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How Do You Eat an Elephant?


Photo by Michael Tkach, Used with permission

Go with that.


These three words comprise one of the signature phrases of Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing, or EMDR. For people who haven’t been able to digest their traumatic experiences, the phrase “Go with that” helps to keep them moving through it to the other side, even if the process is slow. And most of the time it is painfully so.


How do you eat an elephant?


Most of the time, we don’t. When we lived through a horrible time in our lives, we felt like we were being crushed by it or like it was stampeding through everything we held dear to us. We survived, but perhaps others did not. We are somehow still alive, but we may not be well. And, when the dust began to settle, we could still feel the elephant in the room—lurking around in the corners of our mind.


Perhaps we catch a whiff of its stale breath as we turn a corner or glimpse its reflection right before we turn away from the mirror. Maybe we hear an echo of its trumpet in the distance or wait… did the floor just vibrate a little like it did right before it came into my life and trampled me the first time?


We are familiar with the chest tightening, heart thumping, blood draining, fist clenching, head pounding, hair raising, skin tingling premonitions of hate, shame, worry, disgust, and terror as we wait for it to return and destroy even the little shred of safety we’ve rebuilt.


And yet, here we are, face to face with it, and our trusted guide, the one we went to in order to heal and let go of the past, is telling us to take one more bite. Can’t they see how we would rather die than continue to hear them say “Go with that” one. more. god. damned. time? And yet, that’s what they do. Every time we take another bite from our past trauma and open our eyes onto the world of the present, there they are.


We tell them what that bite tasted like, the acrid, bitter, violent, stomach-flopping toughness of each rotten particle as it makes its way through our mental digestive tract, and they listen. They bear witness as we wrestle with each morsel, noticing our tortured grimaces, vicariously experiencing the grief and pain oozing out of our pores. Yet they remain. With eyes of kindness, soft faces of empathy and postures of compassion, they lean into our lives as we reprocess the time when… and then tell us to bravely Go. With. That.


If you’d like to share part of your journey with me, I invite you to connect with me at: WillKoehlerLCSW@aTraumaInformedLife.com or find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn. I’m also now on Research Gate.

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