Posts Tagged ‘EMDR’

Which is the best reason not to mow your lawn.  However, your neighbors may not agree.  My lawn is currently sporting a look similar to the spiky haircut I gave my Barbie in second grade… I didn’t watch my twelve year old mow it, but I suspect he didn’t follow a pattern, but just aimed for the spots that looked tallest and didn’t notice how much he missed.  He got high praise for his efforts, and I enjoy a quiet smile when I look out the window.  His brother, of course, thinks this is emblematic of how easy his little brother’s life is and how he Never Has To Do Anything… At sixteen, he is meticulous in his mowing, but he had his bad haircut moments too 🙂

I’m still reeling.  I’ve been busy with kids this weekend which is good.  I spent time with my friends 2 and 8 year olds, riding bikes down to the beach and playing at the playground.  My body aches with all the physical activity, but it is a pleasant soreness.  I just keep looking at the kids and thinking how small and innocent they are and that is how it should be.  I’m so hurt and sad that my innocence was taken from me.  Looking back, I see that my mother really laid the ground work for it.  With her scrubbing me and telling me I stunk, it was clear from my earliest memories that *down there* is a place where bad things happen.  The abuse by those boys served to confirm it.  Girl parts are dirty, smelly places where bad things happen.

Words are not coming easily today.  I need to get dressed and get to therapy.  The sky is gray and it looks like rain, so I didn’t leave early to spend some time walking on the waterfront as I usually do.  I’ve been catching up on blogs and drinking too much coffee, trying to sort out what I want to deal with in today’s session.  I think we need to take some time to process the last EMDR session before doing another one.  I’m really struggling with the voices that say I’ve made it all up and that none of this really happened.  That just doesn’t jive with the power of that wave of emotion that came over me in my last session.  I just saw the image of C’s strange wrinkly boy part and the sadness welled up like a wave and filled me like I’ve never experienced.  When I connect the emotion with the event, it seems so strange how disconnected I’ve been for so long.  When I recognize how young I was and how wrong those things were, I feel so strange having written it all off as something that just happens or something that all kids do.  Granted, kids of the same age will play doctor and so forth, but these boys were between 4 and 8 years older than me.  They were teenagers with men’s bodies – they had no business using a child the way they did.  It continued for a while – that summer at least – with my brother and his friend.  I thought for so long that it was my fault for wanting to play with the big kids.  I never really understood that I was a victim.

I wonder sometimes if I should just let the grass grow.  I don’t spend any time out there.  I only mow it for the neighbors – well, for the people who drive by, my neighbors are all dead since I live next to a cemetery.  I’ve been cutting myself off all these years to try to be appropriate, to not offend, to fit in.  I’ve stifled thoughts and memories in order to be a good girl.  What if I stopped cutting myself off?  What if I let all this out and deal with it?  If I let the grass grow tall and strong in my heart, will it kill off the weeds?  Am I strong enough to find out?


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Remember wearing little white undershirts?  Thin, sleeveless shirts with little scalloped edges on the neck and arm holes?  I was wearing an undershirt the day I was molested by my brother and two older friends.  I was just a little girl.  I don’t know exactly when it happened.  I’ve always tried to avoid thinking about it.  I’ve been dreading it coming up in therapy because I felt such shame and guilt.  I thought it was my fault.  I wanted to play with the big kids.  I just wanted to be included.  One of the boys was at least eight years older than me, his sister showed me what to do.  I remember his anatomy in a way no child should.  I was just a little girl.  I might have been 8 or 9.  I tried to find a picture, but there is a gap in my album between six and ten.  This is me in fifth grade, a year or two after this happened.

I was just a little girl.

I had hand-me-down Toughskins jeans and a big belt buckle from Texas.  I wanted to be a cowgirl.

So yesterday’s session was pretty rough.  This wasn’t a new memory, but I experienced it in an entirely new way.  I remembered being up in the little house and being so proud to be able to play with the big kids.  Then sadness just pushed up inside me like a tidal wave and I sobbed.  I was just a little girl.  I was so little.  The boys were so big.  One of them was fat.  They were hairy.  No one would understand, we weren’t supposed to tell.  If I was very good, they’d let me do it again.  I was just a little girl wearing a thin white undershirt.

