I helped Sam heal and become whole. He began to trust enough to date women again. He had lived alone for years. Now his life was no longer riddled with fear and doubt, but instead he was feeling more confident and relaxed. I’m not sure who benefited more from our work together, he or I, perhaps a little of both. I’ve done more than 10 years of daily work helping trauma victims recover and heal since Sam ended treatment. Many tears have been shed in my little second-floor office that overlooks palm trees and the Inter-coastal Waterway.
Georgia, still shivering in my office, had been molested by her father most of her young life. She escaped with drugs and alcohol. Her mother hated this daughter and physically abused her because her husband preferred Georgia to her. To make matters worse for Georgia, her father showered the child with gifts that created envy by her brothers. He took her on vacations to their cabin for “fishing” trips, again leaving her brothers at home. She begged him to take her brothers instead or at least bring them along, but no. As you might expect, her brothers’ hatred for her grew. They physically and emotionally attacked her at every chance. To say she was shivering and left out in the cold would be an understatement. Oh, yes, dad was a big man in the church, respected elder. The whole community loved the guy. Amazingly, she does not blame God, and attends her church regularly.
Georgia’s story was the one that changed me. It was not more horrifying than other stories I had heard over the years, but for some reason, after experiencing her shivering session, after watching her in my office wailing, balled up in a fetal position on the floor in front of me, I was not the same.
After this grueling session, which was one of hundreds, perhaps even thousands, I had facilitated and witnessed over the years, I went home, made a drink, and wept. This had never happened to me before. I could usually leave my work at the office, but not on this day. I had heard hundreds of these horror stories, but never dwelled on them, because I was trained not to. This night, however, got the best of me.
It was a night of tears, a night of recall, a night of seeing images of the stories I had heard over the past decade. It was a seemingly endless flood of horrible pictures running through my head at the speed of light, pictures from stories that had been shared in my office these past ten years–one flash after another and another. It was as if I was doing EMDR without doing EMDR. After it ended I was exhausted, and my face was soaked from tears. Hearing all of these horrors of molestation, physical abuse, beatings, threatenings, stories where the parent brings the child to the verge of death. I simply asked myself, “Why on earth would God want to have anything to do with humans?” I would have thrown in the towel on humanity long ago. How could these parents hate their children so?
I was naïve. I had no idea how frequently parents tortured their children. I learned quickly. It happens everywhere and all the time. It happens with the wealthy and the poor, the bright and the dumb. It happens. I would often ask myself, “Why was I so lucky in my childhood, blessed with my simple and loving family?”
During this heavy-laden night, for some reason, I remembered a Catholic prayer that I learned as a child. One line kept playing over and over in my head, “To thee we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.” I kept saying, “I do not know how much longer I can live in this valley of tears, which feels like an ocean of sadness created by evil and madness. Day in and day out hearing stories of adults who as children lived in the midst of evil. On this night all I could think about was, “The valley of tears. I work in a valley of tears.”
This was a different sadness than I had ever felt before. I had lost a father whom I loved, and other family members. I had known grief and sadness, but this was different. I wasn’t sure what to make of it. I later met with a colleague, a mentor and friend. We talked about this sadness for while. It helped a great deal. She still checks up on me to make sure I’m taking care of myself, which I am. She said, “You know Andy, we work with EMDR in a very emotionally charged way. You have to take time off, take care of yourself.”
A few days after my tearful episode, I ran into one of my graduate school professors, another friend and mentor. He was the one who first taught me how to use EMDR back in the 90s. During this meeting I shared my experience with this episode of sadness.
He was always one with a story. He had spent most of his career treating Vietnam Veterans with PTSD and doing research with this group. He said, with his soft voice and subtle southern accent, “Did I ever tell you ‘bout the time I was pick’in up leaves out by the pooool?” He always had great stories, so I was surprised I had not heard this one, but I hadn’t. (please stay tuned)