The thawing of a memory

In the last week or so, I’ve told Hubby the truth about my past, admitted to myself that I have at least some anger toward my mother, had a visit from my parents in the midst of all this, told my osteopathic doctor my history, and have had some fairly intense flashbacks.

All this and I’ve attempted to keep normal life going, as well.

Memory is a weird thing. Some might say funny. But it’s not so funny when horrifying, terrible thoughts, emotions and images are slamming their way into your mind. I don’t know if my memories are what some would call “repressed”. They just are what they are.

I’ve always remembered some things about the sexual abuse I endured as a child, some of it is hazy and surreal. It has a quality to it that feels like it can’t possibly be happening to me. Other things I remember are sharp and detailed, it’s like reading a book by an author who really knows how to describe a scene, and their characters. I have trouble with time, and age; with knowing the when of a memory. I have to search for something to link it to— the purple comforter tells me I had to be in second grade because that was the year I loved purple, or the shoes on my feet tell me I had to be in 3rd grade because that was the year of the blue sparkle shoes that my mother hated. I don’t have a lot of the “normal” memories most people have; vacations, learning to swim, learning to ride a bike, special holidays, winning awards. I remember those events because of stories my family has told, not because of any real memory I have. Memory is complicated.

To make it even more complicated, trauma memories are stored in the mind differently than regular memories. Different therapists (and regular people, too) have different ideas or beliefs on this, but all agree that the memories are stored differently. Here’s how it works:
Traumatic memory is different from normal declarative memory (story telling, narrative memory). The part of the brain that lets us know a memory is something that happened in the past (the hippocampus) is suppressed during a traumatic event, so that event doesn’t get filed as something that is in the past, but rather is experienced as occurring in the present. In Bea’s words, unresolved trauma memories are kind of hanging in limbo–a bunch of scary sensations and images that were never encoded as memories the way other events are, so instead of being recognized as the past, they feel like a continuous, reoccurring hell.

Now that I’m not fighting the memories, I can see how much energy actually was put into blocking them out, pushing them away. It’s no wonder I have suffered from panic attacks since my early teen years, or that nightmares and insomnia have been my normal for as long as I can really remember. Even actively fighting the memories, they still find a way to leak through. That’s not to say I have newfound energy. Letting these memories in is draining in a way I can’t describe. It’s like running a marathon, entering a strong man contest, and participating in a triathlon while you have the flu. It is exhausting on an emotional level in a way that little else is.

I’ve been struggling lately, trying to understand why so many of these memories are so….well, off. As I remember, and look at the memories, I feel almost as though the things I remember now are contradictory to the things I have always remembered. Bea says it is because my whole “story” is being rewritten. The parts that were frozen in the thought processes of a little girl are now being thawed and re-examined from an adult perspective. The adult perspective is becoming part of my story–a story written in past tense, not in the horror of present tense.

The struggle, at the moment, is the memory is only partly thawed. The two versions seem to be at war with one another, and neither is a comfortable thing. As a child, and for most of my life, I have told myself that it was game, it was really harmless, no big deal, it didn’t hurt, it wasn’t scary, I wasn’t threatened, he was my friend. As an adult, I am beginning to have vivid memories, body sensations and emotions of fear, dread, panic, terror, pain, hurt. I remember wanting to hide, wanting to run but having no where to go. I remember having no one to tell, I remember confusion.

The more a memory thaws, the more in the past it feels, but until it fully thaws, the horror and pain are very much alive and real and happening in the here and now. And it sucks.

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