I’ve never cried about it.

I can’t describe the feeling that came over me.  I felt such grief, such despair.  I was so little.  I guess it was kind of a breakthrough.  It is the whole point of the EMDR – to allow me to process memories fully, to pull them out of that corner of my brain where I shoved them so long ago and have normal feelings about them.  I guess it is a good thing.  I just wish I could stop crying over it.  I had trouble calming down enough to leave the session.  How could I have ever thought that I was responsible for what they did to me?  How could I carry that guilt and shame for so long?  I think about what third and fourth graders look like… they are skinny and baby faced and silly and little.  The boys were in high school.  They were young men.

I’m giving myself permission to be sad.  I’m not planning to do anything today.  Just let myself be alone and try to cry it out.

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This is a really tough process.  I’ve spent the past  few days ruminating.  I haven’t gone to bed, but I have withdrawn for hours at a time playing sudoku.  I’m struggling so much with fighting the feeling that I’m being dramatic – I’m exaggerating – maybe I’m even making it all up.  I know I’m not.  I can’t be.  I smelled the soap sitting there in my therapist’s office and it was such a powerful, visceral sensation.  The propaganda campaign is working overtime to suppress and minimize what I’m feeling and remembering.  I visited with an old friend over the weekend who has also experienced child sexual abuse and distanced herself from it much like I have.  She bought up a particularly gruesome experience very nonchalantly and I said – what if someone said that had happened to your daughter…?  She said she would want to kill the person.  She’s right.  If I step back and imagine these events happening to someone else, or to my own children, I am outraged!  I understand having a shitty day as a mom.  I understand yelling or over reacting and feeling guilty about it.  What I don’t understand is a sustained pattern of cruel words and behavior.  I don’t understand consciously, actively causing my own child pain.  I just couldn’t do it.  So, even though my rational mind says I should be thinking how could she do that to me?  Instead I’m thinking what was wrong with me that I deserved to be treated that way.  How did I make her do that.  That was part of her litany – asking why I made her so angry.

I’m scared of this process – the EMDR.  I’m surprised at the memories it has dredged up – memories that I have mostly been aware of on some level, but have never thought of in the context of how they hurt me.  It is just my life.  It is just how things were.  I never questioned it.  When I told my dad, he wasn’t surprised.  They split up when I was around three, but he said I wasn’t telling him anything he didn’t already know.  I don’t know if that means he knew how she treated me, if I told him, or if he just recognizes how crazy she is.  I don’t really feel comfortable talking to him about it.  He is my rock.  I would be utterly alone in the world if I had to direct some of the blame on him.  I don’t think I can handle that.

I need to go to therapy today.  I’m bringing my mother’s letter to my father.  I’m so tired and confused.  I’m functioning, more or less – I’m not depressed, just thoughtful.  I know this takes time to process.  The boys spent the weekend at my dad’s so I had some quiet alone time.  I sat on the porch with the dog and cat in the sunshine.  It was nice.  I have to get motivated to hit the road – off I go.

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EMDR was different today.  I was pretty stuck in my head.  There were very few images, just darkness and a very intellectual kind of narrative.  I thought I was too distracted to allow the treatment to proceed, but some interesting things came  up anyway.  I remembered being a little girl on Christmas Eve.  I don’t know what I was sick with, but my mother gave me Castor Oil.  I remember the square bottle with the greasy yellow label.  I woke up in the middle of the night when I was horribly ill – both vomit and diarrhea in the bed.  I was sick and scared.  I called for my mother.  She was furious.  I ruined Christmas.  I remembered her washing me as I stood in the tub with the shower running.  She never let me take a bath, she said it took too long, even though I was scared of the shower because it always got shampoo in my eyes.  It happened every time I wet the bed, which was pretty often.  She would put me in the shower and wash me.  She would tell me I was dirty.  I was disgusting.  I stink.  She used a green bar of soap.  It was like a skeleton, all dried and splintered.  I think it was Zest or Irish Spring.  She would wash me – it was rough.  That soap burned my privates.  I would cry and she would scrub.  She said I was dirty.  I was disgusting.  I stink.  No one would ever want me if I smelled bad.  She would scrub so hard.  It stung.  It burned.  Today I could smell the soap.  It scared me.  I dropped the paddles and told my therapist we needed to stop.

