With the help of EMDR therapy, even very old memories can be worked on. In this blog post, with my client's permission, I will describe a war-related memory of theirs from 1944. It is thus 78 years old.
My client is an 83-year-old woman from Karelia. I call her Marja here. The outbreak of the war in Ukraine and the news related to it had activated in Marja's mind the events related to the evacuation trip from Karelia, which Marja still remembered well. She had nightmares related to the war and her sleep was restless, including e.g. screaming, hitting and falling out of bed onto the floor. I speculated that the war in Ukraine might have activated the symptoms of depression and trauma-related stress reaction in Marja, although together we recognized that certain medications Marja took also had nightmares as a side effect.
Marja said that she had been the daughter of a farmhouse and that the home in Karelia had been the family estate of her father, who was at war. In the summer of 1944, Marja had evacuated her homestead with her mother, grandmother and two sisters. She was 5 years old at the time. She remembered the moment when she left the yard and that her mother had cried then and said: "Look children, now you see home for the last time". From the war, she remembered the planes and where she had been told to hide when they came. Marja remembered many things from the evacuation trip, e.g. how she had fallen off of a horse-drawn carriage while sleeping on top of it, and how they had spent the night in the helpers' homes. Marja said that the family had travelled for at least three weeks and slept only one night out in the open. In later years, Marja had visited the family farm several times, including with her children.
Marja and I chose as a target memory the morning of the first day of the evacuation trip, when she woke up to the fact that they had to leave and the events that followed. I asked Marja to focus on the worst moment of the target memory, which for her was the mother’s comment when leaving the yard. I guided her to name the negative thought about herself associated with the event in question and the image it represents. Marja said: "I'm useless". As an alternative positive cognition to be attached to the target memory, Marja said "I'll survive it", and before starting the desensitization, the truth of it was felt as a six on a scale of one to seven (1 = feels completely wrong and 7 = feels completely right). At the reception, the target memory evoked feelings of sadness and confusion in Marja, both mentally and physically, and she felt that the intensity of the disturbing feeling of the mental image related to the target memory was nine and a half on a scale of 0-10. She cried as she recalled the incident.
The bilateral stimulation with a visual stimulus was started when Marja was focusing on the target memory and associating a negative thought about herself with it. Below is described the processing of Marja's mind step by step as bilateral stimulation (BLS) progresses and lasts approximately 20-30 seconds at a time. In order to reduce the length of the text, each phase of the bilateral stimulation is not marked, but they are repeated after Marja's feedback, always with relatively the same duration:
M1: "My sister and I are on the carriage, mother guides the horse. It's just... the situation was such that you had to go to that starting point. I didn't understand what all that would entail and it was exciting."
M2: "From there on we just went forward and joined the other travellers on the road there. Mother said: "Look at home, you will see it for the last time". It was the only time I saw my mother cry...then we just watched it from the carriage."
M3: "Then there were a lot of people there. There were acquaintances and strangers. We followed a little road. There were firm instructors along the road. Had to go north. It was difficult. You always had to go forward... We usually ended up in houses somewhere to sleep. We slept on a makeshift bed.. I remember one house that didn't let us in. Someone got angry with them and beat on the front of the house... Then we slept outside under someone's trees. Then, during the 3 weeks, we usually always got to sleep on someone's floor..."
M4: "During the trip, I remember when there was no yeast anywhere. Grandma was with us."
M5: "Grandma had gotten yeast and baked bread at night. Jumped over us sleeping children. I still remember the smell of that bread."
M6: "A lot of food was obtained by there having been something cooked in a big cauldron in the village and everyone got from it. I remember my brother shearing sheep. Brother walked from near Viipuri to Pieksämäki."
M7: "At some point I fell from the grain sacks. I had been sitting next to road. A grandma driving behind picked me up on the of her bike. Mom hadn't noticed that I had fallen. Always tied me up there after that.”
M8: "In waters we used a ferry. We crammed it as full as possible. We were put in some engine booth and we got stuck there. It was rushed and fussy."
M9: "Five times there was a train and it was said that you could cram in there, but there were no locomotives."
M10: "We were in Savonlinna and walked to Pieksämäki station. We went to Iisalmi."
I ask Marja to return to the target memory and tell what she notices now.
M 11: "It's... I can't say anything new."
M 12: "I just cried and now I look at it a little from the outside and from a distance."
M13: "It has happened and... I am thinking about it afterwards. It's a huge process what has been gone through, and it's still been overcome."
M14: "Somehow it feels like that's the situation and in our family... mother had... father must have given instructions... how everything worked out then."
M15: "My family is like that... they always say how I talked about Karelia."
M16: "After many relocations, home was found. In our family, we always remember Karelia."
M17: "Now it occurred to me that when we had gone a few kilometers my mother remembered that one calf had been left in the pen. Mother suggested that my brother fetch it from there by bike. It was definitely a bit scary.”
I ask Marja to return to the target memory and ask how disturbing it is on a scale of 0-10.
M18: "It's over now. I can look at it and it doesn't bother me. Zero."
After neutralizing the target memory, I checked the applicability of the positive cognition ("I'll survive") to the target memory, and she rated it as applicable and feeling true as a seven on a scale of one to seven. Positive cognition was strengthened with two sets, in connection with which Marja gave feedback:
M19: "Yes, I have the feeling that I have survived quite well. Genes and family have influenced."
M 20: "I’ve still survived, family has been with me. Maybe I have that kind of Karelianness in me."