The human mind is amazing. The process of remembering, the process of forgetting, and the ability, at times, to remember things that we have previously forgotten — it boggles my brain, just thinking about it!
Unfortunately, I have always remembered almost every traumatic event I ever experienced. I say “unfortunately,” because I have a lot of memories I wish I could forget.
However, I am aware of at least two traumatic memories that my mind repressed. My first repressed memory happened when I was 12 years old. I have always remembered at least 90% of this event, but there was a mysterious gap in the middle that I could not remember for more than 46 years. The thing I could not remember was something I heard that sounded so terrible, I actually went deaf for a short time.
The unbearable sound caused me to believe that my mother was dead, and my dad had just killed her. In an instant, my hearing completely shut down. The only thing I heard then was an overwhelming silence.
A few minutes later, when I discovered that my mom was still alive, my hearing came back on as if someone had flipped a switch inside my head. The world around me went from dead silent, to all kinds of sounds — it was very strange!
Although my hearing was restored, I still could not remember what I had heard that caused me to go deaf in the first place. I tried many times to remember, but the memory did not return until I was 58 years old! That was when I retrieved the entire memory of that terrible night, with the help of an astute and compassionate therapist.
What I actually heard was innocuous enough. I heard a door slam, very hard, very loud, immediately after I heard my mom yell “NO RICKY* — NOT THE GUN!”
When I heard the door slam right after my mother screamed “NOT THE GUN!”, I naturally thought it was a gunshot. It sounded just like the gunshots on the western shows my dad liked to watch on TV. Then, because my 12-year-old brain believed that I had just heard my dad shoot and kill my mother, I could not handle the horror, so I blanked out the memory of the “gunshot” sound. I also went completely deaf at the same time, in case there might be more gunshots.
Although I did not remember the gun/door sound for almost half a century, I never forgot what had happened before, and what happened after, that terrible sound. I never forgot waking up in the middle of a hot July night to the sounds of my parents yelling and fighting. I never forgot hearing my dad say that he was going to kill my mother and telling her, in a terrifying, raging voice, to prepare to meet her maker. I never forgot hearing my mother’s desperate pleas as she cried and begged for her life. And I never forgot the violent sounds of them struggling, the sound of my dad strangling her, and the terrible choking sounds my mother made.
I was in the process of removing a screen and climbing out a window to run to a neighbor for help, when my dad gave up on trying to kill my mom with his bare hands, and went for the gun he kept loaded on a shelf in their closet. Their bedroom was on the other side of my bedroom wall, so I heard all these things, loud and clear.
How odd that my hearing did not shut down, through all those terrible things, until I heard what I believed was a gunshot. Even weirder… why did I remember everything else, but forget the door slamming sound?
This is how I finally remembered it: I was telling my therapist about this trauma, and I told her what I always said, whenever I related the story: “I heard my mother scream ‘NO RICKY NOT THE GUN!’ Then I heard a sound that caused me to believe that my dad had just killed my mother. But I don’t remember what I heard that made me believe she was dead. I went deaf then. My hearing returned a few minutes later, when I discovered that my mother was alive.”
My therapist said “You probably heard a door slam.” As soon as she said those words — BOOM! — I REMEMBERED the slam, and I knew she was right! Still today, I can remember hearing the sound of that slam. But until my therapist said it, I could not remember it.
My second repressed memory happened when I was 15. That was when I was drugged and raped. I have always remembered everything leading up to the point where I lost consciousness from the drug, and I have always remembered everything that happened after the rape was over and I woke up. But I did not remember the actual rape. I assumed this was because I was unconscious from the drug.
However, when I was in my late 30s, more than 20 years after the rape, I became a volunteer at a women’s abuse shelter. All of the volunteers had to take a series of classes, to teach us about abuse and how to help abuse victims.
During one such class, the instructors, all women, shared their histories of abuse. They then encouraged us volunteers, also all women, to share any abuse history we might have.
As I listened to these beautiful, compassionate women tell their painful, heartbreaking stories, I suddenly remembered all the details of when I was raped. It seemed like the rape had happened while I was semi-conscious, not fully asleep. When it was my turn to share, I told the group what had happened to me, and I told them that I had never remembered the details until that moment.
As I was driving home, about 20 minutes away, I thought I would tell my husband the details of what I had remembered. But by the time I got home, the memories were completely gone again! I am in my sixties now and I have never remembered the details of the rape, since that one night so long ago when I felt safe enough to remember.
The only thing I remember about it is that I did not like having those horrible details in my head. I just wish I could also forget all the other trauma in my history!!
However, I believe I am a stronger and more compassionate person today, because of my trauma memories. I know I’m not the only one who thinks this is true. I recently told my daughter, who works as a life coach hypnotherapist, how sorry I am that she was born to a broken mom who failed to give her the safe, secure, healthy, happy, and unconditionally loving childhood that she — and every child — deserves.
My daughter replied: “If my life had been any easier, I would probably have the emotional depth of a mud puddle.”
I love that awesome young woman. ❤
*All names, including mine, are changed for privacy.
This post was inspired by a recent post by Bethany on her blog, Not My Secret.
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