I wept.

It never occurred to me that there was something wrong with this.  Yet, looking back, I can’t imagine how she could do that to a child.  She knew she was hurting me.  She wanted to hurt me.  I was always irritated there.  I had urinary tract infections all the time.  I would hold my bladder as long as I possibly could.  I would sit on my heel, bearing down as hard as I could to hold back the urge.  My mother hated it.  She said I was trying to control the only thing I could – she was right.  She sent me to therapy when I was in second grade.  Because I lied.  I was a liar and I needed help.  She set me up so no one would ever believe it if I told what she did to me.  I hated going to therapy.  She told me how expensive it was.  I was determined not to say a word to that shrink.  Not one.  And I didn’t.  I don’t know how many sessions we had, but I remember every single time I sat there on the big window seat at the card table, and we played Crazy Eights.  And I didn’t say one word.  I was so smug.  She could make me go, but she couldn’t make me talk.  Except once.  I remember telling the therapist a story, I don’t remember what, but I remember crying.  I felt like it was a big deal – like I made the therapist think I’d had a breakthrough or something.  I can’t even remember if it was a man or a woman.  I just remember feeling so damn proud that I was making my mother waste her money.

I cried a lot today.  It was so strange to see how shocked my therapist was by the things I told her.  She said it was awful.  It was abuse.  No wonder I have PTSD.  I felt so deeply embarrassed to talk about it.  I’m *really* not supposed to talk about things that happen in the bathroom.  I chuckled at one point during the EMDR, thinking “Wow, that sure set me up for some sexual dysfunction!”

I’m glad I talked about it.  It is hard, but I know I need to do this to heal.  I need to understand that I am not disgusting.  I am not dirty.  I did not deserve to be hurt that way.  I keep expecting my therapist to just say “so what?”… I keep thinking she’s going to think I’m all worked up over nothing.  Then I see that she is shocked and upset – that she feels sad for what I went though and I think maybe it was real.  I mean, I know it was real, but I feel like my reaction is so out of proportion.  I feel like I’m just a big whiner and there’s really nothing to cry about.  (I’ll give you something to cry about!!!)

I felt so disconnected today.  When I smelled the soap I felt it in my gut.  Like something was punching me from the inside.  I felt like me head wasn’t attached to my body anymore.  We did some exercises to ground me again.  It helped.  I went to the grocery store.  I was hungry and I bought tons of snacks.  Things I was never allowed to have.  I got the expensive granola from the bulk food section, and the name brand crackers.  I bought Devil Dogs and Honey Buns.  I bought pasta salad from the deli and Spaghettio’s with sliced franks.

I stopped at my father’s on the way home to see if the boys could spend the weekend with him.  He told me he had gotten a letter from my mother, and he wanted me to see it and see his reply.  She never communicates with him.  For years he would break out in hives just talking about her.  They came to the hospital for my discharge planning last summer together.  She laughed when she told the team how dramatic I’ve always been.  “Kate didn’t just punish her dolls, she BEAT them!!”

Huh.  Ya think?

She begins the letter:

I write and enclose Katherine’s latest diatribe for your review.

She goes on to talk about my reckless spending and how she has offered to pay all my bills if I will only provide her with the invoices directly.  How I can’t be trusted with money.  How she won’t throw good money after bad.  She can’t help it if I don’t care about myself and if I’m a compulsive eater.  She’s worried that if I continue like this the boys will have marks.

She knows nothing about me.  Nothing.  It was kind of a relief to read the letter – proof of how out of touch with reality she is.  She lies to make herself look good – she makes it sound like she would pay for everything I need – even my car repairs if she could pay the vendor directly.  She wants to be able to communicate with the kids and wants my dad to act as intermediary.

My dad let me read his response.  He told her he though my emails to her sound pretty reasonable and are an accurate representation of what my life is like these days.  He says what I didn’t say is how much progress I’ve made.  He thinks I’ve come a long way in my treatment.  He talks about what a good job I do with the boys.  He says what great kids they are and how he doesn’t know how I keep up with all their activities with so much going on.  He said he can’t believe I do what I manage with my small  budget.  He tells her I don’t spend money recklessly, I just don’t have enough to spend.  He thinks I’m trustworthy and doesn’t understand why she thinks controlling my spending will help.  He says he’s proud of me and she should cut me some slack.

