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Archive for May 21st, 2008

Bird flying in dark sky (c) Lynda BernhardtMany people think of recovering memories of child abuse as coming through visual flashbacks. This does happen frequently, particularly for people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, that is not the only way that people recover memories. For example, a flashback does not have to be visual. A flashback can come through any of the senses, such as through hearing or sense of smell.

Another way that survivors of child abuse can recover memories is through a sickening awareness of what happened. That happened to me several times. I would often start having flashbacks afterward, but the initial recovery of the memory came through a sickening awareness that I had suffered from some form of abuse.

For example, I lived most of my life with no memory of much of my childhood. I was consciously aware of the comparatively mild emotional abuse but was completely disconnected from the physical and sexual abuse. However, I was fully aware of being “warped in the head” on many levels but not knowing the cause.

I reached a place in which I was ready to face my past, but I did not know what it was. I was aware of having alter parts but not the reason for having them. In desperation, I called my younger sister and asked if she had any memory of me being harmed as a child. She said, “I have always had a bad feeling about mom.”

Immediately, I knew that my mother had sexually abused me. I felt it in the core of my being. I could feel the abuse happening to my body, even though I had no specific memory of any of the abuse at that point. In fact, the first time I told another person, she kept asking me questions like how old I was or how long the abuse went on, and I honestly did not know. I just had this sickening awareness and knew that it was true. My flashbacks as well as my sister’s flashbacks later confirmed it all.

I went through this with accepting the truth that I had been vaginally raped as well. I started having disturbing dreams about having been with other men sexually and feeling deep shame because of it. (My husband is the only man that I have willingly had sex with.) Then it moved on to dreams of being raped. I would comfort myself by saying that I knew that was not true.

Then, I was at a friend’s house. While she was on the phone, I was thumbing through the book Safe Passage by Healing by Chrystine Oksana and found a section called “The Real Unreal.” This section said something about women not believing that they had been raped because they bled when they first had consensual sex. The book went on to say that the hymen regenerates to a certain degree after the trauma stops, so a woman might experience light bleeding when she become sexually active even though she was raped in childhood.

As soon as I read that, I knew my truth. It was a sickening awareness that settled over me as I admitted to myself that I had light staining at best after becoming sexually active. However, I had held onto that light staining as “proof” that I had been spared that form of abuse. I finally had to face that I had not. I later recovered multiple memories through flashbacks, but it all started with a sickening awareness.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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