For this post, we have a volunteer guest writer. His name is Scott and he is from Chicago. This article reflects his specific experiences using EMDR Therapy to treat his addictions. We approached him and he volunteered to share his story with us.
I am not a researcher, or an addiction therapist, or a mental health professional and I cannot say any person will have results that are the same as mine, or for that matter different results than mine. This is just my personal experience with EMDR therapy. This is how it was for me.
Before I got sober, I was addicted to what felt like absolutely everything. And when I say everything I mean everything.
I was a drunk. I smoked marijuana every day. I was compulsive sexual, a lot of times with people I didn’t even know, and I had meth binges where I would be awake for days at a time. I have no idea how it is that I am still alive. I did so many dangerous things, and I spent all of my time with the worst sort of people.
My initial EMDR sessions were with an in-person therapist here in the Chicago area. I then took on the challenge of learning how to do online private sessions at home. I used both the Virtual EMDR for Addiction Program to focus on my addictive behaviors, and also the Virtual EMDR Program to help with some fear, anxiety, and emotional issues I was coping with.
The results listed in this article reflect my experience with doing EMDR treatments over the course of a 3 month summer. I did the sessions at least once a week, but sometimes I did them 2 or 3 times.
I said that I would write about some of the biggest things that happened to me as a result of doing the EMDR. Some of these were enjoyable, like the restoration of my memory and the improvement in the quality of my daily living conditions. Other things were painful or a bit scary such as crying sometimes after my sessions or some of the vivid dreams it made me have.
HERE ARE 6 THINGS THAT HAPPENED FOR ME WHEN I TREATED MY ADDICTIONS WITH EMDR THERAPY-
1) The objects of your addiction (in my case drugs and alcohol) just didn’t seem all that desirable anymore.
I think we can all relate to that feeling where you’ve had a huge, massive, monster-sized dinner and then you’re offered dessert. Sure pie and ice cream sort of, kind of, still sound good, but you’re totally stuffed, and if you have it you’re really going to feel bad.
In this situation it’s pretty easy to say no, and when you do EMDR therapy focusing on your addiction, it feels basically the same way. Sure, there’s still a bit of a pull towards drinking and drugs, but it just feels like you’ve had “enough” and it’s easy to turn away and say no.
2) Your memory will come back.
I have read that this is a common thread for most people who do EMDR therapy. They start to have a vivid recall of memories that they haven’t accessed for years. Especially stuff from childhood.
EMDR therapy broke open a flood of memories in my brain. Stunning memories. Big memories. Little memories.
I started to remember things like specific toys I had when I was a kid. The rotting smell of the compost heap in our backyard. The crawlspace in my childhood home. The 1970s cuff links in my father’s jewelry box. The stereo in my very first car. Making a snow fort with my friends in winter. My first kiss when I was 14.
All of these vivid details. It’s like I could access a part of my mind that had been locked away. And the EMDR had sort of jarred it all loose.
It’s like those memories were always in my brain just waiting for me to access them. But without the assistance of the EMDR I was prevented from remembering any of it.
3) You will have intense, vivid, and emotional dreams.
I remember dreaming about a girlfriend that I hadn’t seen in 12 years. In the dream we were holding hands and I could smell her hair. I felt an overwhelming sense of the deep love that I once felt for her before our ugly and painful breakup. She was back, and we were together again, and now we could say all of the things that we never got to say. We could mend those old deep wounds.
And then I woke up. I felt terrified. I had not thought of her in years, but now I was dreaming of her. And it all seemed so real. The colors were so vivid.
Because of the EMDR, I also had “wet dreams” about drinking and getting high. In my dreams it would be so vivid, so real, and so intense. I could taste that chemical aluminum burning taste of the meth pipe. In my dream I was using again and it hurt so much. Then I would wake back up and have such an overwhelming sense of relief because I was still sober and it was only a dream and I was safe.
Not all of the dreams that I had been having because of the EMDR were painful like this though. Some were just downright amazing. Fishing with my grandfather who had been dead for 30 years. Or being a commercial airline pilot. I even had a dream about being a famous rock musician. But again, the dreams were so intense and so vivid that I really thought they were real.
There wasn’t always rhyme or reason to it, but the EMDR hits some sort of sweet spot in your brain and makes your dreams super intense. I read around on the internet and found out that this was pretty common for people with EMDR therapy.
“EMDR therapy broke open a flood of memories in my brain. All of these vivid details. It’s like I could access a part of my mind that had been locked away.”
4) After sessions I sometimes was pretty emotionally upset.
EMDR hits your brain and nervous system pretty hard. Sometimes after a session I’ll feel a bit confused or hollow and empty. Kind of like that heady feeling when you’ve had a couple of glasses of wine. Other times I will feel a sense of anger and rage over something horrible that has happened to me in my past, especially childhood stuff that was in my mind during my EMDR session.
The other thing is the sadness. Sometimes I would come out of EMDR with tears in my eyes and feeling empty and sad, but fortunately this feeling passes. It’s like it jars something loose in the brain.
I am not entirely sure why this happens, but I have read online that all of these things: anger, sadness, crying, and emptiness happen to a lot of people after an EMDR session. It’s not a huge deal. I would usually call my brother and talk to him about how I was feeling. He’s a sober addict and he seemed to really understand how I was feeling and where I was coming from. It felt better to talk to someone about it. I sometimes needed sometime to “come down” emotionally from my EMDR session.
5) You will be left with some real life problems to deal with.
EMDR therapy will remove the addictive desires, but there’s still a real life to deal with afterwards. Paying your bills, working at a job, friends and family, a life’s purpose to find, all of it. No therapy will remove these kinds of problems because these are the problems that all people deal with, even totally “normal” non-addicted people.
It is because of this that I am adamant that EMDR isn’t enough. I need more.
For me, I needed a therapist and a group to talk to about my problems. Yes, I am sober, but I had been using for so many years that I never really had the skill-set to deal with a lot of real-life problems that everyone has to deal with. The addiction had stunted this whole part of me. Thankfully therapy and a 12 step group helped me. I got to apologize to the people that I wronged, I straightened out my finances and went back to school.
I couldn’t have really done these things by just getting sober with the EMDR. As life-changing as it was, for me it wasn’t enough. I had to figure out all the other pieces of my life as well.
6) You will feel thankful.
An EMDR therapy session is like a workout at the gym. And I always feel like I have sweat some sort of poisonous toxins out of my mind afterwards.
The EMDR sessions can be tough and tiring sometimes, but I always feel way better for having done it, even if I need some time to cool off first. I feel better about myself, my life and my mental health. And I am grateful.