I cried some more.  He was worried about me cutting her off from the kids.  I told him about the treatments and some of the things that have come up.  I told him I just can’t deal with all that and try to maintain a relationship with her.  I said the only reason i could possibly come up with for maintaining contact is financial – for the kids.  But I don’t want to be beholden to her.  I don’t want  them to be either.  So, maybe they won’t go to summer camp, they’ll survive.  I can’t let her use them to play gramma to.

My dad said she’d be hurt not to see them.  I said, Dad.  She doesn’t care about them.  She just wants to win.  She just wants to win this fight.  He thinks I might be right.  I’m not letting her win.

I’m so tired tonight.  So very very very tired.  But some of my tears are sweet because I know my dad believes in me.  I know he knows she is crazy.  I know he believes me.  He thinks I’m a good mom.  And that matters.

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I was pretty vague in my post yesterday about the EMDR session.  I got a phone call on the way home from the school that my older boy had been in trouble on the bus again, so I was pretty distracted, but just wanted to jot down what happened to keep it fresh in my memory.  I’d like to take some time to process what I think the significance and common theme is.

It was a different session than the first time, but it was not less successful.  We started with the same target memory of sitting in my bathrobe looking out the window unable to get up and get in the shower.  The overwhelming feeling is helplessness and sadness.  I feel so stuck.  I know that I should get in the shower for all the most reasonable reasons, but I just don’t.  It is like there is something bigger than me holding me back from taking care of myself.

I told my therapist how intense the campaign was in my mind to suppress the memories and discredit myself, so we anticipated that it would affect the treatment.  When I closed my eyes and began this time, it was different.  It was less like I was experiencing memories and more like I was viewing images as if on a screen – step one in distancing myself, I guess.  There was no sound to the images, the soundtrack came from the propaganda campaign telling me with each successive image that there was  no significance, I was just making stuff up, I was doing it wrong, it was stupid.  I was stupid.  I  was drawn to the first image of the kind woman’s profile.  Her paper thin cheek drooped softly onto some vibrant wrap, framed by her wavy, light hair.  Her profile was similar to the well-known optical illusion of an old lady who can also be seen as a young lady.  There was something very familiar about her and I felt that she had something important to say, but the propaganda campaign (PC) kept pulling my away and degrading me for searching for meaning where there was none.  The space around her was also familiar, but nothing was really clear but the wrinkles on her cheek and the kindness in her eye as she turned to me.  I felt like I should try to draw her.

I subsequently flipped to a painting that a dear friend painted for me in the psych hospital.  Meeting him was like being introduced to part of my soul in a male body.  He *knew* me instantly.  We sang opera together, painted and exchanged snarky comments about our surroundings.  He painted a fun young woman in a hat, strolling down a street with echoes of a turn of the century French movie poster.  It felt like me as I wanted to be.

That image changed to a large square, divided diagonally in black and white which slowly became illuminated from the bottom left corner with red light.  The red light grew stronger and morphed into an angel.  The wings grew together to become a vivid red flower in the style of Georgia O’Keefe.  (I’ll leave you to imagine the derisive comments the PC made about how absurd I was to be having vagina imagery… oooh, this must be deep!  angels and flowers and bloody vaginas… I felt like such a fool.)  This shifted quickly to the moment of my younger son’s birth which I described yesterday.  This is where the images gain recognizable significance.

I was bombarded with intense, bloody images.  The first was an old woman’s face, wreathed in blood – bleeding from the neck.  It was not an image I recognize or remember.  Images followed of two situations where I helped injured strangers.

