I have something to say about “closure.” It is a term that other people apply to other people’s pain, as a means to get them to shut up.
“Wow, you really sound like you’re in pain. I hope therapy helps you find the closure that you need,” sounds compassionate enough.
Now I’m going to translate this to what really means: “Wow, you’ve been upset about this for the past five months. I hope you find a therapist because I can’t listen to this anymore.”
Or maybe you seek closure because you think that one day, you’ll have some kind of happy ending, where this chapter closes, and you’ll never again feel that racing heartbeat, you’ll never break down sobbing, you’ll never have another nightmare, that from now on, you’ll be happily “moving on.” Cue the credits.
Isn’t that what people say? Movin’ on. Next.
You get pats on the back because you’re being so strong.
“Wow, you’re taking this so well.”
Translation: “I’m so glad to not have to be burdened with this.”
When I first started EMDR therapy over a year ago, it was to deal with some rage over some stuff. One of them was Tina’s death from more than two decades ago, but my list was long.
If you’re not familiar with EMDR, I think this website does a fantastic job of explaining it. In layman’s terms, you’re “processing” painful memories so that they no longer interfere with your daily thought processes. It’s apparently used with great success for sufferers of PTSD, especially war veterans. EMDR was recommended to me because two shrinks told me I suffered from it, which I thought was funny. I thought all that nervousness was my schtick. Seriously.
When we worked through Tina’s violent death, I was fourteen all over again. I screamed and cried. I hyperventilated and almost passed out. “Why don’t you look out the window,” my therapist suggested, in a soothing voice. She assured me this was normal. I saw Tina in the backyard, sitting on a rock, laughing at me, just like she always did.
This didn’t close a wound. It cracked it wide open, exposing every nerve ending to what I’d been running away from all this time. I was back in Pleasanton, fighting off this invisible, unknown person who was killing my friend with a knife. I’ve been fighting all of these years, disguising it with jokes.
How many times have I talked about Tina in therapy, I don’t know. I wasn’t expecting this. I expected the same old, “You know it’s not your fault, right?” I know, I know: She’s not pissed off at me, I had nothing to do with it, I was just 14, grown ups let me down, I’m a good person, Tina’s at peace, yadda yadda. It made loads of sense. It never stopped the nightmares.
During an EMDR session, you hold these electronic probes, one in each hand, that alternate pulses. This is connected to gentle beeps that simultaneously sound from each side of the couch. It’s the reliving of the moment in conjunction with these alternating pulses that stimulates the brain into “processing” this memory so that it moves from the right brain hemisphere to the left, the side that controls logic and reason.
It’s like massage therapy of the brain. You can keep pretending the knots aren’t there, or you can get to the core of them, and mash those suckers out.
It took three sessions to work through Tina’s death, and then we went through other items on my very long list. But you know a memory is processed when you can think of the event without an emotional charge. And even now, I don’t know if I’ll ever completely remove that charge. I wasn’t able to put this memory into a box, the way my therapist was trying to get me to visualize it. Maybe this blocked me from fulling putting this memory away, but I can’t put Tina away. She is too alive, she laughs too loud.
But I was able to let her walk away from me. It took some coaxing. It was through a garden, with a dirt path, and oak trees, and flowers of every color, and bees. She smiled and waved, singing, “Tra la la la la la” in her pretend opera voice. Always the smart ass. Always getting the last laugh.
When I left this therapist’s office that afternoon, I noticed a couple of things. One was that I walked taller. I ran with my Wednesday running group that night, faster than I ever had. At the post-run dinner, I found myself engrossed in every word my table companions said. I wasn’t wrapped up in racing thoughts. I never even knew I had racing thoughts. I guess you never know you have them ’til they’re gone.
But when they’re gone, you’re left with your eyes and ears funtioning to full capacity, on call to absorb an abundance of information, including other people’s joy and pain. You will never again hear yourself say, “Wow, well, I hope you get closure.”
That was a year ago. My world since then has become enriched with the most amazing experiences and people. I’d like to say that EMDR provided some kind of happy ending, if there were such a thing.
Last August, we were at a Thai restaurant in Sausalito, rehashing how wonderful Renovo Wooden Bikes are, when my cell phone rang. It was Shirley. Tina’s mom.
“They caught him.”