I hate school supply shopping.
I don’t like mass bins of glue sticks, highlighters, and colored markers. All I can think about for a good month near the end of summer is if I correctly calculated the number of composition books versus spiral bound notebooks everyone needed from their lists.
I feel overwhelmed by the mere mention of 120-page packs of wide-ruled notebook paper and 12-count packages of no. 2 pencils in yellow, no plastic, no color. I create mental images every year of the pink eraser that will evade me, imagining I end up stuck in a discount store for hours, knee deep in a bin of multi-colored erasers looking for the single pink nugget that everyone waiting behind me is also hunting for.
In order to avoid all my long-shot fears related to school supply shopping, we usually end up going at 9pm on a Tuesday to avoid “the crowd.” I’m not sure if there is an actual crowd or if I made this up in my head, but it makes me feel better, so that’s what we do.
Two years ago, while waiting patiently in the checkout with our cartful of folders, pens, notebooks, colored pencils and more, we ended up beside the “As Seen On TV” merchandise. There were light up pillow pets, copper non-stick pans, and garden hoses that claimed they stored really well. In the middle of all these products was a steam cleaner that looked like a small, middle-aged Russian doll in an apron. It was called the “Angry Mom.” You put water in her torso, screwed her head on, set her in your microwave on high, and as the water heated her head popped up and steam came out to neatly clean your family’s caked-on, month-old mess.
My kids were entertaining themselves with, “Oooo- this looks cool!” and “Hey, I need this for my room!” when I felt a small poke from the side hug my eight-year-old, Jyeva pulled me into. I looked down at her face and I will never forget her words –
“I’m so thankful you’re not the angry mom anymore.”
Time stopped for me, right there in the Walmart checkout lane.
I could hear my heart beat in my chest.
I could taste my saliva.
And I could feel the hot tears starting behind my public, smiling mom-face.
I took a deep breath, hugged Jyeva back, got down on her level, and looked into her eyes,
“I’m so sorry, Jyeva. I’m just so, so sorry.”
Jyeva, who is my child always overflowing with grace, looked back at me and said point-blank –
“No, Mom. You used to be the angry mom, but you’re not anymore. That’s really great. That’s awesome. You’re not. You were…and now you’re not!”
To say that EMDR changed my life would be an understatement.
I was the angry mom.
I was nice, then I was nice, and I was nice some more, and then I railed.
It came fast and hard and it looked more like anxiety welling up and overflowing onto my children than disconnected rage, but it was ugly. I never physically hurt my children. I don’t think my family walked on egg shells, but I do remember the look they got in their eyes that said, “She’s gonna blow.”
It’s hard to be taken seriously when you’re gonna blow, fyi. People tune out as a defense mechanism, and children are just smart smaller people. They know intrinsically how to protect themselves, so they shut down and check out at the very moment you really want them to grasp your point because it’s too loud, too harsh, or too assaulting.
I knew all of this. I knew all about child development and communication, and active listening, and all that stuff they teach you in graduate school. But there was a disconnect between all my awesome knowledge and what I could put into practice.
I started EMDR, which is a memory processing therapy, because I signed up to see a therapist and he happened to be an EMDR therapist. If God has had a hand in anything in my life (which He clearly has) this is one thing I can point to and say, “Woah – God at work!”
Let’s not evade reality…EMDR was hard. Sometimes it felt a little like walking through a minefield of my brain’s own making. At about month three of therapy, I realized I was foreboding, and avoiding, holding back, canceling sessions because of the discomfort, the struggle, and the pain that comes with processing old stuff, but my therapist was safe, my husband was safe, my family was safe, and for the first time in my life I saw Jesus as a real, tangible refuge.
So I kept walking forward.
I attended regularly scheduled EMDR appointments for eighteen months and I felt like a new person. I saw life differently. I was free from the constant personal judgement that barraged me for years. Anxiety was still a thing for me, but it lacked the teeth it once had in my daily life. Then, in that Walmart checkout, I realized this life-changing reality –
I was not the angry mom anymore.
Praise be to God.
The cycle of frustration and anger and ugly that held me captive lost its grip. Life was still hard. Parenting, ministry, marriage, being a friend, none of it was magically easier, but I was no longer reactive to it in the way I once was. I finally felt like I had two feet on the ground at all times and I could clearly see the shield of God in my hands, placed firmly there by a Savior who loved me. I felt empowered. Together we were ready to deflect whatever junk the world wanted to throw at us.
I believe that God creates our bodies with the ability to heal in amazing ways – from broken elbows and cancerous cells, to stuck tight memories and angry outbursts. I also believe, thanks to an eight-year-old brave enough to tell me in the middle of a checkout lane –
I’m not the angry mom anymore.
*EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing
To find out more about EMDR therapy or to find a certified EMDR therapist near you, visit EMDRIA.org. You can also pick up Getting Past Your Past by the creator of EMDR, Francine Shapiro, to understand the basics of memory processing theory and find some very useful tools for healing.
(Disclaimer: this blog is not a substitute for counseling and local mental health resources. Local resources and counselors are your best bet for ongoing treatment and support.)