Wednesday, May 2, 2018

EMDR and Horses - just another session. This is how I process past traumas.

I haven't written about therapy sessions for a while... I've continued doing EMDR with horses. It continues to seem almost magical to me. The nice thing seems to be that I easily compartmentalize therapy. When I am with Wendy and the horses, I experience emotions, flashbacks, and memories. Then I leave, and they mostly stay there and I enjoy the rest of my life.

As I drive to therapy, my hands start to get shaky. I have to consciously breath  since my chest becomes tight and it doesn't come as naturally.

I don't usually have a plan of what I will talk about or even which horse I will work with. I kind of leave all of that up to my gut as I start each session. I don't know that it matters which horse I pick or what we do, but after I've made the choice and finished the session, the choice feels like it was important.

A few days ago, Todd and I were driving home from work. He was driving. The road narrowed, and the car behind him sped up to keep him from merging in. The car in front of him slammed on its breaks. Todd swore. I felt afraid, but didn't move, didn't flinch, didn't speak. I may have even said something agreeing with him. (I honestly don't remember if I spoke or not, but I know I sat very still.)

Once home, I hid, curled up in a ball, and cried. I felt confused. I have been through the feeling of being in both the past and the present enough times that I recognized it. It's hard to know in that moment which is more upsetting: the past or the present. I'm living in both. I know I felt afraid in the car. I know I felt afraid of Todd when he swore. I don't know if I had a reason to be afraid in the car. I know I felt frozen and like anything I did or said would make things worse for me, but I'm not sure if that is because of Todd or somebody in the past. I wonder if it's helpful to stay quiet and not move, and if that somehow keeps us all safer. I wonder if not bracing and just sitting motionless is the healthiest way to handle that split second where we could have hit the car in front of us... or had the car behind us hit us... and I don't know. I don't know how I'm supposed to respond.


I want to say, "Calm down. It's not worth getting this upset. Pull over if you need to."
Part of me wants to take a ragged breath. Grab onto the door handle. My body wants to react to the fear I feel, but it is frozen. I can't do anything.

Back in the house, curled up and crying, Todd is sitting in front of me. He points out that it is okay to be human, to react to stimuli around me. He promises I am safe and asks if I am mad at him. I have no answer, because I really don't know. I also know I am safe to tell him, "I was afraid. I don't know what to do with fear, but I felt it. I wanted you to calm down, because that makes the situation safer for everyone. You, me, the other drivers."

I ask him if it's okay to say that in the moment, or would that make things worse?
He promises he will never hurt me, and sometimes a calming voice to remind him not to react is helpful, but sometimes it won't be.

In therapy, I told Wendy about that one situation. It's not a big deal, and I understand that it is passing, but I also want to get past the freezing place in fear. One of the things I have been working on is dealing with the way trauma has made it almost impossible to sleep sometimes. I want that to be different. I want to plan camping trips and trips to Texas to visit friends and sisters' weekends (whether with my own sister or with Todd's sisters) and not feel afraid to try to sleep around others. I know part of that fear is that when I am afraid or hurt or... fill in the blank... I freeze. If I freeze, I can't protect myself, and the world feels unsafe. Working to get past freezing seems like a good start.

(Maybe I should write more about sleep and trauma one day, but not today. Sorry if the above paragraph doesn't make sense. Just know it's something I have been working on a lot.)

As we talked about the situation in the car with Todd, we also started EMDR. Violet (the horse) moved in close. I could feel her breath on my cheek and her shoulder muscle at my back. I slip into a place that feels like both the past and the present.

