Remembering What Was Forgotten-Traumatic Memory, PTSD and Childhood Sexual abuse
My memory leads a double life of knowing and not knowing at the very same time. It is a constant, exhausting battle. This is a story about memory gone awry; about traumatic memory and its effect on memory functions and post traumatic stress disorder.
I was sexually abused as a child by a family member. Here’s why I didn’t remember.
Among friends, I am the go to person when it comes to history and trivia, priding myself on my steel trap of a memory.
How then can someone “forget” an event as traumatic as childhood sexual abuse?
Simply put, trauma affects a variety of memory functions and dissociation is one such disruption.
Childhood sexual abuse can create negative disturbances of memory such as dissociation and PTSD leading to problems in basic memory encoding, storage, and retrieval.
Being abused by a trusted family member is the perfect opportunity for the victim to create information blockage. Memory blocking is not to avoid suffering, but because not knowing about abuse by a parent is necessary for survival.
But the body remembers.
With PTSD, traumatic memories become dissociated, fragmented, free-floating in time. They pounce into the present unbidden in the form of flashbacks, nightmares intrusive thoughts and images you cannot control.
I search my memory bank for a coherent, narrative filled with nuance and detail but that is not how traumatic memory is.
Those who expect a linear and logical account, seem to think of memory as akin to a Netflix stream; click on a title and sit back for a streaming documentary, a clear-cut representation of what transpired as though a camera had been there filming the whole time. That sadly is far from the reality.
I am missing the explicit narrative of information necessary to make sense of the distressing body sensations and images.
Memories of the trauma tend to be predominantly experienced as fragments of the sensory components of the event as visual images, olfactory, auditory, body sensations, out of context feelings and intense waves of feeling.
Implicit and Explicit Memory
For people with PTSD, traumatic events are remembered differently than non traumatic events.
They are not actually remembered in the normal narrative sense. Usually memory implies the relegation of an event into one’s history. “I remember when.” Where explicit memory depends on language, implicit memory bypasses it. Implicit memory is non verbal, unconscious, somatic. I have no words.
Dissociation and Fragmentary Nature of Traumatic Memories
Children and adults who have been abused cope by using a variety of psychological mechanisms.
One effective way to cope with overwhelming trauma is dissociation, the immediate blanking out of reality so that memories are not stored in the first place, not in a narrative, coherent way. Dissociation is an effective defense walling off what cannot be accommodated and actual memory goes into the deep freeze.
Memory in The Absence of Memory
In dissociation elements of the experience are not integrated into a whole but stored in memory as isolated fragments, sensory perceptions, intrusive images, behavior and body sensations.
With PTSD I am missing the explicit narrative of information necessary to make sense of the distressing body sensations and images.
I am a storyteller without a story with a beginning, middle, and end.
But I now have an opportunity to tell my story.
A Series of Fragments of Moments
I am very pleased to be part of a provocative national exhibit entitled “A Series of Fragments of Moments” opening in San Francisco on Saturday November 11, 2017. I will be speaking at the artists panel at 6PM discussing my new work on traumatic memory, and I invite all my Bay Area peeps to attend.
1246 Folsom Street, San Francisco
RECEPTION: Saturday, November 11th, 6-9PM
Exhibition runs November 11—December 9 , 2017, visit website for hours http://www.arc-sf.com/contact..html
Please Join Us:
A preview reception to meet the artists and an artists’ talk beginning at 6PM will be on Saturday, November 11, with the regular reception from 7-9PM The artists will discuss their works and their artistic practice, with an opportunity for Q&A from the audience. Curated and presented by Karen Gutfreund, activist, curator, artist.
A Series of Fragments of Moments offers a provocative exploration into the fragility of memory and explores ideas about passing time, narration, marking history and perception. Examining the ways in which memory is constructed, how individual and collective memories shape our lives, leaving an indelible mark, manifesting in objects, words and dreams that can function as physical traces or intangible points of contact to the past. The works reflect the simple act of marking a specific time to the recording of memory to construct identity. Whether illustrative or evocative, ephemeral or concrete, A Series of Fragments of Moments collectively speaks to the apparent dichotomies reinvented memory, loss and remembrance, the individual and the universal.
This exhibition includes the work of the following artists: Shannon Amidon, Sherri Cornett, Katelyn Dorroh, Sally Edelstein, Karen Gutfreund, Penny McElroy, Michelle Nye, Priscilla Otani, Sibylle Peretti courtesy of the Seager Gray Gallery and David Weinberg
© Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.