Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Therapy Tuesday-EMDR

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Victor Gally

Today was Therapy Tuesday. I have my usual weekly appointment so that I can check in about how I am doing. It has been a very good process for me. I started my individual therapy quite soon after Michael's death, maybe about a month afterward. The therapist that I see is the same therapist that worked with Michael and I a couple of years ago after he was first diagnosed with his brain tumor. When Michael died, I knew that I needed help, and it made the most sense for me to return to the therapist who knew us both.

I am so glad that I chose to do this. It has allowed me to work through my issues, while also keeping a very honest, and realistic, point of view about our relationship. I have shared here in the past, that when Michael was first diagnosed we went through some difficult adjustments in our relationship. We had only been a couple for a year and a half, and had only been living with each other for about 9 months. Suddenly I was his caretaker, as well as his partner. Suddenly I worried about how my needs were going to be met while also meeting Michael's needs. And while he was doing very well at the time, considering he had undergone brain surgery, we knew that in time he would experience deficits that would only increase my responsibility, and his reliance on me. And mostly, we knew that time wasn't on our side.

One of the new modes of therapy that my therapist has been using with me is EMDR. EMDR is an acronym for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. In a nutshell it is an information processing therapy that uses dual stimulation such as eye movement, tapping or auditory tones. These dual sensations are occurring simultaneously while you are attending to, or focusing on, whatever traumatic experience, or negative belief, that you are wanting to work through. By focusing on this external stimulation while also focusing on the image, or thoughts, new insights begin to emerge. The therapist then acts as a guide, helping you work through the belief system you have put into place, and guide you to a place where the negative beliefs can be reprocessed in a way that are less problematic.

If any of that description peaks your interest, please follow the link provided, as I don't feel that I am appropriately describing the process. My purpose here is not to educate on this particular mode of therapy, more to show the various ways that I am attempting to work through my grief.

One of my main concerns right now is my feeling stuck. I feel really stuck in my anger about Michael's death. As I said yesterday, death is final, and there is nothing I can do to change it. Yet at the same time I am so clear in my heart that I want, and need, Michael to be here with me. I am never going to get what I want, that I am very clear about. The problem then, is that I have clarity in my mind, but not in my heart.

One of the concepts that I have for myself, is that my experience with grief is going to be greatly influence on my past experiences, and by my personal beliefs. Now I am not talking about religious beliefs, I am talking about the messages that I give myself today, and the messages I have given myself for years.

One of the key beliefs that I have is that I am not meant to be happy. That happiness is for other people. I dare to go as far as to say that sustained happiness is meant for most people, but not for me. I feel like I must have really pissed someone off, perhaps the big guy in the sky, for him to keep fucking with me. I honestly feel that in every choice that I have made as an adult, nothing goes smoothly. Every time I attempt to make my life, and my kids' life better, something always comes around to screw it up. I feel like I am a nice guy, and that I have done many good things in life, yet good things don't seem to go my way, or that don't seem to last.

When I met Michael everyone who knows me was so elated. Everyone said that nobody deserved more to be happy in love than me. I am just one of those nice guys that should meet another nice guy, and have a good life together. If that's as simple as it is, then why the hell didn't it happen until I was in my late 40's? And if I had to wait so long, and then finally met the man of my dreams, and guess what , I fit perfectly into his dreams, then why the hell did he have to die? I hate to say it, but couldn't someone else in this world have died that day except Michael? Am I horrible to think that?

In my negative belief system, of course Michael had to die. In this universe that fills the space around me, I had far too much happiness than I was supposed to get, so he had to go. So now, given my experience, every time I see what appears to be a happy couple, or even a miserable couple, I become filled with rage. It angers me so to have the world of happy or content couple parading around to remind me of what I no longer have. Is it all just a huge hurtful joke being played on me?

Okay, so this is what I am working on, and this is where I have identified that I feel stuck. I don't want to be stuck here, as it only serves to make me into a bitter old man before my time. Maybe I was already bitter, but just had a brief reprieve when Michael came into my life. The problem was that like a typical man, I didn't read the fine print. If I had, I would have clearly seen that this relationship had an early expiration date. How terribly stupid, and ignorant, of me, to believe that life was handing me something good, something that I could count on.

Today's EMDR session was to help me work through this negative belief that I have about life's happiness, and how it gets triggered by images of happy couples. And I have to say, that through the process of today's therapy session, I did come away feeling less angry in my still held belief about all of this.

What I did come away with, today at least, is that what all those supposedly happy couples have, is no different than what the happy couple of Mike and Dan had. Some how I need to remember this, or believe this. I want there to be a time that when I think of these types of images, that I immediately have a comforting emotional response about the gift that Michael was to me. I want to immediately feel his love, and smile. I know that this type of thought will always be followed with a sense of sorrow because he was taken so soon, but I don't want the sorrow to be my go-to response when I think of him.

And for what it is worth, tonight I am feeling his love, and remembering that he wanted me to find happiness. I truly think he would be disappointed if I didn't try to work through all of this. I want him to be happy, and I want happiness for myself. When I think of his spirit today, I see him filled with joy. I don't see him focused on what he was taken from. I see him focused on what propelled him forward. I just love him, and loved him, so much. I feel so good about what I was able to experience with Michael in the time we had together.

