She was ready, so I began. Immediately, in less than fifteen seconds, she began to shiver, to shiver as if she had just been dragged out of an icy river in the middle of winter. The temperature in my office was a comfortable seventy-four degrees. Her teeth began to chatter, her cheeks started to turn red, and after a minute or two her lips even turned a little blue.
Nine or ten years ago this might have caused me some anxiety, but I had become accustomed to these kinds of dramatic displays with EMDR patients. I had to learn to tolerate their intensity. I embrace these moments, but lament that my patients must revisit their horrors yet again, as if living them was not punishment enough. However, this would be the last and final time.
The first patient who had displayed a dramatic explosion of emotion was Samuel, some ten years earlier. He had a horrible childhood. When I first started working with him he was sixty-two years old. He was handsome, very intelligent, and insightful, but still tormented and broken by a mother long since dead. “Mother” as he called her, never mom, was evil. There is really no other way to put it.
He was successful in his career. When I saw him he had earned a master’s degree and was working as a manager in a consulting firm. When he had been a child his mother had almost killed him on dozens of occasions. “Mother’s recreation was torturing me. She hated me, and I knew it in her uterus,” he said. “I was a difficult birth, because I remember not wanting to be born to this woman.” It did not matter if it was true or not. It was his truth, and I accepted it as the truth. He described experiences he had had when he was in this woman’s womb with such clarity that I most certainly believed him.
His father read the paper during episodes when his mother tortured him, or just watched and did nothing. He intervened only once. “Mother” he said, “You’re going to kill the poor boy.” He felt the wrath of mother for months after making that single statement, and so did Sam.
One of his mother’s favorite torments took place at dinner. She regularly grabbed the little four-year-old by the back of his neck and shoveled food and milk down his throat as he choked, gagged, and eventually passed out, after which Sam would wake up sweaty and alone in his bed with his shirt and face covered with milk and peas, having no recollection of how he got there. These episodes happened dozens of times and went on for years.