Friday, March 11, 2011

The thing about memory

 "I've never tried to block out the memories of the past, even though some are painful. I don't understand people who hide from their past. Everything you live through helps to make you the person you are now.” -Sophia Loren

You know those TV shows where someone gets amnesia or they've blocked out a chunk of their childhood but then they see a hypnotist and all the memories come flooding back?

Yeah I used to think that was total bunk.

And it is. Mostly.

But the whole block out memories thing and then suddenly remembering them all? I never believed that was possible.

I thought that memory was all or nothing. People with trauma must block out the whole thing. The past must be a total blank, just a fuzzy dark recess of nothing where memories should be.

I was sure that hadn't happened to me because I remembered lots of my childhood. I remembered laughter and dancing and coconut cream pies and the smell of chlorine in the morning. I remembered Barbie dolls and Thunder Cats. I remembered kittens and horses and violins and roller skates and bicycles with streamers. I remembered Janet Jackson and side ponytails and LA Gear.

Clear as day, as it were. The metaphorical day which must stretch blue to the hills.

In 2008, I decided to go to therapy. I'd been stressed at work. Not just stressed, overhwelmed. Not handling my stress. The walls of my soul breaking down. Plus I thought it would be good to talk about all sorts of things, not the least of which being the toxic men I picked, my adoption, and my relationship with my mother.

And I talked. And I talked. And my therapist listened. And I talked. And I talked.

And then a light turned on.

It was as if I'd been living my life in the small corner of a room. But I'd thought that corner was large. I lived there with a small light illuminating just that one corner and I was happy there. Well, I wasn't happy there, but I thought I was happy and that seemed enough. Enough for 28 years of life and memories.

Then someone turned on a bright light and suddenly I saw that the room was large and I saw everything that was piled and cluttered. They had been sitting there for years, ignored, collecting dust, out of sight, out of mind.

All my memories. So many. Years of memories which I never knew were missing were suddenly back.

I didn't like what I saw. But I was happy to see it.

I remembered the fear and the pain and the tears. The pieces fell together and I understand why I behaved the way I did. I understood that certain things were not, in fact, my fault. Remembering allowed me to let go of my guilt for not being good enough. Allowed me to be angry for things I didn't remember to be angry for. Remembering allowed me to heal my wounds and to move on with my life. Remembering allowed me to be an adult. Finally.

Nobody planted those memories there. Nobody hypnotized me or guided me to them.

The talking turned on the light. I found those memories myself.

And no offense to Miss Loren, but I didn't choose to block out those memories. I didn't have a choice. I didn't even know I'd done it. It just happened. Like a heart beat or a lung taking in breath. 

It was hard for people to believe, hard for my father to believe, which I understand. I would've found it hard to believe too. I thought that kind of thing was bunk, until it happened to me. Or, at least until I realized that was me.

I'm as whole as is possible at this point. I worked hard. Therapy was indeed hard work and I went ready to put in the time and effort. I still work hard. It will always be hard work and I know that.

I'm not the same person I was before. Things that rolled off my back before I have a hard time letting go now. I no longer let others push me around. I don't bury my feelings anymore; I swim in them until my fingers get all pruney. I'm quicker to cry but I'm quicker to laugh too.

But when I write about my past, posts like this one, it might be hard to articulate, hard to write, but the memory is right there ready to express itself. It doesn't feel fresh, the pain doesn't sear like it did two years ago. I imagine it's how most people remember their pasts. Somehow vivid yet distant.

13 comments mean you love me:

Nush said...Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

Our past defines us but does not rule us. Our future is not pre-determined but fluid and intangible.

It is in our present were our lives play out. This is where we must be happy, taking all past experiences and future promise into account.

Ehhh yeah it is early morning so I might just talk nonsense but this is what came to mind.

Satan said...Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

i have actually tried, and i would like to get some of my memories back. i have successfully blocked out entire YEARS, one of them my senior year of high school. and i'd like to have that memory back, even if it was one of the worst times in my life.

Lance said...Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

I am not sentimental. One of my main gripes with facebook (i deleted it a year ago) was the connections I had were mostly from my past. I have trouble remembering my kids names and the right kind of noodles to get from the grocery store much less what happened to me when I was 6 or 16 or 26. All people wanted to talk about on facebook is what we did in high school.

