What It Felt Like Using At-Home EMDR Therapy to Get Sober

07 Feb 2017

Tag: Childhood Trauma , Addiction

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I never thought I could be happy, I had so many problems for so long that I thought I’d never crawl out of this hole in the ground. Then I took a chance and did the work. Here’s what happened.

The first time I encountered EMDR Therapy, it was in person with a therapist guiding me one-on-one. In fact, I think this was before any sort of online EMDR therapy even really existed.

I was going to 12 step meetings at the time (AA) and even though I was not getting sober, I had met some pretty incredible people many of whom are still my friends now. During AA meetings I started to hear people share about their childhood and the word “trauma” came up when people talked about some of the violence and abuse they had been through. After our meetings, we would sometimes go out for a slice of pizza which was the first time I ever remember someone mentioning EMDR Therapy and talking about what it was. 
I got on Google and found an EMDR Therapist right in the city, made an appointment, and started down this road.

Our sessions focused on issues I had surrounding fear, anxiety, depression, and the child abuse from when I was a kid. The in-person EMDR treatments worked really well, so when I found Virtual EMDR for Addiction (an online EMDR Eye Movement Therapy Program), I decided to give it a go.

I came from a pretty rough childhood. It was routine to watch my mother do drugs with her boyfriend or to be sexually inappropriate and incestuous right in front of me. She would also go to extremes, most of which consisted of her ignoring me, but when she did pay attention it was to scream at me at the top of her lungs and tell me that I was and f*#@ing pig which is something that no 9 year old needs to be hearing from their parents. I remember sitting alone in the back of the car while she “ran inside real quick,” something that I now know was her going into her dealer’s house to buy meth and cocaine. ​

I went through some sessions with Chuck, my EMDR Therapist. We focused on the child abuse, the sexual abuse, the neglect.

The EMDR worked great. Before my sessions with Chuck I had an inner dialogue with my mother where I was expressing how much I hate her. This is a text-book trauma symptom. After the sessions I still remembered all the bad things that had happened, but they felt far away in the past and did not really bother me anymore.

It was an amazing transformation. I had found peace with my abusive childhood. The problem was that I was still drinking like a fish.

At my lowest point in my drinking career, I woke up in a park downtown. My wallet was gone as were my shoes. I had a black eye, but no idea what had happened.

I renewed my efforts at getting cleaned up. I joined a therapy group, which is just a bunch of people talking about their life problems, and I also started working with the Virtual EMDR for Addiction Program.

I had an edge over most other people who would use the Virtual EMDR for Addiction Program. This is because I was not totally new to EMDR Therapy and I knew, at least a little bit, what kind of things I would need to do for a session.

When I did my in-person EMDR sessions, my therapist worked with me on selecting my targets, which in this case were traumatic childhood memories related to my mother. He talked to me about what kind of memories to focus on.

And of course he told me to “go with that” meaning to stick with any new memories that popped into my head during the session. “Go with that” is an axiom commonly used by the majority of EMDR therapists around the world.

I also knew that in doing the online EMDR sessions, I would be using my eyes to follow some sort of moving object or I would possibly also be listening to tones in my ears. During my in-person sessions, my therapist moved his finger back and forth and had me follow with my eyes which is an extremely out-of-date approach. He later had me use a device where I wore headphones and listened to tones as well. To be honest, now that I have use the adjustable online EMDR technology offered by Virtual EMDR for Addiction (NOTE: This is also offered by our other program, his approach seems pretty dated.

I knew the basics so there wasn’t much of a process to teach myself the online EMDR program steps. It was more-or-less the same stuff that I did in the in-person sessions, I was just doing it on my own.

It worked pretty great. I did sessions at least a handful of times every week. And if I had a really tough craving, I would do a session right away to shut down the desire.

I would still think about a Jack (Daniels) and Coke strong and on ice. Or I would think about a frosty can of beer. But the memories just didn’t have the same kind of pull. And it was this that allowed me to get some distance from acting out with alcohol.

The more time passed with me not drinking, the easier and easier it became.

If you were to ask me now if a drink sounds good, my resounding answer would be YES! But somehow the EMDR has made this desire smaller, and the allure of drinking has little power. I am able to stay sober and I feel confident that I won’t need to go back to the bottom of a bottle (which is a pretty horrible placed to spend your life).

I think it’s important to note that even though the online EMDR shut off my desire to get drunk, for me the group therapy has also been essential. No so much essential in my getting sober, but more so it has been a corner stone of me understanding who I am, what motivates me, and how to leave the past behind forever. I think if I had instead chosen to just do the Virtual EMDR for Addiction program, I would have stopped drinking but I would still be walking around angry and hating myself. It was important to work all that stuff out too. 

Submitted by Shelly Ontario, Canada

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