Finding peace at last
After being subjected to a terrifying gang rape, Katherine Vilnrotter tried everything she could to deal with the resulting PTSD – but it wasn’t until she had one pivotal session of HG therapy that she finally got her life back.
Here she kindly shares with us what it was like to experience the refined HG version of the rewind technique – and the profound effect it had on her recovery.
I come from a wonderful home filled with love and support; the more of the world I see, the more I realize how rare and special that is.
In 2010 I was seriously sexually assaulted by a group of men whilst volunteering in a rural community in Latin America. This, as you can imagine, was world shattering. Having been lucky enough through my first 26 years of life to not experience any abnormal mental condition, post traumatic stress disorder was a new and terrifying place to be.
On my return to the USA, I decided to take every precautionary measure I could to ensure that I was going to fully recover. I exercized every day and cleaned up my diet; I ended up losing 45 lbs to help alleviate the onset of serious body image issues that I would inevitably be vulnerable to. I took up art and journaling to allow a diverse range of outlets for the extreme emotions I was feeling. I attended a somatic experiencing conference and researched CBT, EFT and PTSD in an attempt to understand what I was going through and how I was going to recover. I also started talk psychotherapy as soon as I arrived back home.
My talk therapist was a critical part of my early healing process and helped me sort through my reactions. He was also extremely helpful at translating my behavior and reactions to my parents, since they had no previous experience with dealing with this kind of trauma and truly needed a guide. I had weekly sessions in person for about 9 months, and then continued with phone sessions for about 6 months when I moved across the country for a job.
This therapy helped me, over about a year and a half, get to a point where I could function independently and cope with my triggers. Up until about 5 years after the incident, I was still being triggered by unknown men (especially in groups, and especially those of Hispanic decent) triggering my fear response; by sexist or chauvinistic jokes triggering my anger response; and I hadn’t had more than 3 dates with new suiters because of an underlying distrust of men.
I found Human Givens through an online search ... the more I read the more intrigued I became
I found Human Givens through an online search while doing research on the most effective types of psychotherapy to treat PTSD for a project I was working on. I had never heard of Human Givens before, so I decided to investigate further. The more I read, the more intrigued I became. I have no background in psychology or psychotherapy, but I could understand everything they said – and it made sense. I ended up taking four of their online courses and still wanted to learn more.
When I learned that Sue Saunders from Human Givens was to give a workshop at the LPCANC conference in North Carolina, I knew I had to attend. During the PTSD portion of the workshop, Sue did a demonstration of the rewind technique. I was lucky enough to be chosen as the demonstration subject. I want to share my experience of the HG version of the rewind technique and subsequent effects experienced thereafter.
I was lucky enough to be chosen as the demonstration subject
We established that my calm, relaxing safe place would be a warm beach filled with sunshine and soft rolling waves. As Sue slowly counted to 20 with my exhales, I felt myself slip into a deeply relaxed state where I was fully conscious of everything happening around me. Once I was fully relaxed, I felt my eyes begin to quickly move back and forth on their own – which I assumed was REM.
Sue’s soothing voice then led me to a television set on the beach with a DVD player holding a DVD of my trauma experience. As soon as she mentioned the contents of the DVD I was immediately transported back to it – I was there – and I instantly started crying and feeling the same life threatening distress of the trauma. I had never accessed it so quickly before.
Usually it would take quite a while for me to get worked up enough to fully access those emotions. It seemed as if I was below all the layers I had built up to protect myself from what was clearly still a very real and vivid terror connected to the memory.
She brought me back to my relaxing beach to recover from the shock of feeling my naked emotions hit me so quickly. A few deep breaths later I was ready to try again. I approached with no problems this time since I was more prepared, and Sue took me through the rewind process. I saw myself watching the TV with the trauma playing forwards and backwards several times, but not actually seeing the screen. I then watched it play forwards on the screen and I went backwards through it; it was much more work than I thought it would be to imagine the sequence in reverse.
As the memory was playing faster and faster, all I saw was a blur with particular moments as snapshots within it. I felt the distress on my face lessen and my breath normalize. After seeing it fly by countless times forwards and backwards, from various angles and points of view, I began to disconnect from it. My emotions were neutral and I saw the trauma as a matter of fact, and nothing else. After I had the pleasure of destroying the DVD in any way I wanted, Sue took me through scenarios that had triggered me in the past, describing my calm and confident reactions to them in the future.
Sue then took the opportunity to remind me of positive aspects of my personality, my life accomplishments, and reinforce the idea that I have the abilities to realize my dreams.
In short, it felt like she helped me remove the negative feelings and replace them with positive life affirming feelings. After she brought me back to the room, I felt relaxed, happy and emotionally exhausted.
I thought about the trauma memory... but now it felt different
The First Night
Seeing that I was quite exhausted from the rewind, I thought I was going to sleep through the night, but after 4 hours of sleep I woke up. I thought about the trauma memory that had replayed forward and backwards countless times the day before, but it felt different than it had previously.
Every time I had remembered that incident for the previous 5 years, I had felt transported back to the moment. I felt as if I was there again, and my body had reacted accordingly. This time was different. This time I thought of it as an unfortunate event in my life that had passed long ago, then went peacefully back to sleep.
When I woke up the next morning, the first thing I noticed was that my jaw wasn’t tight. Every night for the past 5 years (and not before the incident) I had clenched my teeth through the night, waking with tension and aches in my jaw. I would need to start my day with jaw stretches. I didn’t need to do jaw stretches that morning.
The First Day
I felt refreshed the next day, but still a bit tired. I felt lighter and calmer than usual, and people noticed. I received several comments from people I spent the previous day with, saying that I looked younger.
The Second Night
I slept like a baby for 9 hrs straight and woke up quite refreshed and happy, it reminded me of the feeling I get when I wake up and realize it’s my birthday – happy and a bit giddy!
The Second Day
I felt noticeably more focused and calm; I think my shoulders lowered an inch or two from my ears. I felt a sense of peace that I hadn’t felt for 5 years, and that realization made me very happy, which in turn made me feel more peace and calm. This allowed me to experience the present moment to a greater extent because my mind was not being consumed by fear and anger.
The Third Night
Right before I went to bed on night three, I had my first experience of a “defunked” trigger. I had a conversation that would normally have triggered a fight or flight reaction, and has done so many times in the past, that I didn’t react to emotionally. I rationally and gracefully exited from the conversation and went to bed feeling very content and proud of myself.
The Third Day
Something amazing happened on the morning of the third day. I woke up, I had a look at the mirror as I do every morning, but this time was different…
For the first time, maybe ever, I looked at myself and did not have one negative thought about myself or my appearance! All the imperfections that up until three days ago would make me imagine myself without them, would normally have spurred a negative inner dialogue.
But I think this was the first time I was able to see myself for who I am and what I stand for. The words “I am beautiful” are so difficult to actually feel, especially for survivors of rape, but I actually felt them that morning. I had never experienced such self acceptance. It is truly a wonderful feeling.
Two Weeks and Beyond
Two weeks after my rewind, and I still felt great – confident, strong and happy. By then I had had many experiences of noticing “defunked” triggers, and I look forward to many more non-reactions.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Sue Saunders for sharing her expertise with us at the LPCANC conference in North Carolina in 2015, and for helping me find peace.
I also want to thank everyone at Human Givens who has worked to develop this ground-breaking therapeutic approach and the refined version of the rewind technique, as well as everyone else who is working to expand access to it for those who still struggle.