One of the first blog posts I wrote was about a horrible experience I had, after sleeping with a guy.
Daniel was the first guy I met after becoming single. He had a lot of mental health problems. The night we slept together was a bit of a rollercoaster, with him being really nice to me one minute, and then horrible the next. He was disappointed I didn’t want to have a relationship with him.
He phoned me up a week later and told me my body was disappointing, including the phrase “I thought you’d have more of an hourglass.”
He then threatened to report me to my professional body. (I’m not sure what for. I think it was something he’d learnt you can say to healthcare professionals to freak them out.)
Recently, I put this horrible memory to rest.
Ages ago, I wrote about a new type of therapy I’m learning to do, and what it was like to experience it myself – EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing.
This therapy helps people to process traumatic memories from their past, and it’s really weird and wonderful to experience. It involves going through some questions about the memory, then thinking about it while the therapist moves their fingers back and forth, and you follow their fingers with your eyes.
It sounds bananas, but it’s been throughly researched and has a strong evidence base. The process allows your brain to connect the trauma memory to helpful information you also know, like the fact the trauma is over now, or that you weren’t to blame.
In my previous post about it, I wrote about working on memories of being in an abusive relationship, and it felt God typed into my head “it was not your fault”.
I also wrote about a memory connected to my ex-boyfriend’s death, and how I felt like present-day me went back and supported 2012-me through it, and then the memory felt like it changed into an oil painting, which didn’t bother me anymore.
A couple of weeks ago, I had the last part of the training.
I had to choose another memory from my past, which was distressing enough to use to practise EMDR, but not too distressing for a training situation.
I scrolled through my archive of memories and decided to work on the “I thought you’d have more of an hourglass” memory.
Again, it was absolutely amazing.
I went in a pair with a lady I hadn’t spoken to before, on the training. She seemed quite quiet, and I hadn’t heard her speak before on the course, but I had admired some of her outfits.
Just like everyone else I worked with on the course, she was really nice. This time, we were doing a variation of EMDR where you don’t even need to tell the therapist what the memory is. I thought this could’ve been useful for patients I’ve had who were trafficked into prostitution and found it hard to talk about exactly what they went through.
Just like usual, first I had to choose an image that represents the worst part of the memory.
The image was me, lying on my sofa bed, in my living room. I was still living with my ex-boyfriend at the time, taking it in turns to sleep on the sofa bed. It was a Saturday morning.
She started doing the sets of eye movements. I followed her fingers with my eyes. I started my bringing up the image of me on the sofabed, then, as usual in EMDR, all different things started happening in my mind.
With EMDR, they say to bring up the initial image, then let your mind go wherever it wants, as new connections are made. It’s like you’re on a train, and all the different things that come into your head are just scenery that you’re seeing through the train window – you just notice it.
At first, the things that came into my mind were like a narrative of what happened. Bringing up the memory brought back all the feelings. I felt tense and my heart rate sped up.
I remembered the phone conversation from start to finish.
I remembered how it started. All the different things that happened with Daniel came into my head, and suddenly I had a strong sense that I didn’t do anything wrong.
I met him on a dating app and liked him. On our first date, he told me about his extensive history of mental health problems. I had a dilemma, as I didn’t want to be prejudiced and dismiss him for that, and I liked, but it also rang slight alarm bells.
Then, it seemed like things wouldn’t be very good between us, so I told him I didn’t want a relationship with him, which he wasn’t happy about.
I remembered how the sex left me bruised and slightly bleeding, even though I’d asked him repeatedly to be less rough.
Then what went through my mind was the the fact I was still living with Matthew at the time, and he was another man who made me feel afraid.
Then I had an image of lining up all the men from my life who have made me feel scared
- the boss who bullied me when I was a lecturer
- the man who groped me when I was 10.
I had an image of lining them them up and punching them all in the face. Not in a very violent way, just in a way that made me feel less powerless and more kick-ass.
Then I had an image of smashing an hourglass into Hourglass Guy’s face. Again, not in a very violent way, more slapstick.
Then I remembered how I went into the kitchen, as the phone call continued, as I didn’t want Matthew to overhear.
Daniel said, “your body was disappointing. Your breasts weren’t as big as I expected, and I thought you’d have more of an hourglass. And the sex was boring. It’s always the women who want to have casual sex who aren’t very good at it.”
I slid onto the kitchen floor.
As he threatened to report me to my professional body, I hung up the phone.
I lay on the kitchen floor and cried.
Then I phoned my friend Ruth.
Facts came into my head, like the fact he couldn’t possibly report me to my professional body. He wasn’t my patient. I’m allowed to have sex when I’m off duty. I hadn’t done anything at all unethical. I’d been kind to him.
I remembered laughing with Ruth as she imagined the phone call he’d make, if he’d really tried to report me, and the utter incomprehension of the person at the other end of the phone.
“So, you don’t know her surname, she wasn’t your therapist, you met her on a dating app and your complaint is… she didn’t want to have a relationship with you?”
Memories flashed through my mind of people telling me they like my body. Recent memories of Andrew, and all the positive things he says about my body. Positive feedback I’ve had about my sexual performance.
I felt so much better.
Then, when I went back to the memory, the bit about me lying on the kitchen floor, crying, was still there.
Then it changed, and I was lying on the kitchen floor relaxing, like as if I was sunbathing, instead of distressed.
Then, instead of speaking to Ruth on the phone, she was standing by the kitchen door, guarding it.
Then, a few more of my friends came into the living room and joined Ruth, guarding the kitchen door.
Then, as the sets of eye movements continued, I stayed lying on the kitchen floor, relaxing, and more and more of my friends and family filed into the living room, to help Ruth guard the door, to keep me safe.
My friends, family, current work colleagues, past work colleagues, people who care about me continued to pour into the living room, until it was packed. Then, a piano fell down and created an extra blockade, to keep anyone harmful away from me, then my boyfriend who died came down, to help guard the kitchen door.
I felt so overwhelmed with good feelings and love as this scene came into my head.
When we finished the EMDR, even though we had been doing the ‘Blind Protocol’, so the girl I was working with didn’t know what I’d been thinking about it, I quickly told her everything. I wanted to share how the image of the living room full of people felt.
It wasn’t until ages later that I realised the significance of the scene. It made me feel so loved and protected and safe, and reminded me how many people do care about me.
It was the perfect antidote to the way I felt when I left Daniel’s flat, after the sex; I felt shaken up and dirty and desperately needed a hug and a shower, but none of my friends were free. I felt so alone and friendless, but really, it was just bad luck.
The EMDR changed the way this memory made me feel about myself.
I didn’t do anything wrong, and I am loved, and I am safe.