I feel afraid of being hurt in the car. I feel afraid of my (now ex) husband's driving. I feel afraid of what will happen to me if I say or do the wrong thing. I also feel the horse near me and Wendy's hands. I hear the other horses very close by and I feel safe with him. I remember what it was like to feel so powerless as (my now ex husband) screams and rages and drives, but also that I still got in the car and rarely asked him to do anything different. (Sometimes I fought and screamed and raged and freaked out myself. But those aren't the memories I lived today.) I also felt what it was like to start asking for what I needed when I first started riding horses. The big animals that never had to do what I asked, but moved with me and let me ride them and worked with me. I feel how empowering it is to let myself take up space without berating myself and without shame. I also feel sad that if I stand up for myself, I'll be alone. At that thought I feel Violet (the horse) move beside me. I also hear the words in my head that I wanted to say. There are some specific memories to go with the words, but mostly there are just words.

"Calm down."
"Stop it."
"Fuck off."
"No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No."

At that moment, Wendy reminded me that when I am with horses, I don't use my voice. I still mostly use non-verbal cues, because I am not comfortable using my voice. I laughed, shook my head, and told her what was going through my brain. She encouraged me to speak them out loud.

"Don't talk to me like that."
"Don't treat me like that."
"YOU leave until you can stop acting like that."
"Pull the car over until you can calm down and not put us both in danger."
"It's not my problem. I won't fix it."
"I won't apologize for that."
"No. No. NO! No!!" (At this one, Violet the horse moves her head over my shoulder and starts wiggling her lips as if she's talking back. I am only slightly aware of her. Apparently Wendy is really struggling not to crack up. We laughed about it together later.)
"It's not okay to treat other people like that, and I won't tell you it is."
"Being married to you doesn't mean I have to agree with you."
"I won't do that, because I don't want to."

I continued speaking all of the things I didn't say, but wanted to say. My whole body shook. Daisy (the horse) moved in close to my other side. I can kind of hear Xyla (the horse) moving not far away too. Apparently all three were tuned into me. I'm mostly just aware of Violet. I feel really grateful that she is still there so close to me. I said, "No," and she didn't leave. Wendy is also still there. I am shaking so bad, I can barely stand.

Then, the shaking calms. I feel myself stand straighter. I feel bigger and stronger. Violet puts her nostril over my nose, so that I laugh.

My (now ex) husband was violent and scary when he was angry. He wasn't always angry, and he wasn't controlling when he wasn't angry. I didn't realize how much I had adapted to trying to keep him "not angry". I think I dismissed it - especially because for a time, I got really self destructive. When he'd get the slightest bit irritated, I would purposely push his buttons until he lost control. It became a way to control the situation, and to eliminate the feeling of constant fear wondering when he would snap. I'd just choose when he would snap. As I've started doing more "body releasing" trauma work (like EMDR and equine assisted therapy and the combination of both), it has become more and more apparent that I need to deal with that trauma more. I also wonder if enough time has passed that I can process all of that. It took ten years before I was ready to deal with the trauma of marital rape, and even longer to deal with childhood sexual abuse. Maybe my brain just takes a long time to process things.

As far as writing this and putting out in the public, I guess I just want it out there. If anyone is struggling with PTSD, I want them to know it gets better.


  1. Hi, we don’t know each other. I have been following your blog for quite a while - and I don’t even remember the way I stumbled upon it. I have never commented - but on a few entries I have checked that “didn’t know what to say box” if it was one that really resonated with me.

    This entry moved me so deeply I needed to comment. Thank you for sharing your journey, all the challenges, hurt, pain, and successes that you have through your therapy. Through this entry you helped me to realize I have a deep seated fear of my partner’s anger, and a desperate need to find a way to diffuse volatile situations by doing anything and everything I can. I always apologize, I always get quiet and meek when I want to yell, “stop! No! Don’t yell!”
    My partner is a wonderful man - he has never abused me in any way. I will be peeling back some layers in some past hurts to try and discover the source of this panic. Thank you for putting words where I was too frozen to have any.

    I am so jealous of your horse therapy. I have been inspired by you and looked, but no dice around me. I wish you wellness, clarity, and peace. I love your writing, I hope you don’t mind that I continue reading.


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