Tuesday, January 21, 2014. I know no other way to tether my thoughts down other than to write them down. I am eternally grateful to WordPress for providing me this free blog space in which to do that.
Yesterday I watched the wind swirl snow around in tendrils of drifts and movements of snow that looked like the dirt pillars from dust devils so common during certain seasons in the high desert I recently left behind me. Because these big brick block apartment buildings are situated to face one another in a square with open space between the ones in each of the four directions so that they face the small cat tail area in the center the wind plays around here in ways that only allow me to determine the actual direction wind is coming from by watching the smoke rising above each building from their massive heating systems. (Windchill temperatures here are currently -30 degrees below zero F.)
Memories work like that I think. There is no reason for any collection of memories to arrange themselves in anything like proper order all by themselves. I don’t think they belong anywhere. They are creative avenues to help us place ourselves within the experience of our life.
Around the time I recently arrived back here in Fargo last fall I used my fearlessness to attend a public gathering my family was present at to face a selection of my own memories from the last time I spoke with my ex-husband (“Joe”) nearly 28 years ago. I had to – one way or the other – find a way to make myself as comfortable in as possible for the sake of my children and grandchildren with this man who is a central part of their lives.
At this gathering was a man who was as foreign to me as any stranger could be. Except that he wasn’t SUPPOSED to be a stranger. Evidently I certainly knew him from at least 32 years ago at a stage of my married life.
“You don’t remember me, do you?”
Nope. Not a chance.
Where did those memories go?
The subject came up again last Sunday when I had the conversation with my ex I mentioned in my last post. I was reminded again that there are some things about my being a trauma changed person in my physiology – which of course shows up in billions of ways as I live my life though I don’t often actually consciously detect them – that I cannot explain to anyone else.
The truth is that this is not actually ANYONE else. It’s just so unbelievably rare to find anyone who cares enough to spend the time listening to me as we negotiate the distance between my life reality and theirs that those people might just as well not exist at all.
On Sunday my ex commented that just as “You don’t look the same” this man doesn’t look the same, either.
That is so NOT the important point to me! I evaporated that man from my reality. In my world it does not exist that I EVER met him before. In my world (filled with amazing powers of dissociation that it is) I can change my reality. If there are people within those memories I can easily change the part they played in my life.
This is an ongoing process that is only challenged on those occasions when I encounter some of those people. A little over a year ago I wrote about re-meeting a woman when I was visiting up here who took herself out of my life 30 years ago. We had been best friends for a long time (since 1970) but when I really needed her as I realized that my ex and I were headed pell-mell for divorce, and when I drove the 100 miles to tell her this, she simply walked away from me saying, “Go back to your husband where you belong.”
We did not speak for those 30 years. I did not see her. Yet in my memory I replaced the fact that she and I had – each with our babies under the age of two – shared the rental of a small house up here in 1972-73, In my reality and in my memory after she and I “broke up” I replaced her in any memory of the time I spent in that small house with her older sister. I had NO MEMORY and still really don’t of the fact that her sister lived nowhere around here at that time and certainly NOT with me and my baby.
Fascinating, yet troubling – if it mattered much – which it doesn’t. It would take a skill and knowledge of a process I do not possess for me to be able to return to periods of time where dissociation took over my memory process to correct (change) memories.
Why did I evaporate that man I met again at that gathering? Was it the fact that I think he sided with my ex come divorce time as did everyone we jointly knew? My ex told me Sunday that this man had had “feelings” for me. Oh YUCK!!!
Whatever happened he evidently meant absolutely nothing to me and with a Rod Sterling Twilight Zone candor I simply erased him.
Can I tell my ex what I MEAN when I say, “I don’t remember him?” Not a chance. My erasing that man was so through that should I even be shown a picture from way back when of he and I standing together I WOULD NOT remember him.
What does any of this mean for trauma survivors who are trying to heal from their past? What memories do we carry that are accurate versus not accurate? How much of this is the same for non-traumatized people?
Are we supposed to question everything we know about our past simply because we have been faced with the fact that we certainly can change our memories?
I am reminded of words written by Dr. Allan N. Schore in one of his extremely dense and scientific book about early severe trauma and how it changes physiological development of the nervous system and brain. It is a relatively COMMON situation that in the midst of ongoing trauma the stress hormones present in anyone’s body at that time so “heat up” the new neurons being formed to process those ongoing memories that the neurons are fried. There will never be a trace of the factual events of such an event under these circumstances. Yet because body memory and emotional memory are processed in different ways entirely they WILL exist.
