(written 02-10-2017)

 

My blogging journey has been quite an interesting trek. I’m grateful that you’ve kept me company along the way.

 

I started a blog series two weeks ago titled Be Careful of What You Wish For. I finished Part 1 of that multi-blog series, and now, here I am, doing another multi-blog series on something completely different.

 

“Rafiki,” I protest. “I’m going to lose my readers.”

 

“Life’s a long journey, with problems to solve, lessons to learn, but most of all, experiences to enjoy,” Rafiki quotes. “True friends, your readers, will enjoy the adventure you’re taking them. Believe in yourself and trust that you’re going where you need to be.”

 

There have been so many important breakthroughs lately, that it’s important for me to continue this path a bit longer to help me get some clarity before trying to figure out what it is I want out of my life.

 

So, if you’re anything like me, and can only read a self-help book from page 1 straight through to the end, my deepest apologies for having you jump around on a sporadic slog through my emotional jungle.

 

But, if you’ve just joined me, maybe I’ve already finished that other multi-part blog series and you can have peace of mind by reading those in chronological order. Your choice of course.

 

But what’s the fun in that? (My ex would ask me what I’ve been smoking for that change in thinking.)

 

Today, I say, grab the machete and tough it out. Let’s go hacking our way through the tangled wilderness of my mind and see where we end up.

 

 

My Childhood Trauma

I believe I’ve located the deepest core issues of my childhood trauma that cause me to become so reactive. These are not excuses or justifications for my actions, rather they’re opening my awareness to help me better understand the “why” I do things and the “what” I need to do to further change my behaviors.

 

I finally see my patterns that our couple counselor was trying to figure out a year ago. These are the childhood repetitions I create in my relationships with others; my marriage, my kids, my friends, and my acquaintances.

 

It’s important for me to once again break that bone and so it can finally heal properly.

 

I’ve been so focused on healing from the loss of my marriage, that I haven’t looked at the main crux of my issues; I need to heal over the loses in my childhood.

 

I also need to accomplish this out of compassion, not anger and resentment.

 

I need to have compassion for my Mom. I need to have compassion for both my biological father and my step-father. I need to have compassion for my Grandmother.

 

That’s tough for me to do.

 

 

Set up From the Beginning

I’ve been told by multiple therapists that I was set up from the beginning. I was set up to have negative self-worth. I was set up to live in fear that I’d always be alone. I was set up to use addiction to mask those emotions instead of having the tools to deal with the pain. I was set up that sex would become my drug of choice.

 

I was set up to fail.

 

I want to hold anger and resentment. I want to blame everyone for how I feel.

 

But holding anger, resentment, and blaming others takes me off the hook for my actions.

 

I don’t learn anything from that.

 

The last thing my parents wanted to do was mess up my life. It’s the last thing I want to do for my girls. It’s the last burden any parent wants to place on their children.

 

This is the primary reason why I keep digging deep into who I am and why I do the things I do; I want to be a role model for my daughters and have the strength, courage, and wisdom to help them through the struggles of life.

 

My family did the best they could with the tools they had at the time. It was not their intention for me to have so much pain in my life.

 

 

EMDR

Yesterday, I had an EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) session with my therapist. I want to say it was an “eye opening experience,” but, that’s a little cheesy.

 

Screw it! I’m saying it anyways. Bold even!

 

It was an “eye opening experience!”

 

EMDR (short for eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) is an 'eye opening' experience! Click To Tweet

 

I broke this blog down into multiple parts so I could first discuss EMDR; what it is, how it works and bring you into the areas of work that I need to tackle. The second part will focus on what I’ve processed thus far on my first session (I have another session scheduled in a week). Maybe more parts will follow.

 

Who knows what path will be cut through the forest on this quest?

 

EMDR is accomplished in two different ways. The method I’ve used in the past is where my therapist moves an object back and forth, like a ball on the top of a pencil. I keep my head completely still and follow that object with my eyes. As I do this, I think about a traumatic memory, a memory that I struggle with, while my eyes scan left to right and back again. Kind of like Kit-Kat.

Ok…without the tail.

 

After a couple of minutes, I stop, and recall what I was thinking. The therapist then instructs me to think about that memory and we continue the process. This continues for an hour or more as the brain restructures these memories in my mind.

 

The other method, which was the one I did yesterday, uses two vibrating pods that can either be held or placed under your legs. I close my eyes and follow the same process as each pod alternately pulsates; left, right, left, right, etc.

 

The goal of EMDR is to process completely the deep traumatic experiences that are causing problems for someone.

