Kristin Armstrong’s Transformative Year
by Kristin Armstrong
Illustration by Jessica Fontenot
I feel as though it was just a few minutes ago that I sat down to gather my thoughts for this issue last year. Here we are again. Another clean slate, another fresh start, another chance to do things differently, another chance to love cleanly and deeply, another 365 days to grow and learn, another opportunity to transform and transcend.
I am meeting this new year as a new person.
I don’t say this lightly. I am, after all, a seeker. What I mean is, there is something unquenchable and relentless inside me that wants to challenge myself — to learn and change and help and heal and serve. It’s why the pile of books next to my bed is as tall as my lampshade. It’s why I went back to school for a graduate degree in 2015, why I go to energy healers, priests, alternative doctors, therapists and meditation retreats. It’s why I run marathons and practice yoga. It’s why I’ve cultivated the kinds of friendships that I’m blessed to have. I believe the view just beyond our comfort zone is ultimately what gives us vision.
Last year I took a journey running more than 100 miles through the Alps and found insight and adventure in nature. This year I took an equally arduous path — but this time it was a mountain range on the inside.
In my first semester of graduate school, my theories professor mentioned a type of therapy called EMDR — Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. It sounded weird enough that it stuck with me. Basically she said it uses alternative stimulation of the right and left sides of the brain (using eye movements, a light bar or hand-held buzzers) to process memories and trauma and help your body to release and heal. Yeah, right, I remember thinking. Some weird-ass hypnosis thingy.
But then she talked about a war veteran with PTSD who fell to the ground at any loud noise and had panic attacks in crowds, and a rape victim who still couldn’t go on a date more than a decade after she’d been assaulted, both of whom, after just a few sessions of EMDR, could go about their lives. Wait, what? I made a note on the top of my notebook paper that I was going to get trained in this someday. Fast-forward to last spring, when something happened in my life that almost destroyed me. In the aftermath, I could not eat and could not sleep. At the slightest sound during the night, I would jolt upright, poised, panting, sweating, my throat closing, in a full panic. I was edgy, tight, short-fused and miserable. I remembered EMDR. A dear friend recommended an amazing clinician. I went. After two sessions, I could sleep again. After a couple more sessions, I was hooked. I started clearing out the debris of old hurts and misguided beliefs that I unknowingly incorporated as The Truth About Me. I thought I was a relatively self-aware person, but let me just say that I had no idea of what I had no idea about. Keep in mind that I have done years of talk therapy and am a semester away from being a therapist myself. Just because you know something exists, or even understand why it exists, doesn’t mean that you can change it or let it go. EMDR is deeper than that, and oddly enough, you talk very little. It literally, magically (OK, neurobiologically) helps your brain help itself, rewiring broken places and rewriting the undermining and sabotaging messages we whisper to ourselves.
You know when something happens — someone does or says something that hurts or threatens you — and you freak out inside? This is your brain, your amygdala, to be precise, sending you into full-blown survival mode, fight, flight or freeze. Imagine if you could respond calmly to only the incident occurring in the present moment without having an out-of-body and out-of-proportion reaction to the landslide of accumulated crap from the past?
It’s happening for me. I can feel the seismic shift. I can do my work without feeling like a fraud or playing small. I can try new things without thinking I have to be good at them right away. I can open more fully and love without the wreckage and rubble of the past blocking my way in the present. I can speak my mind without minimizing myself. I can parent my children without their triggers turning me into a teenager. It is hands down the kindest, most liberating thing I have ever done for myself.
I am almost done with EMDR certification training and I graduate in May. I am getting ready to take this incredible blessing I have received and start sharing it with anyone else who wants to be free. I cannot wait.