessing has altered a maladaptively processed memory in terms of physiology, emotion and cognition and made it adaptive i.e. it is processed in a way that can help me not cause further pain. The behaviours that now follow it are more likely to be adaptive and healthy.

Some researchers have suggested that the sate of consciousness that one goes into during bi lateral stimulation is akin to REM sleeping. Thus, as with REM sleeping, the brain is active in resolving conflict in the mind.

I will probably have to consolidate this experience again at a later date but have grown some sort of membrane over this painful gaping wound of a memory, this hole in the soul.

I feel differently about this now as a result. It affects me in a differently way to before.

Something changed, possibly for ever.

In terms of the Adaptive Information Processing Model, on which EMDR is based, in order for a memory or experience to be processed properly, according to this model, it has to be processed on these three levels of physiology, emotion and cognition.  I have taken a memory that was not processed in terms of body sensation which probably reflected a heightened stress chemical response, not processed it in terms of emotionally coming to terms with it and not processed properly in terms of my thinking about it, for example, I had not fully considered it’s repercussions from a cognitively perspective.

This third perspective was not missing from what I mentioned in earlier blogs, I simply discussed the two levels of physiology and emotion

That is my understanding of it in the present now anyhow. That may change.

I have come across a number of excellent papers on how EMDR works which I will either upload here on this blogsite or more likely on as this therapeutic process is fairly amazing in that it seems to rapidly reorganise certain networks in the brain.

In fact it is like taking a new adaptive memory and inserting or stitching it in to where the maladaptive memory was or in more technical terms like delving into the coding script of memories and rewriting some of the code underlying these memories. Like removing by a massive defragging.

It is profound stuff either way.

Any way why so tired from EMDR? I think the answer lies in the fact that EMDR leads to this rapid neuroplastic reorganisation of the brain.

In simple words, these means that neural networks in the brain are quickly created, redirected to become more adaptive. For example one area implicated in PTSD is the hippocampus which plays a major role in memory (especially explicit, episodic memory) but also has a less known role in stress regulation.

It appears that even after only about 8 EMDR sessions that the hippocampal region of the brain can increase in volume by about 12%!

This is fairly rapid and immediate reorganising of neural networks to increase a role the hippocampus in explicit memory (perhaps as opposed to the implicit memory network of the dorsal striatum which is implicated in more automatic, reactive responding, or stimulus response activity, with distress often being the stimulus of emotionally overactive responding) and stress regulation.

If my brain is re-organising so rapidly in  a matter of weeks then the brain will be using up much energy, brain glucose,  in re-sculpting my my brain’s neural circuitry.

Which is kinda mind blowing.

Trying to Find the Horror


save me d2c3a113e03cd01abc5df6330b9e5eda

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?



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.


Knowing It Is Different To Showing It



I am not a very good sponsor!

There you have it!

I have come clean – I have nearly ten years recovery but still struggle to be a good sponsor.

So many  things get in the way of me being a good sponsor.

I am also an Al Anon, someone who grew up in a family consisting of an alcoholic father  (who didn’t drink but did not have a 12 step program of recovery) and a mother dependent on Valium after suffering nervous breakdowns, hence I was a Alateen too at one time.

As my dad was effectively a dry drunk at times and my mother struggled to cope there were many traumatic domestic scenes to contend with as a small child.

My mother’s behaviour was emotionally, physically and mentally abusive at times and I grew with an insecure-anxious attachments towards her and a recurrent fear of abandonment/rejection.

There was a lack of appropriate supervision by my parents and my sisters and I often ran wild. Boundaries that define me and others were completely blurred.

I know enough about alcoholism to help a recovering alcoholic and I have enough love in my heart to help another alcoholic in recovery but something always gets in the way.

Me, I get in the way!

I have a need to fix people!

I grew up as a caretaker in my own family as my parents were often lacking in their parental direction. I thought their lives and how they acted were my responsibility that I could manage their lives too and then things would be okay. They wouldn’t have violent arguments and my mother would not try to force a dozen of two pills down her throat and terrorize her children.

I somehow thought her mock or real suicide attempts were to do with me, how I behaved, they were my fault, so I acted to make sure these things did not happen again.

I grew up too soon, never had the childhood others had.

Things around we were too volatile so I sought to control by any means available. I am a world expert in controlling others.

I have a severe case of Al Anon and Adult Child of an Alcoholic (and addict) that I am now only starting to address in my life and in my recovery.

I know exactly how you can recover from alcoholism but have difficulties letting people learn their own mistakes. I am too needy. Too eager for them to recover.

I rush sponsees, scare them off, demand too much from them.

I need to deal with my Al Anon issues before sponsoring anyone else.

The most alarming thing is that this childhood trauma sets you up to re-enact rejection situations throughout your life.

Your “inner child” has learnt that people reject you so you act in a manner, or pick people, to unconsciously ensure this will occur again, this re-enactment of childhood rejection.  You kinda control the rejection that will later occur!?

The acting out of trauma occurs repeatedly throughout ones’s life until the trauma is dealt with via some therapeutic means.

I was due to start EMDR therapy for my trauma but have had to postpone this until my wife is better, she suffers PTSD and anxiety disorder herself and is off work at the moment due to these mental health issues. I am supporting her at the moment. Times are tough at present for sure!

For now I have to stew in the painful emotional residues of my many traumas and hope to see a therapist in the near future.

I constantly have to talk through emotions I have no name for, they are so deep in my implicit memory. I no longer run away from these, at times, very unpleasant physical and emotional sensations but sit with them, and talk them out. This is a change in my approach, feelings do not kill, what we do with them sometimes does.

Sensations in our body from the past also propel our behaviours often without us consciously knowing so.