 

The goal of EMDR is to process completely the deep traumatic experiences that cause problems. Click To Tweet

 

 

How Does EMDR Work?

“Processing” does not mean talking about it. “Processing” means setting up a learning state that will allow the experiences that create difficulty to be “digested” and stored appropriately in the brain.

 

A better way for us “laymen” to understand processing is when we think of REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. We know this is the time during sleep in which we dream. It is believed that the brain is reprocessing the events of the day during this phase of sleep.

 

That’s what EMDR does while we’re awake. The rapid eye movement helps to reprocess memories in the brain.

 

Another way to understand EMDR is to compare psychological trauma to physical trauma. When you cut your hand, your body works to close the wound. But if a foreign object or a repeated injury irritates the wound, it festers and causes pain. Remove the block and healing resumes.

 

This is the same as psychological trauma. If your brain’s processing information system is blocked or imbalanced by the impact of a disturbing event, the emotional wound festers and can cause intense suffering. Once the block is removed, healing resumes.

 

The goal of EMDR is to remove the psychological block that causes emotional and physical pain.

 

EMDR helps us remove the psychological block that causes emotional and physical pain. Click To Tweet

 

Inappropriate emotions, beliefs, and body sensations will be discarded and replaced by emotions, understanding, and perspectives that lead to healthy and useful behaviors and interactions.

 

 

 

Can Emotions Really Cause Physical Pain?

One thing I’ve found hard to explain to my ex, or anyone for that matter, is how an emotion from childhood trauma causes physical pain. This physical pain feeds the emotion. The emotion feeds the physical pain. The physical pain, in turn, continues to feed the emotion.

 

Soon, I’ve entered the spin cycle of a washing machine. One that spins me around and around rapidly until I finally collapse, wrung out.

 

Sometimes, I try to stop the spinning by grabbing onto someone. But then, all I do, is end up taking them down with me. Much like when I go ice skating. I’m telling you, I’m not going down alone!

 

Emotionally, I always ended up crashing and falling to the ground. And most of the time, I took my ex crashing down with me. No wonder she never felt safe in our relationship.

 

 

Remove The Pain

“Rafiki,” I cried four months ago, “I just want this PAIN to stop!! I’m so tired of hurting.”

 

I prayed to God to remove the pain from me.

 

Just “get it out” was my constant plea.

 

Rafiki was always understanding. He was always supportive. He never once put me down for spinning around and around again and again. I’m not sure he truly understood the depth of my physical pain, but he jumped on the Merry Go Round with me many times helping me to slow it down so I could manage life.

 

I’ve had others tell me, “you just have to let it go. Stop thinking about it. You keep obsessing about it. Stop.”

 

If it was so fucking easy to stop, I wouldn’t have pushed my ex as far away as I did these past six years.

 

Why did I feel so alone when it came to my pain?

 

 

I Was Not Alone

Then I found out I wasn’t. It was like finding out I wasn’t alone as a sex addict. This was the first breakthrough I made that proved to me I wasn’t crazy. This is the heart of ACOA (Adult Children of Alcoholics / Dysfunctional Families).

 

This was the Awareness I needed so I could start my journey from recovery to transformation.

 

This was why I needed EMDR to heal my past trauma.

 

 

EMDR Research: Scientificy Stuff to Learn…

Evaluations of thousands of EMDR sessions have shown that there is a physical response to unresolved thoughts.

 

Through research of memory, therapists and scientists have found that when a person is negatively affected by trauma, information is stored in motoric (or body systems) memory, rather than narrative memory. Information stored in motoric memory retains the negative emotions and physical sensations of the original event.

 

Trauma is stored in motoric memory and retains negative emotions and physical sensations. Click To Tweet

 

When that information, the trauma, is processed, it can then move to narrative (or verbalize) memory and the body sensations and negative feelings associated with it disappear.

 

An EMDR session is not considered successful until the client can bring up the original target without feeling any body tension.

 

Positive self-beliefs are important, but they must be believed on more than just an intellectual level.

 

 

Phoenix’s Visual About How EMDR Works

Picture childhood as a small sapling that will one day grow into a large tree. Every positive and negative early experience is a limb from this main trunk. As we get older, each limb continues to divide into yet smaller branches. These smaller branches hold the leaves, and eventually they hold fruit.

 

 

Picture one limb attached to the trunk of the tree has a disease. The rest of the tree is alive and well, but this one limb has, let’s say in this example, an alcoholic parent that brings chaos and trauma into the home. Every smaller branch off that limb is affected. The leaves are affected. And the fruit gets poisoned by the disease of this one limb.

 

We tend to recreate the trauma of our past.

