I was eventually found by the police, disoriented and confused. And their first thought was: “Dang, this college freshman definitely cannot handle his booze.” So he took me to the hospital and called my parents and eventually everyone realized that I wasn’t drunk or on drugs but I was having a PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) breakdown.
Now this sleepwalking incident was a wake-up call for me and my parents that I needed help, and that I wasn’t okay. And since my dad is a retired marine, we’re well connected with the military community. And we’re pointed in the direction of EMDR which stands for eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. And it’s a way to help our brains deal with trauma.
So I took a three-week leave of absence from school to go home to Virginia and start EMDR therapy. The first session was about an hour and a half and the therapist went over all the science of everything, which again I was into. She told me that EMDR is based on the research of REM sleep which is rapid eye movement sleep. And what happens during REM sleep or what’s theorized at least is your eyes are moving back and forth rapidly and randomly and you’re filing away all the information from the day.
So if you had a stressful day at work, your dreams might have some relation to that. Now REM sleep is almost like the visualization of what’s happening and those come out as dreams.
What was happening when I was dreaming was I was seeing June 15th in a different light. Now your brain during REM sleep is moving everything from your short-term to your long-term. And it kind of reads what it is, labels it and then sends away for filing. And it doesn’t always come across exactly in your dreams.
What was happening in my dreams was I was replaying the event over and over and over again because my brain couldn’t file it. It just kept trying to refile and refile. But it just wasn’t able to.
Now the way a typical EMDR session would go is the therapist would hold their fingers about 6 to 12 inches away from my face and swipe from my left peripheral to my right peripheral, back and forth. And they call this bilateral stimulation, because it stimulates both hemispheres of your brain.
She would tell me to put myself back into June 15th, back into the sedan and let her know what I was feeling and what was happening. And when I came to a part where I was upset or didn’t really understand what was happening or angry, she would input a sentence or two, and then we would swipe on that. And now I kind of cement that thinking into my head.
Now there were two really big problems that I was having with June 15th. The first was that I felt responsible for what the girls had seen. Now if you remember I turned left, but there’s a way to get home straight. And I thought that because I turned left that that was the reason the girls saw what happened that I was the reason they saw it. If I would have gone straight they would be fine.
The second was that I felt like I could have helped Jason. I don’t know what I could have done but I just wish I would have done something better for him.
What EMDR helped me do was realize that I could have done nothing better and that situation went the way it was going to happen.
Now with traditional talk therapy, you can say oh I’m fine; it wasn’t my fault; I’m okay. But you can lie; you can lie to the therapist and you can lie to yourself. What EMDR does is it really forces you to believe what you’re saying and thinking. Now one way to show this is when I’ve been researching EMDR, I found that people would start crying out of nowhere during the swiping. And I thought, no, no, that doesn’t happen to me. It happens to me.
We would be sitting there swiping back and forth and I would just start crying uncontrollably. It was like someone had taken a champagne bottle and pop the cork and all of that was coming out was everything that I had bottled away on June 15th. And now it was finally escaping.
Luckily, I only needed two EMDR sessions. Part of this is due to the fact of the neural pathways that I mentioned earlier and how when one gets used more it gets easier to follow. Now in my brain, the trauma only had time to set up a walking path through the woods that my brain could follow. But in other trauma victims, like someone who’s been to war or someone who’s in an abusive relationship, they might have a highway that’s been formed. For me all we had to do is take a rake and brush the leaves back over and my brain would forget it was there. But for someone else you may need to take a jackhammer to it and plant trees and wait for them to grow and that takes time.
Now, a little statistic on EMDR to show that I’m not just like a poster child. After on average of six 50-minute sessions, 100% of single trauma victims and 77% of multi trauma victims had zero signs of PTSD after. Now EMDR is just one of the ways that we’re learning about trauma and the way our brains process it. And who knows what science is going to bring us in five, 10 or 20 years. What I do know is that before this event happened to me I thought that trauma was just something you need to get over, just accept it and move on.