After my best friend died during my sophomore year of college, I started undergoing Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy.
EMDR is a form of psychotherapy meant to speed up the recovery from mental wounds caused by traumatic events. Think of it like this: if your mind was a foot and your trauma was a splinter, EMDR takes the wooden shard out of your foot so that your body can start healing itself. Blood clot cells are sent to the surface of your skin, and a scab is formed.
Time heals all wounds. So why wait?
EMDR therapy can speed up time.
During my first session, my therapist asked me about other traumatic events from my childhood. Even those with privileged and generally happy childhoods like mine can dredge up a few things: your first break up, the time your grandfather had a panic attack or stroke and had to be taken to the hospital in an ambulance, or the first and only time you saw your dad cry like that.
My therapist then asked me to imagine a place in my mind – either real or made up – that could serve as my ‘happy place.’ A place I could travel in my mind where nothing terrible could intrude. I imagined Rhode Island, sitting on the hidden rock ledge next to the marina across the street from my great-grandparent’s house. The sun was about to set over the horizon, its golden embers kissing the tips of the waves crashing just below my feet, which were hanging serenely above the shoreline.
I was safe there.
At our next session, this happy place would come in handy as my therapist began to orchestrate my mind like the conductor of my emotional symphony. He started by having me vividly recall the lesser traumatic events from my past, calling out every detail I could remember, most of which had happened so long ago that I had no visceral reaction to them anymore.
This is the goal of EMDR – to make current trauma feel like past traumas, already dulled and distant as if they happened years ago.
Then we moved on to the big one. The night I got the phone call that my best friend had died in a car accident.
My brain toggled between the trauma of getting the phone call and the serenity of the water. Falling to the sidewalk in a heap outside of my apartment and breathing in the seawater’s calm. Screaming into the night sky from a fetal position and feeling the warmth of the sunset on my skin.
By the third session, I could already feel myself becoming desensitized to the event of getting that phone call. But I didn’t feel relief; I felt guilty. Something terrible had just happened, my best friend had died, not even a month had passed. What right did I have to be moving away from that pain so quickly?
I wanted to bathe in it.
I wanted to succumb to it.
I wanted the weight of her death to make an everlasting impression on me.
I wanted to sit with the pain, the greatest that I had felt in my life thus far, and transform it into something hideously beautiful, so disgustingly bright that it burned your eyes to look at, and in becoming so disfigured by looking into the luminous void that you would never be able to see again – but you didn’t need your eyes because the vision was already within you. You had gained the sight, the seeing, and out of the numbness, you would eventually emerge again with something profoundly meaningful gained.
I never went back to therapy.
Sometimes I remember that phone call in passing, and I feel nothing.
Other times, I remember that phone call, and I sit with it. I cradle that memory in my small hands, tears falling off my cheeks into that memory pool, and then I tuck it under the covers and kiss it goodnight as I fall asleep next to it.
We all have phone calls we wish had never come.