 

Unless we process our trauma, we will recreate the past in our present. Click To Tweet

 

We do this on a subconscious level as our brain tries to resolve the unresolved negative beliefs, emotions, and physical sensations from the original event (or in our example, fight the disease in the tree).

 

Unfortunately, all we see is that our fruit is sick, it’s got worms. So, we attack that part of the tree with pesticides. Or we end up trimming the tree where we see the disease.

 

But…the disease keeps coming back.

 

It can’t be killed from attacking the fruit. It can’t be killed from cutting off the leaves. It can’t be killed by cutting off the branch. And, if we attack the fruit, the leaves, or the branches with pesticides, we could possibly end up eventually killing the entire tree.

 

 

So What Do We Do?

We need to go to the main source and heal it from the inside.

 

In our visualization, if we could take a syringe, stick it into the tree right where the limb meets the trunk, and suck out the poison that’s causing the disease, we won’t lose the entire limb. Over time that limb and its branches will blossom with new life and healthy growth.

 

Over time, sucking out the poison will allow the blockage to heal so we can truly find connection.

 

To heal from trauma and find connection, we must open the blockage that has us stuck in the past. Click To Tweet

 

With the blockage gone we can finally find connection with ourselves, connection with others, and connection with the ones we love.

 

I blamed my ex for my pain. I blamed my ex for my actions. I blamed my ex for the physical and emotional pain that “she” caused me. I attacked the leaves and the branches.

 

But she wasn’t the cause of my disease. It wasn’t her fault that I ate the fruit that was poisoned from my own past.

 

EMDR therapists say they need to go after the “low hanging fruit” first. Find that piece that you’re struggling with today. Eventually, the therapist and patient will work down the leaves, down the branches, down the limb, and get to the core issue. Once the core beliefs have been resolved, the limb, branches, leaves, and fruit can finally heal.

 

I’ve done so much work on myself, that going into yesterday’s session, I knew what limbs I wanted to attack. And I wanted to attack them ALL at once!

 

“Patience, Phoenix. Baby steps remember?” Rafiki murmurs inside my brain.

 

Rafiki’s with me even when he isn’t with me. He’s like Jiminy Cricket sitting on my shoulder whispering in my ear. Ugh!

 

Ok, maybe having a conscience and letting it be my guide isn’t a bad thing. I’m just not used to it’s constant nagging.

 

My norm in the past was reacting first, then figuring out how to resolve and clean up the mess I caused. It has never been, “let’s take a minute and think about this first so I don’t have to clean up anything to begin with.”

 

I guess I do need to learn to “give a little whistle.”

 

 

 

 

 

The Core Issues That I Need to Work On

The following are the issues that I’ve identified that I need to address. These are the core beliefs that guided my behaviors over the years. It’s what caused me to medicate with addiction. It’s what causes the craziness I feel and act on when these childhood trauma issues get triggered. It’s why I am where I’m at today.

 

  • Being a surrogate spouse to my mother at three years old, then having her emotionally leave me for another man at six.
    • Belief that to have value and worth, I need to take care of Mom
      • People pleaser
      • Constantly care-take of the person I love
      • Shower the person I love with gifts and affirmations
      • Be hypervigilant of the needs and wants of someone I love and make sure they are taken care of before they even know or ask for it
      • My needs are less than the needs of someone I love; I need to drop everything I’m doing if the one I love wants or needs me
      • I don’t put me first
    • Belief that I’m not worthy enough to be nurtured
      • Negative self-worth
      • I want to be taken care of but when I am, I dismiss it or I push it away
      • I don’t know how to allow myself to be nurtured
      • When I’m not receiving constant validation or nurturing, I react with anger, guilt, and shame
    • Belief that regardless of how much I do or what I do, my Mom will leave me
      • Everyone I love will eventually be gone from my life
      • I need to be surrounded by many people because I can’t be alone when someone eventually leaves
      • My wife will leave me for someone else
      • I will always end up alone

 

  • The only time we are a family was when my step-sister visited
    • Belief that my step-sister was more important than me
      • I need to perform to be noticed
      • No matter what I do, it is never enough
      • Belief that my wife’s friends are more important than I am to her
      • Belief that my girls would eventually see me as everyone else does – not important
    • Belief that the only way to feel connected with my parents was when it was the four of us
      • Extreme sense of loss (emotionally and physically) when I left for work*
      • Deep seated loneliness when I was away from home*
      • Jealousy and anger when my wife and girls were having fun without me*
      • Belief that I was a third wheel in my own family*

 