More on this in a later blog.

I cannot sponsor anyone for the foreseeable future. I even set myself up for failure with the very people I most want to help. This is trauma not alcoholism.

I will fill you in with other stressful events that are occurring in my life in the next blog.

So let’s end where we came in  – the simple fact that knowing it is different to showing it.

I have to get to recover the real me more before I help  anyone else. As I need help myself, I can’t fully help others at present.

Recovery is at times a process of finding out or discovering the other disorders and problems that we have other than alcoholism and addictive behaviours, it is also in finding out and discovering what issues and disorders fulled alcoholism in the first place. The trauma, the absue, the bereavements, etc

There are many layers of this metaphorical onion to peel and they all make you want to cry!

That is the way it is, acceptance of this is the key as always.

An old guy of over thirty years recovery told me that he sponsors by showing recovery not by preaching it.

I haven”t got there yet I am afraid. I know it but…

I also want them to succeed so much I scare them off, I become too intense!

I demand too much too soon, that is my default setting. Set myself up for failure as a sponsor.

I want them to “get it!” soon as possible to reduce the risk of relapse.

This is however flawed because it is fear based thinking.

I want them to get it before they relapse again, that is the truth. At some unconscious level I want them to “be saved” so that they do not try to kill themselves again with substances like my mother used to attempt to do. That terror drives my behaviour without me knowing it.

It is not borne out of Grace but fear.

The simple truth is that I do not trust God enough at times and try to fix hings myself. I have not fully forgiven God the many many things that I somehow believe happened on his watch, I guess?

In the end, I can only share my experiencence of recovery and let the rest be, let God take it from there. I know this in my head but my heart revolts.

My Al ateen/al Anon side takes over.

I want to make sure they get better, ASAP!

My motives seem good but they are warped. There is a bad motive in a sense under a good one.

I have to learn to increase my trust in the process.

Let others make their own mistakes and have patience when they do. Having love and tolerance of others is to let them be themselves, free to make there own conclusions, come to their own understandings.

I am  but the messenger, passing on  a message that has been passed on to me.

That is my role in this, not to fix but to allow someone else the space to make the same mistakes I did.

I can’t speed along someone’s recovery, they have to go at their own pace, otherwise it is frightening.

The good can be the enemy of the best.

I have this deep seated fear that whatever I do it is not enough so I make up for this by doing too much, too much….ending up manic and off-putting.

Ten years in and still a long way to go.

More, unfortunately, will be revealed…

God goes deep!


You are Not Alone!

In the final months of my active alcoholism I was living in the attic room of my house.

I drank about 6 bottles of cheap Spanish wine plus a dozen cans of strong German beer every day.

The alcohol had little effect on me by this stage. I only drank to dampen the delirium tremens, the violent shakes. I often could not control my hand enough to get alcohol into my mouth, holding my wrist steady with my other hand to raise the drink to my mouth.

Usually  cracking the bottle or tin can against my teeth.

I was no longer getting drunk anymore.

You know you are fully addicted to alcohol when it does nothing intoxicating any more.

I slept in 5-10 minute fits and busts. I did not eat for months. The television told me to kill myself and voices not belonging to me talked insistently in my head.

Alcohol-related Psychosis it is called.

No one told me this would happen when I bought my first alcoholic drink when I was fourteen years old. There was no health or warning label saying “Could lead to Psychosis and Premature Death!”

Maybe there should be.  Or at least alcohol can be addictive for some.

Anyway there is more to alcoholism than alcohol.

In the depths of this alcohol induced madness, I rarely saw my wife, who could not bring herself to look at me and what I had become.

If I could have got it together I might have killed myself.

But I couldn’t get it together. Psychosis is all involving, doesn’t leave much time for planning anything.



So I staggered on. When I say staggered, I could not actually walk more than a few yards or climb more than a few stairs.

By  the time I reached my first AA meeting

1. the alcohol had stopped “working”.

2. I had surrendered.

Regardless of these two factors, I could not admit I was alcoholic. My pride and it’s best friend shame were still talking away to me.

I was willing to admit I was addicted to alcohol and that I was about to die from it.

But alcoholic?

We often wonder why some people don’t accept their alcoholism?

How did I start my journey to acceptance?

My wife came to my first meeting of AA, she practically carried me in!

The Chair of the meeting was a person I had drank with before – I though how come he is here?

I spilled more drink than he ever drank?

Then it dawned on me that maybe I should have come here before?

Especially when he shared that he had been trying to get sober and recovered for ten years!?

I then listened to the other alcoholics sharing their stories.

The stories mentioned the progression of the alcoholism, which I obviously identified with.

They also mentioned how they, even now in recovery, struggled with their emotions and anxieties, how they found living life difficult.

They talked about issues which had bedevilled them and me since childhood, this  spiritual malady they talked of was like the emotional disease I had  suffered from all my life, whether it was depression, panic attacks, anxiety disorders, PTSD, etc.

They had used alcohol to self medicate these conditions, especially as alcohol for them had felt like an elixir for them as it had for me.  We all had all dealt with our negative emotions since adolescence in the same way.

Now a new way had to be found.

When we left the meeting my wife had a psychic change similar to the one I had.

She said these people are just like you. They can help you, I can’t.

A week before I had heard a voice in my heart, through the psychosis, saying  to go down stairs to my wife and ask her for help. I asked her for help in that round about alcoholic way of “do you think I look a bit jaundice (I actually looked like Homer Simpson with a heavy sun tan!)?

The help I asked for was not to come directly from my wife but she led me to where I could get it. In a room, full of people just like me, suffering the same illness as me.

I will be forever eternally grateful for it being there for me. For them being there.

We will be there for you too!