i'm thinking of a lovely woman, a mother four-times over, an artist, a seeker. she has a twinkle in her eye. almost always ready with a deep, flirtatious laugh, sobs and heartache are not unknowns to her. she sat in a puddle of tears on my couch a few weeks back, reeling after a panic attack that a pinging phone set off.
a week later, she's locked in traffic in seattle and a maniac cuts her off, swerves amidst the gridlocked traffic to insinuate his car in front of hers, presumably to reach a destination seconds sooner. rather than later.
being one of her pet peeves, lovely lady client responds with requisite huffing and puffing, clenches fists on steering wheel, grits teeth, probably yells an expletive heard only to herself, and then relaxes all facial and upper-body muscles when she reads the vanity plate:
minutes prior to this, lovely lady client (let's call her magdalene) and i had concluded our first emdr session. the pinging phone's panic attack was processed in session by creating a cognitive schema to be used in high-anxiety moments such as these, these unpredictable moments when, "out of the blue," we get triggered, lose our hard-earned savoir-faire, can't see our way out from under the pile of decades-old detritus, and regress to inchoate emotions and body tremors. this response will not do! this response is simply the response of the helpless, powerless, incapable, inarticulate, unprotected, unwanted child who learned survival lessons in the jungle of the family of origin. how can this response in any way represent us, today? how can it represent an accomplished artist, mother of four, friend, spouse, comrade-in-arms, adult?
the emdr protocol for this schema is known as the calm place, or the safe place, or that time in your life when you felt (fill-in-the-blank). fill-in-the-blank is thera-speak for client-centered, which is thera-speak for "empower client by letting them choose." i prefer the fill-in-the-blank option for a couple of reasons: 1. many people do not have a calm, safe place which they can call to mind, or; 2. many people come from such backgrounds as to make imagining a calm, safe place either impossible or actually unsafe, or; 3. some people would rather draw comfort and strength from imagining themselves in a scenario where they felt what it is that they want to feel about themselves today. examples for number 3: courageous; intelligent; loved; smart; accepted; acknowledged; protected; capable.
i should clarify here that the place chosen can be real or imagined. the brain does not distinguish between real and imagined. hence, memory distortion and subjective perception versus objective reality.
magdalene, clever girl artist that she is, picked a visually rich place, a real place that she visits once in a while, to stand for her calm place. during the emdr processing, she articulated feelings and desires and ephemeral thought fragments that she links with this place, that make this place (this cognitive schema) hers alone. she savored this creative process, at times inaccessible to me because her eyes were closed, relishing what was hers alone. and she named this place. she gave it a one-word handle so that it could be quickly accessed in times of duress, like pinging phones indicating a call from an unwanted caller, or an uncouth punk driver swerving in front of her on the road. she called her special place:
and the therapist, who was not in the car with magdalene, says to her, "i'd like you to say that word to yourself, heaven, and notice how you feel."
and the client reports, "i just let 'er rip! in the car! hootin' and hollerin' and laughing until tears came to my eyes!"
in thera-speak, we say that intermittent positive reinforcement enforces already-existing cognitive schema. real people would call this serendipity. or the universe at play.
there are no accidents. we are, each of us, a part of our own play which unfolds minute by minute, seemingly inconsequential and discrepant, until the fabric of our life is viewed from above and afar. and from the right vantage point, we can see that we create the breadcrumb trail stringing the moments together.
Turn to the right, there's a little white light
Will lead you to my (Blue) Heaven ...
smashing pumpkins, my blue heaven