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How I Started to Remember the Childhood Trauma I Didn’t Know Had Happened

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Editor's Note

If you’ve experienced domestic violence, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Domestic Violence Hotline online by selecting “chat now” or calling 1-800-799-7233.

“Where are you going? We need to talk about how things went today.”

It was odd that the nanny was already leaving when Barbara arrived home a few hours early from work one beautiful summer afternoon in 1989. The nanny brushed her off, said everything was fine and she would be back the next day. Finding this particularly unusual, she ran into the house quickly to check on her girls. Her oldest daughter, Paula, ran to her mother with fear in her eyes. Paula was almost 3 years old now but she was already wise beyond her years.

• What is PTSD?

“Sarah fell asleep,” Paula cried with distress. “Mommy will get hurt if I tell.”

After reassuring Paula that everyone was safe, Barbara pressed for more information.

“Mickey went wham on her head.”

It was still unclear to Barbara what exactly happened, but something sinister had clearly taken place. Sarah wasn’t even 2 years old at the time, so she couldn’t provide any insight into what had happened to her. Barbara called the police immediately and a full investigation was soon underway. Child psychology experts and law enforcement officials used special interrogation techniques with Paula to help piece together the details. Based on her account, it was clear that the nanny had hit Sarah on the head at least once with the metal Mickey Mouse sprinkler, making her unconscious for an unknown period of time on the floor of the family’s garage. Unfortunately, due to her age, Paula’s testimony was considered “unreliable” and therefore no charges were filed against the nanny. The nanny tried to kill a child but there wasn’t enough proof. Paula’s word wasn’t enough. The nanny walked away with a slap on the wrist and no criminal charges were filed.

If you haven’t put it together yet, the baby was me. I was about 12 years old when I actually started to somehow remember. It began as a recurring nightmare. I don’t even know exactly when I began having it, but it occurred regularly and it never changed. Little did I know I was replaying a trauma from my childhood in my dreams every night for years.

In my dream, there was a baby lying in the middle of the yard unconscious. She was motionless next to a metal sprinkler in the shape of Mickey Mouse that I recognized from when I was little. I found it strange that I recognized the sprinkler but I didn’t recognize the baby. I just watched her from a few feet away hoping she would wake up but she never did. I felt overwhelming sadness and worry for this child that I didn’t even know. But it turns out I did know her – she was me.

After some time, I finally decided to tell my mom about this recurring dream. When I told her about the sprinkler and the baby, she turned pale white. She thought she had been protecting me by never telling me about the incident. She couldn’t believe that I was dreaming about something that happened when I was so young. How could I possibly remember?

In recent years, we have learned that children are much more reliable witnesses than previously thought and do have the ability to provide accurate and meaningful information to investigators in criminal cases. However, it is still debated whether or not children under the age of three can reliably remember and recount experiences. Although research on early childhood trauma and recovered memories has come a long way since the 1980s, we still have much to learn.

Nowadays, I suspect my case would have been handled much differently.

Image via contributor.

Originally published: July 2, 2019
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