Brainspotting: Appointment 1

As explained in my previous post about trauma, my therapist and I agreed that it would be a good idea to try a new type of trauma therapy for me. I spent the week reading up on it and giving myself an idea of what to expect before jumping right in. Everyone I chatted with was curious about how things would go. So without further ado, here is the rundown of how things went in my first appointment with brainspotting.

Brainspotting is essentially the next generation of trauma therapy after EMDR therapy. The way it works is that the person receiving the treatment needs to tap into their emotions in connection with the traumatic events and stay in that heightened state while looking in a specific direction. The direction that a person looks depends on where they feel the emotions the strongest. All the while, they're listening to something calming and relaxing through headphones. They will stay that way for the majority of an hour. After the appropriate amount of time has elapsed, the therapist will help bring the person back down from that state through meditation while again staring in one specific direction. And then, after it's finished, you talk about it.

Or at least that's the super quick oversimplified version of how it went for me.

I was a bit nervous when I went in for my first appointment. I was excited to be working through my trauma finally, but I was also nervous about how it would go. While my therapist got things ready, he explained what to expect and asked me if I had any questions before we started. Once we were ready to go, he gave me headphones playing relaxing nature sounds and told me to focus on my breathing. Then, I was instructed to think about the bad things and dig out the anxiety and anguish I was feeling. To my surprise, I was struggling to get that feeling out. I was just so calm and so at ease. I scanned through the bad memories on a loop, trying to hit the nerve that would get me into that emotional state. And I just kept struggling. Finally, I told my therapist that I would say it out loud, and maybe that would help bring it out. Sure enough! Once I talked through what I was feeling, I found the one moment that made me emotional.

Once I reached that feeling, my therapist had me look in different directions, saying where it felt strong. Kind of like an eye exam, "is it worse over here? or over there?" Once we hit the "sweet spot," where I felt the strongest emotions, he had me continue to look in that direction and keep my emotions heightened.

I was surprised to find that staying in that heightened state was very challenging. My body's natural reaction was to calm myself down and repress those emotions. And so I had to repeat the worst moments from the trauma in my head. The worst things that were said to me.

Tears streamed down my face as I focused as hard as possible on the worst moments. My mind would want to wander, and I'd have to keep bringing it back to the bad memories. Every so often, my therapist would check in and ask me to rank how I was feeling on a scale from 1-10. When I could keep myself in that heightened state, I was at an 8-10, but when my instincts tried to calm me down, I'd dip down to a 6 or so. Again and again, I had to keep pushing myself to that heightened emotional state.

When we had only about 10 minutes left, my therapist pulled me from those negative thoughts and awful memories and told me to tell him where those negative feelings felt the strongest again. When he found a spot where it was low, he had me focus in that direction and instructed me to focus on breathing and bringing myself down from that heightened state. It was amazing how quickly I could come down from that heightened state. It was practically instantaneous. My body wanted to relax. My body wanted to be free of that agony.

After focusing on breathing and calming down, my therapist had me take off the headphones and talk about that experience. I explained to him the thought I had repeating in my mind to keep me in a heightened state. As we talked, I realized I had a different perspective. I recognized that I was an innocent bystander in both past and present situations. He looked so proud when I came to that conclusion. Few things give me the same comfort as seeing how proud my therapist is of me.

Before leaving, my therapist warned me that I'd be exhausted for the rest of the day. He added that I would likely have strange dreams and may have a range of emotions that come up throughout the week. I told him I'd keep a journal to track them along the way.

After leaving, I did feel tired. But what felt stronger was anger. I had this flood of anger surge through me. I was an innocent bystander. I didn't deserve any of what happened to me. I screamed and yelled as I drove. I felt something more than sadness, guilt, and fear for the first time in weeks. I felt rage. White hot rage.

As predicted, I was exhausted after all of that. But I couldn't just fall asleep either. My mind was too active to fall asleep simply. I had to resort to taking Benadryl to fall asleep (plus my allergies have been acting up), and I drifted off into sleep. For the first time in weeks, I didn't have a nightmare. I had a dream about falling in love. I had a dream about going on dates and falling in love. It was such an unexpected change from the dreams I had been having.

The following day, the rage had weakened. I was starting to feel sad, guilty, and scared again. By the evening, I was crying my eyes out again. And then I dreamt about the family members I've lost in the last 5 years. I was with my grandparents and uncle, each showing me love and support. My uncle took some time to talk to me and reassured me that everything would be okay. He reminded me to keep moving forward, as hard as it may be, and to take it all a day at a time.

It's a long journey ahead. It's emotionally taxing and will be for a long time to come. But it's progress. It's moving forward. As my uncle told me in my dream, I need to take it a day at a time and just keep moving forward.

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