It was magical.

It was real.

It was lovely.


  1. Quite interesting about the EMDR. I have never heard of it before. About the closest things I've heard of are biofeedback - which was used when I was dealing with agoraphobia as a teen - and a friend who does sound therapy associated with yoga. This seems to be something that carries the process much farther. I hope it is able to help you to get "unstuck" from where you feel you are right now.

    The anger and feeling sort of like we've been treated unfairly, or have been singled out to be punished, etc... can be a difficult aspect of grieving. I think that came to light a few days ago when so many of us were inspired to leave a comment about how we still experience anger. A few months ago, I wrote a post about anger (Somewhere, a fire still burns). I think it was that post that had a lot of responses - one from a reader who was a policeman for many years and then lost his wife to cancer. He said he thought the anger left more quickly as he was so used to seeing how bad things happened to good people all the time - he saw it every day in his work. For most of us, we don't see life that way. From the time we are young, we're taught that we should do good and that good deeds are generally rewarded, if even just in an abstract sense -- and that bad deeds will surely result in punishment, if not immediately, then almost like some kind of curse. This way of thinking of good-bad, reward-punishment - exists in many cultures throughout the world. If we subscribe to that belief, than I can't see how we can avoid feeling angry and unfairly treated when our spouses die at a premature age. We're angry at the unfairness that cut their lives short, and that left many of us to face the remainder of our lives alone.

    How to get past that. It's definitely a tough one. I often read other widowed person's stories, or those of people who have lost children, or of people who are killed in senseless crimes or stupid job-related accidents and think, "That was so unfair." Now, when I get feeling angry and like Don and I were singled out, I try to remind myself that "life is not fair" - it just is. Our existence constantly hangs by a thread. Bad things do happen to good people and there's no rationale to that. I guess that's been one of the hardest things for me to accept about life, given how surrounded I have been by losses from cancer -- the seeming randomness and chaos - and how there is no garlic necklace that one might wear to keep it at bay.

    Anyhow, I think the last paragraph about what Michael would have wanted for you, is a very good focus point. Don and I did not have many conversations about what I should do when he was gone. Talking about his death while he was still fighting his illness seemed a little like offering death a chair in our living room. Still, we did talk enough for me to know that he did not want me to be sad forever, or to give up and kill myself (yes, we actually talked of that). He wanted me to travel if I wished, or to find a place where I could feel at home among artists and naturalists. The last thing he would have wanted is for me to allow anger and sadness to wreck what is left of my life. I try to remember that when I'm feeling down, and then think of what I can do to get my "story" moving back into a more positive direction. A lot of times, I don't feel all that positive, but I keep on keeping on, trusting that I'm doing the right thing and moving toward a better future. Sometimes, it feels better to not think and just do.

  2. I used to get overwhelmed with the ugliness of humans; Matt and I usually alternated with that feeling, and helped each other. Now when I get overwhelmed, it comes with a side order of rage that the ugliness is still here, and the beauty is not so much. Why take a man who was good and peaceful and beautiful in the world, AND destroy me (previously pretty awesome myself, now bitter, angry, completely heart broken, and Thinking Far Too Much). Where is the Logic in that? Why take light out of this world? How ridiculous. I definitely hear you on the "why not someone else" front. Pointless and inefficient, and completely illogical, to take love and beauty out of the world and leave ugliness.

    What often incites rage in me is the return of old beliefs/practices I had laid down: thinking far too much, living in my head instead of being embodied, and the worst "return": Life is beautiful, and if I can't feel it, I am messing something up. I am doing something wrong, and therefore don't get the love and beauty that still Is, no matter what form/formlessness it is now. If I could only figure out this simple/impossible puzzle, then I can know our connection and be okay in this world, but if I can't figure it out, if I don't feel it, my bad. Picking up That old belief just adds insult to traumatic injury. I resent having old backpacks thrust back onto me when I had laid them down already.

    I trusted what I lived, and what I practiced. My faith in the basic, intrinsic goodness and beauty of life was hard won, and solid. Then the world exploded on me, and now I need to trust what is largely invisible. Tangible evidence of love is harder to recognize. Wrestling old backpacks takes more energy than I've got. Trusting what I knew, ignoring what it appears to be - also sometimes more than I've got. Trying to recite: "god does not abandon what s/he started," all apparent evidence to the contrary.

    "Just be incredibly sad, without trying to figure it out," was what I got out of Therapy Wednesday today.


  3. Dan, did you ever think what a gift YOU were to Michael?
    Thanks for the description of EMDR. I actually didn't find anything that specific when I looked a few weeks ago! Interesting that it can be applied to feelings like the ones you describe -- I'd only heard about it with PTSD and that's not such a huge factor for me.
    Hugs to you.

  4. Hi Supa,

    My therapist has been receiving training in the EMDR, and asked if I would be open to trying it. I'm finding it very helpful, and interesting. My graduate degree is actually in marriage and family therapy, although I have chosen to not work as a therapist.

    Thanks for reminding me that I was a gift to Michael. He used to always look at me and say out loud, "How did I get so lucky?" Just thinking about it makes me smile.

    I'm looking forward to meeting you at Camp Widow.