Once a week, I revisit some of the most traumatic moments of my life. I never imagined time travel would feel like this. I’ve stepped into the age of five, the age of fourteen. I have visited past selves that I keenly remember — and have spent an entire lifetime trying to forget.
This is the therapeutic process when it involves trauma work and EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. While this isn’t my first time in therapy in my life, it is the first time I’ve directly addressed early trauma and the impact its had on my life. It’s also the first time I’ve had any hope I can be free of the weight of it.
I didn’t even realize how much of the trauma I was still carrying around. I walked into my first therapy session knowing that I was recovering from a severe bout of depression. Between dealing with depression and a recent heartbreak, I was sure there would be plenty to unpack, but my therapist wanted to go deeper — back to the place where all the difficult feelings I was experiencing had originated.
I am a former therapist, but I was never trained in EMDR. I knew very little about it, and I had no idea how hard it would be — or how freeing. I’m not done yet. I have more work ahead of me, but it’s the first time in my life that I’ve realized that I can do something about the painful memories that never stopped causing me pain. Instead of being stuck at the emotional ages of those parts of my past, I’m healing and putting those ghosts to rest.
Having spent a lot of time with my inner, hurting child, I have a few things I need to say to her, things she probably needs (and needed) to hear:
I see your pain, but I also see your strength and resilience. For every moment of bottled rage, I see how you simultaneously crafted a colorful inner world. The world outside was ugly, and you felt you had no control. Your world inside was beautiful, and there, you reigned supreme.
Life hurt you, and you fought back, and you thought you were fine. I thought you were fine. But instead, you’d taken the pieces of pain and folded them up so tightly, tricking me into thinking they were healed when you turned them into pretty origami shapes to disguise a painful past. They weren’t healed, merely transformed. As you continued to transform yourself, trying on each new version to survive.
But I have visited you again, and I feel the sharp ache of longing in your bones for love that feels like enough. I feel your secret fears that you are as unworthy as you’ve been made to feel. But you are loved enough, and you are worthy. You are worthy now. You were worthy then. You will always be worthy of love, of belonging, and of being seen and accepted for who you are.
You are not your pain. You are not your struggle. Your gift may have been sharpened against pain, but your gift was not born of it. It was born in YOU. You have always been stronger than the storm around you. You have always loved hard even when you didn’t have enough love to wrap around yourself at night.
You were not okay — but you will be okay. You survived it all. Now you get to thrive.
It seems like the past cannot be changed. It’s a fixed point in time. Yet, our perspective of it can change. Our viewpoint can shift from the hurting child to the strong and capable adult. Healing is possible — and not just the whitewashed coat of acceptance and forgiveness over a tarnished past but real, complete healing.
EMDR has been a life-changing process. I can feel the shifts in me, and it’s more than accepting the past as it was. It’s changing how I see the world — and perhaps even how the world sees me. For those who have experienced trauma, EMDR offers an opportunity to heal those moments that forever altered us. It offers an opportunity to reclaim our power and, in doing so, to reclaim our lives.
Every visit to the past leaves more of it behind me. Every return to my inner child highlights her strength over her suffering. The past is being rewritten, and this time I am the narrator.
I walk out of therapy with a tear-streaked face, but my head is held high. I know that time travel is possible, and healing is happening here. I visit my inner child, and I tell her what she needs to hear. With every whisper to my former self, I am changing. With every visit to my past, I am changing my future.
Crystal Jackson is a former therapist turned author. Her work has been featured on Medium, Elephant Journal, Elite Daily, and The Good Men Project. She’s also the author of Left on Main, the first book in the Heart of Madison series. When she’s not writing for Medium and working on her next book, you can find Crystal traveling, paddle boarding, running, throwing axes badly but with terrifying enthusiasm, hiking, doing yoga, or curled up with her nose in a book in Madison, Georgia, where she lives with her two wild and wonderful children.
Image courtesy of Ryanniel Masucol.