  • Temper tantrums in my bedroom as a child
    • Belief that I am not loved enough to be heard
      • My feelings are not valid
      • No matter how loud I yell, I will never be heard
    • Belief that I’m not noticed
      • No one cares
    • Belief that I will remain alone
      • I must fend for myself
    • Belief that it is unsafe to show anger and my feelings are not valid
      • I’ll get in trouble if I’m angry
      • I’ll be told that I’m wrong to be angry
      • I’m bad because I’m angry **

 

  • My step-father’s rages and outbursts
    • Belief that I should never “rock the boat”
      • Other people’s feelings are more important than my own
      • I must be hypervigilant to monitor the moods of others – my safety requires this of me
      • When I disagree, I’m bad
    • Belief that I could never do anything right
      • Perfectionism is key
      • When I make mistakes, I’m not good enough
      • To avoid being looked down upon, in everything I do, I must NOT FUCK up***

 

  • My Grandmother’s use of shame to control the family
    • “Kids are seen, but not heard” – an actual belief that was spoken and modeled in our family (there was the “kids” table and the adult table)
      • My thoughts and emotions don’t matter
      • I will always be a kid to my elders, thus I will never have a voice
      • Since I’m not heard, then everything I do must be done perfectly if I want to be noticed
      • If I’m still not noticed, I need to point out the things that I did to be seen and at least get some validation
    • “See what you did to me?” – this was what my Grandmother always said at holiday gatherings
      • What I do affects others
      • I cause pain in people’s lives
      • I can’t do anything right
      • It’s appropriate to flip things and make them about me when I’m hurting because that’s what was modeled for me – this is how I can be seen

 

 

Observations

As I look at this list I noticed some interesting observations.

 

I notice how I broke down my list and where my beliefs came from. I see the limb, followed by the branch, and then the leaf (the belief). Go one step further in this analogy and the fruit was my addiction.

 

When I became sober, I only cut off the fruit. I never completely addressed these other issues. I would cut a few leaves back and work on those, but the disease always came back.

 

I need to go deeper.

 

I need surgery.

 

This was what I have learned:

Sobriety is not recovery.

Recovery is not transformation.

Transformation will never occur unless I heal the limb first.

 

Through transformation, my fruit will be healthy to eat.

 

Rafiki reminds me yet again, “Phoenix, remember baby steps! There’s a lot of healing you still need to do. Don’t expect one session to heal you completely.”

 

“Thanks, my friend. I need to constantly remind myself of that one.”

                          

“I’m so excited,” Rafiki beams. “I can’t wait to see how luxurious and green your tree will become once you rid yourself of the poison that’s been dripping through your veins all these years.”

 

It’s comforting to have a supportive friend joining me on this journey.

 

Stay tuned till tomorrow: when we start using the machete to carve a path through my tangled mess.

 

 

Side Notes

* Interesting side note: A lot of these beliefs are still prevalent, but not even close to the level they were a couple years ago. Not even close to what they were six months ago. But this belief of being disconnected from the family was the one I struggled with the most. And probably why divorce has been the hardest hurdle for me to accept and get over. Especially since, through separation and divorce, I’ve been more disconnected with my family than I ever was. At the same time, my ex has told me how much happier she’s been since we separated. Separation and divorce only further reinforced my core beliefs about myself.

 

** Another interesting side note: So much repressed anger. I was not allowed to show my anger, so I shoved it down. As I look at this I can see how deeply angry I’ve been. And how much of my reactions were due to that anger that was never released over the years, but instead exploded in rages or emotional melt downs similar to how my step-father handled challenges in his life.

 

*** Yet another interesting side note: I can feel the determination, the judgment, the pressure I still put on myself towards being perfect. Once again, this overlaps everything I’ve struggled with as I watched my marriage disintegrate. It hasn’t helped that I’ve taken on 95% of the blame for the death of my marriage either. It was pointed out to me yesterday during session, that even if I had been faithful in my marriage and did not have an addiction, due to both my childhood trauma and my ex’s childhood trauma, we’d still be in the same boat we are today. We never learned how to nurture ourselves, how to nurture each other, and how to have feelings of self-worth that are important for any relationship to succeed. Without both of us doing the deep work necessary to heal our childhood wounds, we will only continue to recreate the trauma of our past in our future relationships.

 

I am grateful that I am on this journey of self-discovery.

 

I pray, that my journey will help motivate others to start down their own path.

 

This is not an easy road, but it is a courageous one!

 

Connect your adult with your child, so Together You Can Heal.

 

Reach out to the community of others who have gone before you or who are still struggling themselves so Together We Can Heal.

 

Let’s love ourselves for the special individual people we are.

 

See you tomorrow…

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