I remember the first time I stopped defending against my repressed memories. I had always seen the memory flashes, but I ignored them. They weren’t memory flashes of actual attacks. They were images of very mundane scenes like a living room, a trinket on a counter top or a backyard. My normal approach would be to dismiss them. They weren’t real. They weren’t logical. They must have been dreams. Sometimes, I would defend against them so well, my conscious mind would not even get a glimpse. In those cases, there was nothing to dismiss.
After three years of therapy, I finally reached a point in my recovery journey that I became curious. What if those flashes weren’t dreams? What if they weren’t some irrelevant, concocted or otherwise meaningless creations? What if they were important? What if they were affecting my life? So I asked the question, which has become the most critical three words in my recovery process. “What was that?”
And so began my journey of memory recovery. Over time, I learned that those seemingly irrelevant images were the physical surroundings of the attacks. I could spend days recovering the entire layout of a house or a stretch of road or a park. Once the physical surroundings were clear, I would recover the actual traumatic event. It is important to note that this was not an emotionless process. Unfortunately, the emotions tied to the event would come first. It can be very confusing to have suicidal feelings for no reason at all. Of course, it didn’t take me long to realize that those feelings were a precursor to a new memory. I was able to separate them from my current reality and use them as a sign that I needed to start asking that question. What is that? Why do I feel like this? Is there something I need to understand?
The criticality of this question cannot be understated. I have learned that my recovered memories are stored not just in a separate part of my brain, but with a separate part of the self, a child part. Imagine that you were interacting with a traumatized child. Imagine that child had something to tell you. Maybe she wasn’t sure if it was safe to tell you. Now consider the child’s reaction if you responded by saying, “That’s not true. You are making that up.” That might seriously impact the conversation. Now consider that child’s reaction if you said, “Tell me more about that. I want to understand it.” There might be a deep, relieved breath. The child might share a little more. She might be willing to take the conversation just a little further, and see how you handle it. Without your curiosity, that conversation would go nowhere.
I have met countless people, who have said things like, “I would go to therapy, but I don’t want to know what I don’t know.” Many people have also told me that they think there is something they don’t remember. They have asked me how they can remember. That is so difficult to answer. It requires creating a relationship with that part of the self that doesn’t want to release that information. It requires curiosity. It requires patiently asking the question, “What was that?” It is possible to find that lost childhood, but it requires dedication. It requires a desire to uncover what is actually running your life. Curiosity never killed anyone, but it does create change. I know that change is scary, but death is scarier. If we stop changing, we stop growing. If we stop growing, we stop living. I choose change. I choose curiosity.