WARNING NOTE: THIS PAGE MAY TRIGGER ABUSE MEMORIES FOR READERS WITH TRAUMATIC CHILDHOOD MEMORIES AND A HISTORY OF SEXUAL ABUSE.
READ ONLY WITH CARE AND USE CAUTION!
It wasn’t until 1983 when I entered my second prolonged therapeutic treatment program, this one being out-patient and specifically for working on my severe childhood trauma, that I was told about the importance of ‘missing segments’ of childhood memory. I was told to suspect particularly that child sexual abuse might have occurred during any of these ‘invisible’ time periods.
Even for all the effort I have put into trying to construct the timeline of my childhood, I would say that I MAYBE have about 20% of it accurately figured out. Trying to force a completely disorganized-disoriented, incoherent childhood into any kind of coherent shape is a MAJOR effort.
All this being said, I still return to the same ‘missing months’ with a dark, icky, queasy feeling that I did 26 years ago in the rooms of that treatment program. Those months seem to have been included in a time frame described in my mother’s September 1961 letters when she first tells that a room in the log house was rented to a school teacher, RC
During this time we were doing the difficult ‘quadruple commute’ that so often assumed the pattern of my childhood years. We rented the log house in the town of Eagle River — the same one we first moved to when we arrived in Alaska in August as described in my mother’s 1957 diary. Over the years we rented, un-rented, rented, sub-rented and then rented again this very same house.
In between we would either live in the log house week days and spend weekends at the homestead. Sometimes we lived on the homestead and commuted every week day morning to the log house where dad would get ready and leave for work, we would get ready and leave for school, and mother would orchestrate her Happy Time Nursery School. In the evenings we would ‘meet’ at the log house and make the long trip back up the mountain.
I had just turned 10 when the 1961-1962 school year began. According to my work on my childhood timeline, the new Eagle River School had just been completed and was within walking distance of the log house. I was in 5th grade. For confusing reasons that I will never understand unless I find specific references to details about them in my mother’s writings, during this period of time we did not always return to the homestead at night.
RC had the bedroom that used to belong to my brother, John. So when we stayed over night at the log house, he had to sleep on a folding army cot in the kitchen. Where did baby David sleep? Where did my parents sleep? Their bed, a monstrously heavy pull-out Simmons couch must have been at the homestead or they would not have had anything to sleep on THERE!
My personal memory is of also sleeping on a folding army cot in the large bedroom with my sisters, that my mother used days for the Nursery School. I made-up the cot evenings and took it apart mornings to store it with my bedding in the bedroom closet. This was a most fortunate process considering what happened to me during this period of time.
The largest ‘missing chunk’ of my childhood, as I tried to explore the chaotic timeline of it in therapy in 1983, lies exactly at this point in time. What returned to me in therapy were the memories of having terrible nightmares on those nights I slept in that house, in that bedroom, on that cot.
The recurring nightmares that returned to me always involved concrete prison cell rooms with small barred windows high up by the ceiling. The light was always dim and seemed to be present without a source. Always in the rooms were strange men, foreign to me. In the nightmares I was always the violent aggressor and the men were helpless victims to my bizarre actions. It pains me even now to even KNOW that I was capable at just-10-years old of having these thoughts, even in nightmares.
I would force the men to urinate in wooden buckets, and then force them to drink it. I would force the men to bend over and drink their urine as it was produced. I would cut off their penises with a sharp knife. Truly, these nightmares were horrible, dark, ugly and violent. Yet what was even more troubling to remember was that these nightmares occurred at the same time I began wetting my bed.
Never before in my childhood until this time, and never afterward, did I have ANY trouble with bed wetting. It was not a problem that at this time reoccurred based on any previous trouble with it from my past. I was terrified, absolutely terrified that my mother would discover my problem.
Somehow I managed to hide it from her by sneaking my wet bedding into the bathroom when I dressed in the morning so that I could wash it out. When I put the cot in the back corner of the closet where it stayed during the day, I carefully arranged the wet items so that they could dry. My fear of her discovering my bed wetting, however, consumed all my waking thoughts. I truly believed that if she found out she would kill me. Fortunately, she never did.
Obviously the bed wetting and the nightmares were absolutely connected to one another. What is suspicious is that this all happened to me only when we stayed nights at the log house with RC in it. It took me a long time, once I remembered my problems to be able to remember the bathroom at the log house. I do not, however, have one single memory of how this all could possibly fit together.
