Something magical happened this last time I did EMDR with Lesli Johnson. I walked away from my mother with a light heart. Granted, my mother is dead and so the scene happened only in my imagination, but it felt real, and I am not the same person who went into the session. I am more myself. I feel free. Like a kid who is going out to play.
I didn’t know that was possible.
I’d scheduled a Skype session because I found myself struggling with the belief I wasn’t enough. I felt it didn’t matter what I did; I could never do enough to make people truly happy or make myself feel valuable and loved. This meant nothing I did was fully satisfying because I could have always done more. It was like I was trying to repair a hole in my lungs with air.
I grew up thinking it was my job to make my mother’s life better. I’m not sure where that idea came from—it may have come from the fact I thought I was the only one in the family that really understood her and her needs. I saw her struggling to get dinners on the table, to get the house clean, the laundry done, and so I was the one who stepped in and tried to help.
Maybe this is an adoptee thing. Maybe if you are a sensitive child you sense the unresolved grief the parents carry for not being able to have children “of their own”, and so you feel it is your job to make them happy since they got you to balm the wound. The problem, of course, is that you are a child and you don’t have the tools to make grown-ups happy. That is their job, not yours. But since they don’t acknowledge their sadness about infertility, there’s just a sense that something is wrong and someone needs to fix it.
Add to this the fact that no one talks to you about the unacknowledged grief that is associated with being relinquished by your birth mother, and you have a wounded child feeling responsible for healing a wounded adult or adults. If you let this go untended, you have a wounded child who grows into a wounded adult who thinks her self worth comes from making other people feel better. But other people can truly only feel better because of their own actions and beliefs, so, there you are, trying to fill holes with air.
EMDR involves a lot of visualization, so it’s right down my alley. Lesli said people don’t usually get results as quickly as I did during both of our sessions, but I’ve been doing NLP, another healing modality that involves a lot of visualization, with Katie Peuvrelle for years, so I was well prepared for EMDR. The whole process felt very familiar and easy.
One thing with NLP and EMDR is that I know the sessions have worked when afterwards I can’t tell anyone what happened. I forget a lot of what Katie or Lesli and I talked about because the events don’t carry the same charge in my memory anymore. The traumatic events or difficult situations I’d brought in with me were no longer happening in my brain. They’d been reprocessed and were now events that had happened. They were over. The emotional charge was gone. This is wonderful unless I want to write about my session with Lesli.
My brain complains, I don’t want to think about that stuff anymore. I’m done with it. So here’s my compromise: I’m not going to make my brain rehash events it has processed and put in the “no big deal box”. I’ll give you Lesli’s contact information at the bottom of the post and you can experience it yourself.
I will tell you how our session ended because I LOVE thinking about this part, the part where I got to go play.
While Lesli had me alternatively tap my knees with my fingers, I thought about the thought “I am not enough” while I pictured my mother in the kitchen, unhappily making dinner. I pictured the ball of sadness that connected us. It was like a ham-sized belly button of gelatinous distress. It writhed. It was freaky. Lesli asked if I could separate my mother’s sadness from mine, but the thing was a blended mass, not strands that could be pulled out. For a moment, I felt a hopeless wash of I will never be able to change. I will always be connected to my mother in a way that makes my guts hurt because I wasn’t able to save her, but then something wonderful happened. I realized I could set the mass on fire, and I did: I burned the sadness that connected me to my mother.
I felt myself get lighter. I imagined I grew wings and started to float away, but then I felt the pull I’d felt all my life, the pull back to the sadness that kept me in the kitchen, feeling my mother’s pain.
I wanted to change so badly. Lesli suggested I bring adult Anne into the room I was imagining, and I did it. Adult Anne told our mother she didn’t have to cook dinner, that we could just go out for burgers. Adult Anne invited our mother to sit at the kitchen and write, for that was what I knew my mother really wanted to do more than anything else. For a moment, I got to have the vision of the two of us, my mother and me, sitting at the table, writing, and I saw what I’d wanted my whole life, for my mother to live her passion.
I also saw why I teach Write or Die. I saw the impulse that drives me in my life: I want people to put aside what is not essential and to do whatever makes them feel most engaged and alive.
In my imagination, my mother got up from the table and went back to the kitchen. Because I was adult Anne standing in for child Anne, I saw this was her decision and not my responsibility. I saw that child Anne could wave to her mother and say, “Later, Mom! I’m going out to play,” because I was a kid, and that’s what kids do.
My mother made her choices, and she lived the life she chose. She finally decided to sit at the table when she was in her 60’s and write her book, and so the final years of her life were also the happiest.
I waited until I was 51 to start writing. I didn’t feel free to be happy when my mother wasn’t, so I waited until she was dead, and yet I still felt connected to her, still felt bound by her grief.
But I am free now. I walked out of the kitchen during my EMDR session. I said, “Later, Mom!” with love for both her and for me.
I could not save her. But I could live my life.
I loved my mother with all my heart. I still do. I am so glad she died having written most of her book. I wish, of course, she had written more, actually finished it. I wish she had seen how successful it ended up being, even in its unfinished state. I wish she was at home now, writing, and not in the kitchen cooking a meal for a man who could have cooked his own.
I think the work I did with Lesli is something I'll need to continue with on my own in order to keep my brain focused on me as an independent person, one who loves her mother but is not tied to her in a way that keeps me from living as joyously as possible.
As I'm writing, as I'm driving, as I'm falling asleep at night, I picture myself walking out the door, waving to my mom, loving her, loving me, loving life, and hoping everyone will be okay.