Since October, I’ve been in therapy, targeting specific traumatic memories through the use of EMDR. EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing. For 45 minutes, once I’ve brought up a memory with a charged emotion attached, I let my eyes go back and across a light bar that moves at a comfortable pace from the left to the right. After about 20-30 seconds, it stops, and I report what I thought, felt, or saw in my mind.
At first it seemed haphazard and chaotic–it’s because it was. Any traumatic event doesn’t lodge in the body in a way that feels coherent. It’s an entangling of memories, of thoughts and feelings left unsaid, of events that rewired my neural pathways in the brain.
It’s been an empowering process for me to work through unresolved grief, to understand my own patterns that were underneath my own consciousness, to find my voice again, and not feel like a victim. It’s been an empowering process to see my gifts, to see my beliefs change, and even to see my shortcomings and accept them for the teachers that they are.
It’s been the driver behind my creativity beginning to emerge much more powerfully in my life. It’s a big part of me being able to write more-and to trust my own voice and creative process.
Yet, EMDR is a tool that exposes everything. Nothing can be hidden.
I have to face the frightened teenager in the doctor’s office who feels like she can’t win, who feels like she says too little & is dismissed or says too much and is a hypochondriac.
I have to face the girl who starts to edit her story so she doesn’t continue to be humiliated.
I have to face the girl who begins to doubt herself–and who wonders if she’s really crazy, since most professionals think she is.
I have to face the girl who starts to believe incorrect narratives about her life imposed on her by those in authority-because she’s so exhausted from trying to tell the truth.
I have to face the girl and young adult who is resentful, because she has stuffed her own truth into her body. She has so much to say, and yet is so scared to say it. And this is the source of so much of her chronic illness.
I learned the rules of our white-heteronormative-patriarchal-Western society. I would not be heard unless a man in authority believed that I had the right to be heard. Even when I saw female doctors (which were few and far between), they still acted from a patriarchal perspective, because they benefitted from the medical establishment, and didn’t see the need to examine their own beliefs.
After working with a female endocrinologist in college for 3 years, she started to increase her body-shaming language with me. The blame just kept getting heaped onto me: “If only you would work out 6 times a week instead of 5…if only you would lose 2 more pounds, then your fatigue would go away.”
I wanted to say, “How many times per week do you work out?” but I kept quiet.
I wanted to say, “Could it be that you have no idea how to help me, and you see me as a challenge and a threat?” but I kept quiet.
I wanted to say, “Stop treating me like a problem case, where you feel like you have to assert your dominance as a doctor to be deemed as credible” but I kept quiet.
While I didn’t have words for the institutional forces at play, at the time, I knew that something was very wrong. I knew that I was being treated differently because I was a young female. I knew that I was an easy scapegoat for built-up frustration. I knew that making me question my own body, my own symptoms, my own memory & perception was the only way to make them still feel dominant over me.
Now I know this to be gaslighting, a very effective form of manipulation that quickly increases self-doubt and self-questioning.
Through the work of EMDR, I’ve been able to take my story back into my own hands, away from those who taught me to question myself because my disease couldn’t be “proven.” I now have the chance to see my bravery, my strength, my perseverance that seemed to elude me when I just felt like a burden or the problem. I finally get to see myself as the hero of my own story-with great successes and many faults, like every other human being.
I’ve been able to see how my perseverance has been found in my commitment to my own self-care, to setting boundaries, to trying new things when everything seems to fall apart. In my perseverance, I’ve seen an openness to new people, new ideas, new writers. I’ve felt a strong sense of self emerge, originating in the greatest place of energy in the sacral chakra.
Being able to spend time alone, as a woman, and truly enjoy my own company has been the greatest gift of my own perseverance. And it’s intimidating to many–but I’m learning not to apologize for this. I’m not forsaking community to nurture myself.
Last week I read feminism is for everybody by bell hooks. Such a lovely, thought-provoking read about intersectional feminism. In the introduction she writes,
Imagine living in a world where there is no domination, where females and males are not alike or even always equal, but where a vision of mutuality is the ethos shaping our interaction. Imagine living in a world where we can all be who we are, a world of peace and possibility. Feminist revolution alone will not create such a world; we need to end racism, class elitism, imperialism. But it will make it possible for us to be fully self-actualized females and males able to create beloved community, to live together, realizing our dreams of freedom and justice, living the truth that we are all ‘created equal.'”
Self-actualization must necessarily include the work of the individual in community. In in the process of taking responsibility for my own life, so that I show up in community differently. So that I’m more flexible, and willing to learn, and yet not doubting my own significance or story.
I’m thankful for the people in my life who remind me of my significance and worth, through words and actions–and remind me that I don’t have to prove it to anyone. I’m thankful for those who help me to see my own assumptions, and who encourage me to imagine another way-a way forward with more inclusion and joy.