In recent weeks sitting in the chair talking has become uncomfortable again. I slide down, arms folded, legs crossed, head inclined, glimpsing my therapist over the top of my glasses. Sometimes we talk for nearly two hours, sometimes less, sometimes talking comes before she switches the light bar on, and I see and hear and feel the ghosts.
When I sit in the chair, whether before the light bar or just with my head exposed, I am conscious she is listening to every word, become very aware of what is said. Words matter. Word choice matters.
I realised this within the counselling sessions that preceded the psychotherapy. My counsellor would sit on the other side of a low table, sometimes with a notebook open, sometimes with the dictating machine running. She knew why I was there. I knew she knew why I was there. But we did not talk about it for weeks. I talked about thinking about talking. How I had thought about what to say, how choosing the words was important. And as I got nearer the moment of revelation, that evening where I trusted my oldest friend, the telling moment, my words slipped. I became you. I told her that you spoke. I told her that you clumsily introduced the topic awkwardly after a meal. I told her that you told her that something had happened.
I noticed. And I knew she had noticed. There was a distance. I knew the person I talked about reasonably well. I could understand his actions, and his words. I could explain them. But was he me any longer? Or was it easier to speak of him than to speak of me? I could keep the door closed when things happened to him.
The transition was made without thinking. But as weeks went on I became aware of the transition, stopped myself, explained. This was part of the process. And when the psychotherapy started you had gone, and I filled the gap.
Initially, talking in psychotherapy was easier. I had opened up a little and discussion focused on now, while the light bar concentrated on then.
Eye motion desensitisation and reprocessing is a process that can feel like witchcraft. Sitting in front of a light bar, buzzers in hands, you are asked to go back to the worst thing that happened, to sit there and describe the thing that traumatised you, the worst thing that happened, the worst thing in your head, in as much detail as you can (which initially is not much), to notice as much as you can, to notice how distressed you are, to notice where you feel that distress. And then the lights start. They ripple right then left. The buzzers follow the lights. Right then left. And you watch the lights and you feel the buzzers and you are back at the worst moment and you relive it. You see it. And you smell it. And you hear it. And you taste it. And you feel it. You are there. You are back there as it happened. You are a time traveller. You are stuck. You have time travelled, and you know you have time travelled. You know you are from now not then. But you are trapped in your body as it was then, and you cannot move, and you know what is going to happen. You know how it ends, and you know that you cannot change a line, not a syllable. You know that everything that happened will happen again, and you will live it again, and you are stuck. And you experience it. A full sensory experience. You feel what happened. Every aspect. And sometimes your eyes tear up and you cannot see the lights, but you feel the buzzers. You feel them. And you are still there. Wholly there. Wholly now.
And the lights stop.
And the buzzers stop.
And you hear her ask what you notice.
The first time was odd. I knew what I’d felt. I knew what I’d seen. I spoke. But it was not me that spoke, not my words. It was from then, with the understanding and language of then. I had filled the gap when I spoke with her, but when the lights came on you were back. But a different you. Not the one who watched the reflection of the fire, not the one who stuttered as he trusted. He’s younger, less articulate, struggling to understand.
I hear him speak. I hear his words with my voice.
This goes on for weeks. As the experience is relived again and again whenever I speak his words are there. Until one week, as the lights stop and the buzzers stop and she asks what I notice, I silence him. I speak and he says nothing. My words. My words from now. I notice, not him. I speak, not him.
That’s when she knew it was working. That the trauma was moving. No longer just something to be reexperienced. No longer something that led me to flashbacks, those instants where outside the chair, outside the room I would be back, transported back to feel again. It was integrating. It was becoming part of my memory.
The words mattered. My words mattered.
And as the experience moved, as it cohered with my memories as it joined together I sat at home one night and I realised. I knew what had happened. I knew. And I understood. I knew why I was not sleeping, why I heard and I felt and I saw. I had the words. I finally had the words. And I cried. And I cried. And I emailed my oldest friend to tell her again, to tell her that I finally understood.
And as I sat in the chair, sliding down, arms folded, legs crossed, glimpsing my therapist over the top of my glasses, through tears and sniffs I spoke it aloud. Me. Not him. Not you. I told her.
And she nodded.
Realisation is progress.
Understanding is progress.