Both my sisters have memories of RC, for some unknown reason, babysitting us on occasions when my parents left him to care for us at the log house. What is bizarre is that both sisters remember RC taking handfuls of colored M & Ms, opening the front door in the winter time, and tossing them outside into the snow. He would then send Sharon, who could have been 6 at the time, outside to ‘find’ those wet and sticky ‘treats’. What kind of sick game was THAT to play with a little girl? Why did we never tell our parents? None of still have ANY IDEA what RC’s actions were about.
I also have no memory of anything to do with ever having seen a man’s penis when I was that age. The only penis I can imagine ever having viewed would have belonged to my baby brother, David, who would have been only about 6 months old when my bed wetting and nightmares happened. I also cannot blame the stress of an absolutely turbulent, chaotic and stressful family period for my troubles, either. That condition had ALWAYS been chronic for us.
At the same time I absolutely know from an experience of having my sister tell me a memory in 1983 that I had NO awareness of that instantly came back to me in full as she told it to me over the telephone. Buried memories of trauma can remain invisible and not available for recall. That does not mean the memories never formed in the first place. It does not mean that the ‘semantic, autobiographical’ recall of these memories cannot eventually happen at any time, and in any way.
If the facts of a traumatic experience were recorded through our brain’s hippocampus – and sometimes they are NOT recorded if the stress hormone cortisol so heats up the memory cells that those cells are burned up and fried before the facts of a trauma are processed – but IF the facts are there, they can never be erased. In the same way, if the facts were not recorded and are not there, they can never be recovered.
It is important to also realize that the actions of the stress hormone cortisol in vanishing memory cells can happen not only to the victim, but also within the brain of the ‘stressed out’ perpetrator. It is a very real possibility that when a perpetrator says they have no memory of having hurt someone, they MEAN what they are saying! There are times during ‘the heat of the moment’ that trauma is only recorded in body memory.
I have a theory that this happens when nature determines that there is absolutely NOTHING useful that can be learned and applied for improved survival in the future — not for an individual and not for our species — from such a trauma experience. Remembering the actual facts of such traumas would create a sort of anti-survival internal environment because any factual information contained within the experience was so OUT OF THE RANGE of ordinary — or even extra-ordinary experience — as to be literally UNBELIEVABLE.
One will therefore never be faced with that massive unsolvable paradox of having to try to believe what cannot be believed, of having to learn what cannot be learned, if one does not remember an event that was so far out of the range of what is SUPPOSED to be human experience. I firmly believe that fried trauma memory cells are one of the greatest evolutionarily designed survival mechanisms that we have.
And in case you might be wondering, I do NOT include this mechanism in the usual considerations of what dissociation is or might be. I believe the body keeps always keeps emotional memory because it can inform our instantaneous survival reactions that have nothing to do with what the ‘higher and slower’ supposedly more advanced brain abilities might be able to do with ‘the facts’.
The body always keeps memory of everything that happens to it because it is the BODY — and not necessarily the MIND — that is most vital to keeping us alive. This fundamental dissociation that can occur between what the body knows and the mind knows is one that evolution has always kept us prepared us to make. There have always been things that we cannot afford to remember with conscious access. This kind of knowledge would only slow our body down when it needs most to be quick about its survival.
Even in situations where stress fried the factual memory cells, emotional memories are processed through the amygdala by a different process entirely. THEY are ALWAYS encoded and stored in our bodies. Thus emotional components of memories can have access to US even though we may never know the facts. (This naturally happens when we are too small to record the facts of a memory. We will always have the emotional, body memories.)
In the case of my bed wetting and nightmares that happened to me when I was 10 years old, I will probably never know the truth of what happened during these months. All the warning lights and sirens are there, however, that something dark and ugly was happening. It is hard not to internalize that ugliness and shame and blame myself for having such horrible dreams.
Yet at the same time, if RC the roomer was sexually molesting me and/or to my siblings during this time, my nightmares at least were NOT of me being the victim! If RC was sexually abusive, in these dreams I was able to allow myself a definite rage reaction — one that I could never feel toward my mother. As difficult as it might be, can I learn to accept these nightmares in the light of self empowerment rather than of self condemnation?
I might never know the answer to that question, either.