I first came to learn about trauma through my first 12-step group. Many of the guys who had done intensive therapy would talk about it from time to time. Certainly, I had heard about PTSD, but my underdeveloped understanding of trauma led me to believe that only people who had gone through something “huge,” such as going to war could suffer from trauma. I quickly learned that this is false and I began to listen more acutely to the stories being told in meetings. I could hear my own pain in these stories, even if I couldn’t quite come up with a word to describe it.
After a few months in the program, I began meeting up with a 12-step mentor named Greg. One of the things Greg worked with me on was a “trauma egg.” A trauma egg is a tool used to do an inventory of your own trauma. It entails drawing a circle and then breaking that circle into fractions. In these fractions you draw events in your life that were traumatic to you.
The Trauma Egg: Understanding Our Trauma
A couple Saturdays a month, I would drive up to our meeting location and we would talk about recovery. I would pull out my trauma egg, and I would sit there and share with him what I had come up with. We did this activity over an extended period of time because sometimes space is necessary for memories to surface.
My instances of trauma included big events and seemingly little events. One of the strangest things I remember identifying as an instance of trauma was watching the movie “Gremlins” as a six-year-old. I was traumatized by the fact that these furry, cute-looking “Gremlins” could turn into vicious “killers” on a dime. And, of course, as a child I had not developed enough to understand that it was just a movie—my imagination had been stained.
This violence influenced a distrust in God’s creatures. As I sit and type now, I feel fine but during the period in time in which I was processing all of this, it was actually difficult for me to go on YouTube and watch clips from the movie—I was still scared. It might seem strange, but that’s kind of how trauma works if it is unresolved.
I must say, please don’t try doing a trauma egg without consulting with a therapist. I learned later from one of my therapists that “lay persons” shouldn’t be going about doing this type of work without professional support.
From the Trauma Egg to EMDR
I share all this because prior to going to inpatient rehab, I had already done a pretty decent job of trying to understand my life and the unresolved emotional events that were really keeping me from flourishing. This was especially helpful when one of my housemates introduced me to EMDR (Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) as therapy.
I was sort of shocked when I first started doing EMDR because it was unlike the talk therapies to which I had been accustomed. It involves focusing on a traumatic memory, closing your eyes, and allowing the therapist to guide you using digital or analog equipment. Because I had already done so much previous work trying to understand my trauma, I was able to jump right in and begin processing things.
There are different approaches, but what worked best for me was holding a computer mouse in each hand that would vibrate back and forth between my two hands (sort of like modern video game controllers do). My therapist told me that I was highly receptive, for whatever reason, to this kind of stimulation. Images and events in my life that I hadn’t thought about in years popped into my imagination.
Taking Off the Shame Filter: The Effects of Processing Trauma
My first full session lasted an hour and was extremely intense. Afterwards, all that I wanted to do was lie on the couch all day. Emotionally, it felt like I had been hit by a train. It’s very hard to explain, but it reminded me of the emotional feelings you have after you have cried intensely, except only much stronger (all of this is normal and was predicted by my therapist).
That night, I had the most vivid dreams of my entire life (this is normal as well). However, what was most interesting was the way that I felt the next day. For my whole entire life I have had on what I call a “shame filter.” It’s a self-created term, but I use it to describe the way I have always felt about myself.
I think most people would say that I’m generally a cheerful person. However, I have always felt like there was something wrong with me—something that has held me back from experiencing myself as I really am. I had never really been able to put a finger on it, but it felt like I was prevented from feeling truly good about myself. It was a looming sense of shame about my existence. Even though I would hear people saying nice things about me, I could never really believe it.
However, I distinctly remember having the best day of my life the day after my first EMDR session. It was a sunny, beautiful day and it felt like my skin embraced the sun more purely that day. I can remember walking around the facility and feeling free.
If I could compare my emotions and self-understanding to breathing, it felt like I had left a stuffy room and was out in the fresh air. The knot that I had experienced in my throat for most of my life was gone. It felt like I had an emotional tumor removed. I only experienced a genuine sense of healthy self-worth. I felt happy to be alive. Happy that God had created me for a purpose. Through the EMDR therapy, my “shame filter” had been removed.
Because of my positive experience with EMDR, I have become a bit of an “EMDR evangelist.” However, I am not a therapist, so I can only speak from my own experience with it. It seems like everyone has a different experience with it, but the results I have heard have been positive.
My experience was that I was relieved from many negative, unresolved experiences that were still inflicting emotional pain on my life. As I have written before, I believe that EMDR is an amazing technique that God has given us as psychological medicine for the soul. I hope that everyone has the chance to try it out!
Does the idea of a “shame filter” resonate with you? Do you think you have experienced trauma throughout your lifetime? Have you ever thought about trying out EMDR?
Quarter Joe is a lifelong Catholic and has been in recovery for pornography addiction for nearly three years. He is passionate about the spiritual path of the 12-step model and the power of Jesus in the Eucharist in bringing healing and transformation.