On my blog entry entitled How to Work through Memories of Child Abuse, a reader posted the following comment:
I am wondering the same thing as Kelly…it’s so unreal … how do I believe memories like those, let alone “work through them”? Will I ever really know that they are real and I”m not just crazy or sick…I do have some physical issues but no scars…unless I can actually uncover photographs or the people involved actually confess these same memories to me, independently of me telling them about them? Is it ever possible to be really “sure” when you’re working purely from “memory”? ~ Lilo
I, too, had a very hard time believing my own memories, especially in the beginning. First of all, I did not believe in repressed memories. I thought that people would remember anything that had ever happened to them, so I must just be crazy. Second, my first memories were of my mother sexually abusing me, and “moms don’t do that.” I could recall ever hearing about a mother doing that to her daughter, so how could those memories be true?
Next, I did not believe the memories because they were from an out-of-body perspective. How could I possibly remember the back side of my body? How could I have a “from the ceiling” perspective of the abuse? Also, the memories were so amazingly detailed and clear – How could that be possible? How could I possibly remember that I was wearing pink pants during a particular incident that happened when I was only three years old?
These are all questions I threw at my therapist, and he kept telling me that my experience was normal! I was certain that the next “proof” of my own insanity would be enough for him to commit me, but my therapist kept validating me over and over again. He even told me that the “insane” patients try to convince you that they were abused, but the child abuse survivors try to convince you that they weren’t!
In the early days of recovering memories, I desperately wanted proof. I found the validation I needed in small ways, such as recovering a memory in which my mother wore a particular hairstyle and then verifying that her hairstyle did, in fact, look like that when I was that particular age. Another time, I recovered a memory of hugging a toy dog after being abused. I found a picture of me at the same age holding that dog.
I am fortunate to have a sibling who has been able to verify many of my memories. We endured many abuses together, and we both have the same memories of what happened – sometimes with a different focus but still consistent memories of the same event. We also suffered many similar abuses separately, which was also validating.
Now that I am seven years into my healing journey, I see the validation in other ways. I see it when I learn about how old (pre-therapy) friends and doing and realize just how amazingly f@#$ed up most of them are today. (Thankfully, there are exceptions, but most of them are people who have been through therapy like I have.) If not for my choice to heal, I would likely be in the same place.
I also find validation in recognizing the degree to which I was broken, including the many aftereffects I have dealt with (eating disorder, self-injury, insomnia, night terrors, etc.). Further validation comes from seeing how much more emotionally healthy I am versus seven years ago. If I simply made all of this stuff up or was mentally ill, how is it possible that I am now so much healthier than I used to be?
Confession time – I have never received an official diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder (DID) from a therapist because mine is not big on labels. He did use the label of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for a particular reason that I won’t go into now, and he knows about all about the alter parts, but his focus was always on learning how to love and accept myself and my experiences rather than on labeling me. I would sometimes question whether I really had DID, even though I “knew” that I did.
I received that validation from fellow child abuse survivors at Isurvive and here. If I did not endure the memories that I have recovered and never had DID, then how is it that my words resonate so deeply with other child abuse survivors? Why do they understand me so well when most people in my life haven’t? Why does my advice help so many other people?
I have found validation in many ways over the years, but the most important validation came from myself. When I chose to believe myself, I healed. When I chose not to believe myself, my symptoms grew worse. Choosing to believe my memories meant releasing myself to the natural process of healing.
Photo credit: Hekatekris