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Holding Broken Glass to Light: How EMDR Helped Me Face My Trauma

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It feels a bit like, before my trauma… my life was this delicate glass ball of swirling colors. There may have been a few hairline fractures or smudges on the surface, but it was whole and easily defined. Then something happened, and I lost my grip. The ball fell to the ground and shattered into a million pieces.

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In the aftermath of my crisis, I was able to pick up the biggest shards. It hurt, but I managed to collect enough that it looked like progress. Still, there were so many broken fragments. Some pieces screamed, “Why did this happen?” while others whispered, “This is your fault.” They fell in such a way that I couldn’t even begin to sort out the mess.

Friends and family offered to help, but their answer was to throw it all away. Scoop it up and toss it out. Salvage what little I could, and move on without the missing parts.

In a fit of desperation, I tried to clean up the scattered remnants on my own. Frantically grabbing, until their sharp edges were embedded in my hands. My attempts did nothing but cause more pain. I bled from it, cried out from it. My vision blurred with tears. I was stuck — I couldn’t just leave this mess of mine. It was all I had from “before.” But I couldn’t fix it on my own, the scars on my hands were proof of that.

After a while, I started to hide my damaged pieces. Someone would step just a little too close, and I’d push them away. Distract them with sarcasm, humor, little white lies. I became a master of deflection, redirection, and deception. I rolled out a beautiful rug, and covered the glittering glass. So it wouldn’t catch attention. So I wouldn’t have to explain why I hadn’t cleaned it up years ago.

I’d walk across that carpet, and feel the smallest pricks of pain. Reminders, triggers. Jagged little edges haunting me with every step forward, slipping through my defenses. But it wasn’t all bad. Sometimes, I’d find myself dancing with joy in the comfort zone of my carpet. Life goes on. Then something would prick me so deeply I’d fall to the floor weeping with pain. I’d clutch at the broken bits of “before” and worry one day, I’d feel nothing at all.

By random chance, I found a therapist who saw through my defenses, but didn’t overstep them. Trust was earned, and bravery borrowed. After a while, it just felt right, lifting up the edge of that ornate rug; exposing the shattered glass underneath.

He looked at the mess without judgment. Gave me a pair of thick leather gloves, and called them coping skills. Offered a plan with eight clear phases. It seemed a bit odd, certainly nothing I’d ever tried before. But trust led me closer, even as fear and shame were screaming, “run away.”

Together we looked at all the pieces and figured out which ones were causing the most trouble. He opened a window, and a tiny sliver of sunlight shined through. It caught the edges of those broken crystal shards, and suddenly, the room was illuminated in a way I’d never seen before.

He called it eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). I called it hope.

I expected suffering, but his quiet reassurance and those coping skills helped. It hurt, but each time it hurt too much, we stopped for a bit. If there were moments when I was at my worst, well, it’s not like I hadn’t been there before. I sat in this mess every day… I just never really dealt with it.

Slowly, we began working through the hardest parts. Each session was a struggle. But it also felt like triumph. I was fighting for something that mattered. I gained insight into all those little bits and pieces I had been sweeping under the rug. I found answers to questions I never had the courage to ask. Sunlight crept into the darkest corners of the room.

I worried this is where I’d be disappointed. After all, so many others had come and gone with offers to help. They showed up with dustpans and trash bags, ready to jump in and solve the problem. “Stand aside,” they said. “I can’t watch you suffer. I’ll fix it for you. Feel better, so I can feel better, too.” Part of me wanted to give up. But trust whispered, “it’s different this time” and bravery chased away my fears.

I waited and watched as he gently emptied the shattered remains of my past into a container of some sort. One by one, he held them up to the sunlight and set them back down again, in a place where they wouldn’t hurt so much. I thought that would be the end of the journey. It was further than I’d ever gotten before. I was proud of my progress. But then, something took me by surprise. Those pieces we had been collecting, examining, cleaning off, and placing so carefully in that little tin… they were making something beautiful.

A mosaic. The swirling colors of my past, streaked with forgiveness, glittering with the golden hues of hope, tinted by a new perspective, and painstakingly glued together in a way I never would’ve imagined.

Not the glass ball I once held, nor the broken mess it had become, but something entirely different. It’s not finished yet, not even close. But I have an idea now, of what I’m working toward. My life is a mosaic of every experience I’ve ever been through, and in the right light… hope shines through.

Getty image by agsandrew

Originally published: February 24, 2022
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