A New Dawn

 Dawn was a buck sergeant from the U.S. who used to work the at Howard Air Force Base.  This base is in Panama.  She loved it there.  She did lots of fun things like horseback riding on the beaches and trips into the jungle.  She was friendly, fun, and content with her life.

Within the span of a few minutes all that changed.  Asleep at home, she was suddenly awakened to a knife being held at her throat.  One of her daughters was present, and all Dawn could think about was protecting her.  The attackers made her lay on her right side, tied her hands behind her, and gagged her.  With her daughter lying next to her face to face, Dawn sheltered her from the vision of the brutal rape she endured which seemed to go on forever.

The Air Force sent her home to Colorado.  “In Panama, she was not able to go back into her own house and was having violent rage and panic attacks.  Every Panamanian man she saw, she thought was her attacker.  The Air Force mental health authorities had wanted to remove Dawn from the source of her distress and send her someplace where she would feel safe.  But Dawn’s source of distress was no longer external: The rape was over; the men were three thousand miles away.  It was Dawn’s inner world, the footprints left on her psyche by her two attackers, that was so painful (italics added).”

These footprints stayed with her wherever she went.  They were her emotional and spiritual cancer.  She had flashbacks, fits of sobbing, panicked if anyone touched her, and was too afraid to sleep at night.  She did go to therapy where she was taught deep breathing techniques to help her with her panic attacks.  They didn’t.  She was given medication, but it only slowed down how often she had the attacks and did not make them go away.  She tried another counselor.  Able to have someone safe to talk to, this counseling helped some.  She tried to return to work.  She often needed help when a panic attack hit to get help to take her meds.  “Although her body was locked into the physical nightmare of the assault, there was a part of her mind that judged herself harshly, a characteristic of most victims.  After all, the assault was over.  Why couldn’t she just drop it?  Why couldn’t it just go away?”

Work and home life suffered.  She tried to keep her suffering from affecting her children, but when mom is in pain, the kids are in pain (the opposite is also true).  She realized that talk therapy had its limits for her and made the choice to see an EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing).  Her therapist was well qualified in EMDR.  She was part of a study to find out whether healing from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder could be done in 3-ninety minute sessions of EMDR. 

As a part of the study, Dawn was interviewed 90 days after her third and last session.  She reported the following:

“Things are great.  No panic attacks.  I’m sleeping well. I’m actually feeling restful.  I’m working fine with the men in my unit.  I even had a date with one of them….my kids are doing better.  I’m calmer with them, less angry.  More able to be close with them and to help them.”

There much more to Dawn’s story.  It can be found in the book EMDR The Breakthrough Therapy (New York: Basicbooks, a division of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. 1997) 136-149.

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