Art Show – Remembering What Was Forgotten

collage art of appropriated images Sally Edelstein

I am very pleased my collage Remembering What Was Forgotten-Traumatic Memory was selected to be part of the   National Association of Women Artist’s national exhibition Collage/Mixed Media  The Art of  Layering in N.Y.C.

Remembering What Was Forgotten-Traumatic Memory, PTSD and Childhood Sexual Abuse

With the outpouring of women coming forward with their stories of sexual abuse, it’s important to remember traumatic memories of sexual abuse can be buried for decades but the consequences for the victim are felt for years and many suffer PTSD

Trauma is processed by the brain differently than other ordinary events and “gaps” don’t detract from the truth and accuracy of the pieces of memory the victims do have. The central details remain, haunting their victims decades after the event.

I know. I have them.

My memory leads a double life of knowing and not knowing at the very same time. It is a constant, exhausting  battle. Mine  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.

collage of appropriated images Sally Edelstein

Memory has to do with recording, storage and recall of information perceived from the internal and external environment. Dissociation is an effective defense walling off what cannot be tolerated  and storage and retrieval of memory is affected as the actual memory goes into the deep freeze. Detail “Remembering What Was Forgotten-Traumatic Memory, PTSD and Childhood Sexual Abuse” collage by Sally Edelstein

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.

Art Collage of appropriated images Traumatic memory Sally Edelstein

Detail “Remembering What Was Forgotten-Traumatic Memory, PTSD and Childhood Sexual Abuse” collage by Sally Edelstein

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

Collage Appropriated vintage images by Sally Edelstein

Detail “Remembering What Was Forgotten-Traumatic Memory, PTSD and Childhood Sexual Abuse” collage by Sally Edelstein

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.

Please Join me for the RECEPTION Thursday March 14, 2019, 5-7pm

NAWA Gallery

315 West 39th Street, New Tork, N.Y. 10018

EXHIBITION DATES: March 6-27, 2019

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4 comments

  1. Sally, I am going to try to make the reception. If I do, I will be easy to spot because I am in a wheelchair and have to use an app on my iPhone or iPad to speak. Meanwhile, I have a question: before ALS struck me down, I did mixed media/collage and took classes at Parsons. Unless I hired someone to clean up after me, I had to stop making art manually and am trying to learn digital art and collage. Do you do your collages with ephemera on canvas or do you do them digitally?/ . Do you know of a site where I can learn digital collage? I have found digital scrapbooking tutorials and I guess the end product could be a collage using the same principals, but I wanted to pick your brain if I may. Thanks. I hate that I gave up my art 15 years ago; part of it was depression taking hold of me when I became disabled.

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    • I would be so pleased if you could make it to the opening Fern and would be happy to speak with you about collage.
      I can only imagine the challenges you have had to face and learn to adapt to so many different things.
      I do not create my collages digitally. They are all hand cut, hand pasted etc. Though it has become easier and more common place to create collages through photoshop I have yet to do so as I pride myself on the craft of collage. However it sounds like a perfect fit for you. Are you skilled in photoshop? Perhaps that would be a clas or tutorial I would suggest looking into. I hope you can make it Thursday night and I look forward to meeting you

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      • No, I don’t know Photoshop but thanks for the suggestion. I also prefer to do collage the old-fashioned way using ephemera and “assemblage”. I am trying to get someone to accompany me Thursday so there is still hope.

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  2. That would be great if you could come to the show, Fern and I look forward to meeting you if you can make it.

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