The first was an older man who appeared to be homeless.  I can’t remember exactly when or where this happened.  In my memories, the street looks like Boston, but for that to be the case, I would have had to be very young – at the most 14 years old.  I know it was a city and in the US, so it had to be either Boston or Pittsburgh when I was in college, but I’m leaning toward Boston.  I know it was before cell phones.  The man had fallen on the corner and was near a light post, partly in the street.  He was bleeding from the face and nose.  He was disoriented and smelled like alcohol.  People were just walking past him, averting their gazes.  I know that I stopped and spoke to him.  I tried to help him sit up, but he was big and confused.  A young man stopped, then and helped me.  We got him to sit on the curb and asked him if he was okay, where he was hurt, etc.  He wasn’t very coherent, but it was clear that he needed medical attention.  A policeman arrived then.  We told him the man needed an ambulance.  He scoffed.  He tried to explain to me that the man was a drunk and he was just going to fall down again.  There wasn’t any sense in helping him.  I was appalled.  I feel so sad remembering it.  So what if he was drunk?  He was injured.  He was bleeding.  He needed someone to help.  The officer finally agreed to call for help and I went on my merry way.

The next memory was from a few years ago.  I was on my way to work with my ex, S.  We saw a woman coming down the hill opposite us on a bicycle, then as she approached the metal bridge, she just disappeared from view.  We rounded the curve and stopped to find her sprawled on the bridge.  It was an old bridge, the surface was a metal grid, with holes about two inches square.  She had slipped and was thrown from the bike.  She was lying on her side with her long dark hair covering her face.  I spoke to her and touched her shoulder.  She rolled to her back and I saw her face as her hair fell away.  Her cheek and lip were cut in a perfect angle, like a cookie cutter had been pressed into her face.  I could see the fat and muscle under the skin.  There was a lot of blood.  She was mumbling in Spanish.  I could understand something about a child, something about a phone.  She wanted me to call someone.  She was saying numbers.  She said no hospital.  No police.  There is a big seasonal migrant worker community here – I wondered if she might be undocumented.  She was scared.  I tried to comfort her and keep her from moving while S. called for help.  He blocked the lane of traffic with his truck and another man stopped in the other direction and they kept cars moving.  She would shake and cry when cars went past – just feet away on the narrow little bridge.  It made a terrifying noise.  We call them singing bridges for the hum they make when cars go over them, but crouching there with her, it sounded more like a scream.  I asked S. for a cloth, something clean and he brought me a pile of paper napkins.  I pressed them to her face carefully to keep the wound together.  I hoped it would be better than nothing.  I was calm.  I just kept talking to her.  Telling her it was going to be okay.  I told her she would be taken care of.  I don’t know if she understood me, but I don’t think she believed me.  She was terrified.  She felt helpless and hopeless.  She moaned.  The ambulance came after an eternity.  They didn’t really want to hear what I had to say.  They said they’d figure it all out at the hospital.  I tried to tell them she was scared.

My knees were bruised from kneeling on the rough metal bridge.  I had blood on my clothes.  I stood up, lit a cigarette, got back in the truck and went to work.  I spent the day deadheading day lilies for a rich old lady because old ladies don’t like dead things.

I wanted to help those people.  I don’t know if I really did.  They still seemed helpless.  They still seemed like victims.  Like there were bigger things than them that were beyond their control.  I think that is the underlying theme.

Even the image of birth – it was a moment of powerlessness and inevitability.  I was there, I wanted to make a difference, but I couldn’t really change anything.  There were forces bigger than me that would keep things moving in a direction I couldn’t shift.  When I am depressed, resignation overwhelms me.  I drown in the feeling that I can’t change anything – that things are moving forward whether I want them to or not.

I feel good right now.  I have for a couple of weeks.  My body is lighter, I sit straighter, my head is clear.  I still feel upset and overwhelmed at times, but it doesn’t envelop me like a fog – it just is.  I feel such disdain for the person I was a few weeks back.  I don’t understand how I could *let* myself be paralyzed like that.  It feels like it was a different person.  At the same time, I know what that feeling is and I know I could sooner order a paraplegic to just walk out of her chair than to tell myself to just snap out of it when I am that bad.  I can’t imagine feeling so low, but I can’t shake the fear that it could hit again at any time.  It feels like something bigger than me that I can’t control that will keep moving forward no matter what I try to do to help.

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Yesterday was tough.  I was pretty overwhelmed with fear and panic about starting to deal with the breadth of my childhood trauma in this blog and in therapy.  I have to remember that some of my emotional reactions are stuck in second grade.  I managed to make it to therapy today and we continued the EMDR after we spoke a bit about my fears.  I recognize that it is not an easy process and the panic is part of it.  I’ve worked so hard to compartmentalize the abuse for so long and have been so successful at it that my brain is working overtime to stuff everything back in the moment it gets dragged out.

