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When Healing From Trauma Means Researching Your Own Memories

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Somewhere in the back of my mind is a box of memories. Though they belong to me, the contents are still a mystery. Most of what’s inside was too scary for me to look at for very long, before it was quickly shoved inside. Over time, the unspoken grew bigger, scarier.

• What is PTSD?

EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) therapy helped me pry open that box. Every Monday, for two years I willingly revisited and explored the contents. Twenty-six adverse childhood experiences were catalogued. That was just the beginning.

Lately, I find myself waking up in the middle of the night. Not for the usual reasons. Instead of having a hot flash, I’ve been getting messages from inside the box.

As I become aware of the surroundings in my dark bedroom, I can see the light of the alarm clock and I realize it’s only 4 a.m. I also become aware of a persistent thought that has awakened me and continues to repeat itself. “Nudist Colony” says my inner voice. These two words are almost laughable and synonymous with “hippies” and “free love.” Relics of the past. Different from the modern day adults only nude resorts. These types of places promote the idea of nudism as a family lifestyle.

Since I started writing my blog, I’ve been spending my days doing what I’ve done many times before. Research. This time, I am the subject. Usually, it’s a deceased ancestor. They are not able to provide any additional details. They are dead. Researching myself is proving to be very different  I am actively providing context to the official documents, with my memories and photographs, and now, with my inner voice.

To tell this story right, I have to make sure that I’m speaking the truth, as best as I can. I want us to walk through this process together. I can’t do it alone.

During the traumatic events I experienced during childhood, my brain was trying to protect me. As a result my recollections are like bizarre dreams that don’t really make much sense to me. They’ve always been there. Like old friends. Or enemies?

Over time, I’ve learned to accept these strange acquaintances. They are those “funny” little stories I’ve awkwardly told my family over the years. Without context, I put them back in that box, in the back of my mind.

EMDR, sobriety and writing about my experiences has caused an effect similar to taking a stick and stirring up the bottom of a fish tank. All sorts of random things are starting to come to the surface. So, when the words “nudist colony” come to mind at 4 in the morning, they have a significant meaning to me. There is a very unsettling, yet familiar memory attached to those words.

I remember being very small, with both parents, walking through a nudist colony/camp.

All around me were naked people. Doing all the things that people normally do in the Florida sunshine.

I did not understand what was happening. Why did you have to be naked?! I didn’t like it. I did not want to be naked. I loved my pretty dresses. I had a bathing suit at home, I wanted to go get it.

A man was sitting on the grass playing a guitar, naked!

A group of people, playing volleyball, naked!

In the middle of everything was a pool. A group of ladies were floating in the middle. They were, you guessed it — naked! One of them was my mother. She wanted me to get in the pool. No way! I wanted to leave. I did not like that place.

Was it real? Am I imagining these things? I often have that fear. I second guess myself all the time.

My father was an expert in the art of gaslighting. No, Naome, that didn’t happen. You must be confused.

Are there any nudist camps in the area I was from, at that time, I wonder? Suddenly, I need to know. My curiosity is at its peak now.
I stride into the kitchen and go through the motions of making coffee, as my mind obsessively tries to piece together the details. According to court records, my parents separated December 29, 1970.

Address; Dixie Highway, West Palm Beach.

On the back of this photograph of me, it says 1970. I am 4 years old.

Could it have been the Summer of 1970?

Coffee in hand I turn on my computer and type in “nudist colony, West Palm Beach ,1970’s” There is only one place; Sunsport Gardens- Family Nudist Resort!

Oh my God, it’s a real place! I’m laughing out loud to nobody now. I feel a little nuts, yet vindicated.

Sunsport Gardens has been open since 1965. Of course they had to close temporarily due to COVID-19. They have since reopened. Mask required for entry. Nudity is expected! So, a mask, without pants, is mandatory, as of this writing, according to the website.

As I scroll through the pics, my eyes pop open — there it is! The swimming pool. Exactly as I remember it. It was real. I was there. Holy shit.

It is such a strange feeling to finally see proof of something I’ve wondered about for so long. I have a few memories from the short five years my parents were together. Some are somewhat pleasant, like the time I was on the television show, “Romper Room.”

I’ve seen a photograph of that day in my mother’s photo album. I look so cute holding up my bee puppet. My memory of that day? I was stubborn, didn’t listen and interrupted the teacher to tell her, “I gotta gotta go pee-pee,” on live television.

Other recollections are more shadowy and sinister. Some have no words. Only terror.

My new ally is my healing mind. It is getting stronger every day, supporting me, like a long lost friend. Each morning, offering up new clues for me to follow, to find more healing. To keep going. To speak my truth.

It is not easy work. I’ve spent a lot less time sleeping and a lot more time crying. I try to take it easy. To be gentle with myself. Maybe take a day off.

I’ve matched my research fervor with equal parts yoga, talking with other survivors, naps and Epsom salt baths. I’ve got to take care of myself, I’m in this for the long-haul.

I started to tell my story of self-discovery and healing, with the hope that it might help someone out there, and then maybe, they’d share their story too. Not just the good parts, but the ugly and the dark. You have reached out to me and shared your traumatic experiences. I know that’s not easy. Thank you for sharing. I believe there is healing power, not only in our stories, but in our collective voices. Safety in numbers. I now know, without a doubt,

I am not alone. That means everything to me at this very moment.
By facing and sharing my own pain, I have finally found my purpose, and my people.

Follow this journey on Tracing Trauma.

Originally published: December 31, 2020
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