I have another recent encounter with memory-making that seemed rather trite until the swirls of wind stirring my memory processes return to pick up this experience and blow it back into my thoughts.
At the family gathering this past Christmas Eve (at which my ex was present) the present opening went on rather willy-nilly. I had not been at a Christmas with my girls for nearly 30 years. Once my ex and I split up he had the girls for holidays.
What was my stress level on this eve? I won’t pretend to guess. I do know that I was given a total value of $350 in various gift cards. They were in a cute small gift bag. Joe gave me a tin of his fantastic peanut brittle and some of the glorious flower photograph cards he creates out of love for his garden. There were other items – but what matters is that as far as I knew NONE of these items made it from my daughter’s house to my apartment later that night.
A three day family panic set in as everyone searched for what disappeared. Now, in my memory I remember holding the shallow rectangular tin of candy while I carefully placed it AT THE BOTTOM of something it exactly fit size and shape wise. A box? A bag? I could NOT remember!
I can STILL remember making this movement of placing the tin down into the bottom of something. I remember putting the flower cards, the gift cards, a set of two knives — all in this same container. I worked and worked to remember “What did I place those things inside?”
In the end after much searching my son-in-law called me to ask, “Is there any chance you put those things inside the box with the wood block and big knife set? There was a lot of room in that box.”
“Hold on a minute” I told him as I pulled the box out from under my kitchen table where it had been since the eve. Yes, there placed at the exact angle of the knife holder block and flush against it SIDEWAYS was that tin. The gift card bag and everything else was there carefully packed into the remaining space in that box.
False memories? I choose not to worry about this at all. I just maintain a very respectful and flexible approach to myself in my life. It was NOT important for me to remember a single thing about “that man.” It evidently WAS important to me to enjoy the sensation of me placing that tin into a space that exactly held it as if the object and space had been brought into existence just for one another, just for that moment!
Why clutter up, muss up, mess up memories of a happy time living with a woman I liked in that little house by keeping a roommate in the memory who later greatly hurt me, betrayed me and abandoned me (in my world thinking)? Zip-Zap! GONE!
Cool, I think, although yes, a BIT troubling!
I am being given opportunities to learn more about how I survived 18 years of the most pervasive, invasive, consistent and continual HORRIFIC abuse in my early life. I suspect my memory processes somehow protected me from being broken by it all. I moved forward in my life and did not accumulate awareness of the horrors I went through because, after all, who was there to give a damn or to help me?
My way of getting through hell was creative, effective and pretty darn positive! That my way has evidently followed right along with me into my adulthood and through it is not surprising even though it is somewhat unsettling because I want to know — where is my CHOICE ability when it comes to remembering myself in my life?
I think it is automatic, physiological and immediate in my ongoing life that some part of me unconsciously is selecting how I am going to filter and store most of what I experience. I do not seem to carry grudges, resentments or regrets. I had 18 years of nearly the best practice possible at not doing that. If I had not found another way to live my life the horror of my 18 years’ of experience would have left me no space whatsoever to continue living my ongoing life.
I suspect I would have gone completely mad – as Mother did – or I would have died.
Evidently I am very, very good at what I do. I am a survivor. I am an expert at all processes that have enabled me not only to do that but to also survive with bitterness.
Whenever my writings are published as they include my early trauma memories I stand behind everything I say about everything I remember. I have most fortunately five siblings who stand behind me 100%. When it comes to memory processes none of us are really unique. We are all humans and our processes share the same foundation. That severely traumatized early abuse survivors had to maximize all possibilities of memory processes is not surprising. That those same patterns of memory are present throughout our lives makes perfect sense to me.
In the end I believe what Baha’u’llah, founder of the Baha’i Faith says. In the next world we will clearly remember everything about our lives here on earth. We will each be held accountable for our own part in our lives. We will be told how everything fit together here.
Forgiveness? HUGE! Judging others in this life? Not huge!
That does not mean that I need to clutter up my memory channels into my own past by accumulating and holding onto memories involving people who in some way have (really) peripherally hurt me.
I am OK with that – just so I don’t lose track of the gifts those people have truly given me along the way.
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