Today’s session was strange.  I was really stuck in my head on thoughts that I was doing it wrong.  The instant I thought of something I would react with a negative – that doesn’t mean anything, that’s stupid, you’re just making stuff up… it was rough.  I did have a very strong image of a woman.  I’m pretty sure it is someone I’ve known, but I couldn’t place a name, only a very tender, wise face and long, light, wavy hair.  The colors around her were familiar.  I was seeing a big square divided diagonally into black and white, then one corner started shining red.  The red light filled the image, then became an angelic figure, then a Georgia O’Keefe-esque flower which quickly shifted to a moment when I was giving birth to my younger son.

There was a moment in childbirth when I was utterly exhausted and overwhelmed.  I genuinely felt like I couldn’t continue the labor.  I begged the doctor to make it stop.  I felt so utterly and completely helpless.  I was certain that I could not go on, yet there was no possibility of doing anything other than going on.   I couldn’t stop.  There were forces beyond my control dictating what was happening.  I could sooner order a volcano to stop erupting than stop giving birth at that moment.  Apparently, this moment is known as transition and happens to every woman – it doesn’t last long.

I also had memories of the playground at the Bancroft School I attended in Kindergarten and first grade.  Then I was sitting in a window in second grade, watching the playground and looking at green beans growing in styrofoam cups on the windowsill.  Then I thought of ice cream.  Then I was bombarded with bloody images.  An old lady bleeding from the neck, the homeless man who had fallen in the street that I helped once, the lady who fell on the bridge and split open her face…  I dropped the little paddles and opened my eyes and said I thought we should stop.

We took some time to process.  My therapist thinks I’m really strong.  She said I have plenty of experiences which could result in a PTSD reaction, even without considering the abuse.  I felt so strange afterward.  I had this huge lightness in my belly, like something needed to come up and out.  Not nausea, just a fullness.  I took a walk and stopped on the way home for an ice cream cone.  Chocolate/vanilla twist with chocolate jimmies – I think the rainbow ones taste like soap.

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any more than I want to be my diagnoses.  This journey is so wild – like a country road in frost heave season, I’m cruising along when I suddenly hit a bump that sends me flying in the air, coffee spilling and barely maintaining control of my course.  This is why I applied for disability.  I knew I needed time to heal – time that I could focus on my treatment and deal with the hard work of getting better.  Nevermind just how bad things had gotten and how incapable I was of holding a job…  But here I am.  This is my time to heal and get treatment and really work on finding a way to get back to a life where I can provide for my children and give back to society.  I have to believe that that day will come.

The sun is out.  This time of year is usually productive and relatively asymptomatic for me, so what better time to dive in and address the toughest issues in therapy?  Because I’m scared.

I’m 38 years old and I’m still scared of the people who abused me.  I’m scared to talk about what happened to me.  I’m scared that they might find out I’ve told.  I’m scared they will try to discredit me.  I’m even afraid I might not be telling the truth.  I battle this constant campaign in my mind, reminding me that I’m dramatic, I’m a liar, I can’t be trusted, I just want attention, I just want to hurt them, I just can’t admit that it was really my fault.  I made them do bad things to me.  I deserved what happened because I am a bad person.  I’m a bad girl.  I only got what was coming to me.

How do I fight that?  I close my eyes and doubt what I’ve just seen.  I have to open my eyes again to make sure the sky is still blue.

I have a hard time trusting my feelings.  I have a hard time trusting who I am.  I read back a few weeks and wonder who was that girl who couldn’t get out of her own tracks?  I don’t even feel like the same person.  But how close is it?  Is it inevitable that I’ll be back in bed?  Will it be today, tomorrow, next week?  Will I be able to wake up again?

I am suddenly terrified that I made this blog public to my friends and family.  What if they are reading it.  Will they believe me?  Will they talk about this?  Will this cause problems for others in my family?   I’m in a panic.  I want to cover my tracks.  I don’t want to go out.  I don’t want to answer my phone.  What have I done?

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