If a childhood memory pops up and it relates to something NOW in my life, then I'll reflect on it. Like what I wrote about Searching For My Fortress Of Solitude regardinga a treehouse I had when I was 10.

What I like about blogging and twitter is, it's about the NOW, about moving forward.

Simon said...Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

I don't try to block out memories of the past either however as my age increases my mind appears to be making that decision for me more and more....what was I saying?...Oh yes I really enjoyed my day out last weekend?!?!?!

Who are you?

Skye said...Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

Wow! You are a great writer. And I really need to go to therapy.

Suniverse said...Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

I have the worst memory. It's awful.

I sometimes wonder what I'm not remembering, but I'm not sure I want to know.

Good for you that you're in such a strong place.


Andygirl said...Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

Nush- so poetic first thing in the morning! hee! I'm all about living in the moment. but until I understood my past, I couldn't do so.

Satan- well, I recommend therapy. I truly do!

Lance- for me, it wasn't about sentiment. I needed to understand why my past was affecting my present decisions in order to let go of it. but I'm all for living in the present.

Simon- BAHA! you know? I'm never quite sure who I am. ;)

Skye- oh thank you! and I do recommend therapy. it's really an hour each week where someone is paid to listen to you. how brilliant is that?

Sun- I have an excellent memory, when I can anyway. :) love you!

Anonymous said...Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

I know all about repressed memories because I have them. I know I have them because they've reared their ugly little heads a handful of times in my life. Usually it's something random that fuses that connection in my brain (or not really random; it's usually something very specific to the memory, but I think it's random because I don't remember the memory until after I remember it. Make sense?).

I was hospitalized when I was ten. I had a seizure, which led to the discovery of a brain abcess that nearly killed me, and then I slipped into a coma. It's okay. I got better. I don't mind talking about it, but I don't like remembering that period in the hospital.

Those are the memories that are repressed for me: un-fun hospital hell. Usually I get flashbacks when I smell Iodine or the sanitized scent of a hospital hallway. Sometimes my right arm throbs from the memory of having a giant needle shoved up it.

Unpleasant? Yes.

So I try to avoid the situations that can bring out those repressed memories. It wasn't a fun time in my life, and if my brain wants to forget them to save what sanity I have left, then by God I'm not going to question it.

However, I have managed to donate blood to the Red Cross twice and I am very proud of myself for doing so. Because anything hospital-like has the potential to bring forth a painful memory, and so that i managed to not visibly freak out during the donation was a frigging mental milestone for me.

But I don't make a habit of it. Hell no. Some things are best left forgotten.

Lauren Marie said...Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

I believe you, hypnosis to recover memories of childhood trauma is bunk for a lot of reasons, but remembering things long forgotten by talking about the past is not. The mind and memory are tricky things to be sure.

I'm glad therapy was so beneficial for you, I wish there were less stigma involved in seeking help, and that more people would go. In fact one of my biggest regrets from college is not taking advantage of the free counseling center.

PorkStar said...Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

Some I have chosen to forget. Some painful ones I still remember them so as to know that if it happens again, I know how it feels. Many nice things and thoughts start being forgotten as we go through other experiences, but in general, time is what steals most of our memories. We sometimes give it a push to forget them.

alonewithcats said...Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

I envy you for doing the hard work of finding and making peace with your memories. My mind is a sieve. I remember useless trivia, but most of my childhood is a total blur.

Anonymous said...Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

Good for you for doing the work. I'm glad it helped. I agree-you don't choose to forget.

Andygirl said...Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

Colleen- that sounds traumatic. at least you know why you don't want to remember that. and I know that feeling of memories bubbling up from certain smells and sensations. my aunt had cancer when I was a kid and the smell of rubbing alcohol will always remind me of her. and yes, I think everyone should get therapy. can't hurt to talk. :)

Pork- I'll let you know when I get old and start forgetting. mine were buried right from childhood. wasn't time that stole mine; it was trauma.

Jess- I hear ya. it was so painful to do but worth it for me. but there is something to be said for useless trivia. :)

Chicken- thanks much! I highly recommend it.

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