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When Repressed Memories Raise Unanswered Questions

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Editor's Note

If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

There are questions I fear I will never know the answers to.

This fear is gut-wrenching. It shakes me to the core. It causes me to numb myself, to isolate, and to avoid.

I return to these questions week after week, session after session, group after group.

Without the answers to these questions, I don’t know how to feel safe in relationships. I don’t know how to trust. It seems impossible to figure out.

I know what I see. I know what I hear. I know what I feel. I know what I remember. I know what my haircut looks like. I know the room I’m in and the way the furniture is arranged. I know that I trust you. I know that I did whatever you told me to do. I know that you took advantage of me and the power you had over me. I know what you did to me. I know that you hushed me when I said you were hurting me. I know that you acted like my pain wasn’t real….like I wasn’t real…like I was too small to have feelings. I know that you told me it was our secret. I know that it wasn’t just once. I know that I kept your secret until I was 27 years old. For 22 years, I kept your filthy secret. Protecting you. Abandoning myself. I’ve spent the majority of my life trying to escape this reality, and I will spend the rest of my life healing from it.

Any time I begin to feel an ounce of upset throughout the day, these knowings begin to replay over and over in my mind, forcing me to relive things I’d rather move forward from. Sometimes I see them from my own eyes. Sometimes I’m floating, watching from above the room. Witnessing again and again what you’re doing to me. Yet I never see your face, even when you’re on top of me. It’s as if it’s too painful to see who you are. That’s the confusing thing about repressed memories… you can’t always see, but you know, making it impossible to fully detail to another.

I know it’s you. I always have. That’s why I never told. That’s likely the reason I began to dissociate, and why I have repressed memories. Consciously or not, you groomed me well, making me think that what you were doing was OK to keep secret because of your role in my life and the trust I had in you. But no, that was not play. That was not innocent exploration. That was not protection. Despite being groomed, molested and raped, I protected you. It’s hard to wrap my head around. It’s sickening.

This is why I don’t know how to trust. I live in fear of being taken advantage of… of not being heard when I do speak up for myself. The more I let people in, the more susceptible I am to being manipulated and used. You warped my reality so early on making it nearly impossible for me to notice when I’m prey. It’s like I’m unaware of being hunted; I know I have the thing they want, so I submit and give it to them. There is no chase, there is no fight. I don’t see that I have a choice; I don’t know that I have a voice. You took that from me when I was 5.

You made me believe that love was allowing another to use me for their pleasure, to allow someone to do what they want with my body. You made me believe that obedience and submission was loyalty and honor, and that ignoring pain was strength. You made me believe that keeping secrets was more important than bodily autonomy and my personal sense of safety. You made me believe that others’ needs were a priority over my own. You took my innocent mind and made it the perfect place to hide your deceit and shame.

Psychological manipulation terrifies me… the way a brain can be tricked into thinking an act is somehow justified or OK, when it in reality said act is never justified or OK. I don’t want to be the puppet you made me into. I am no person’s play thing.

Why is it that the role someone plays in our life allows such manipulation or abuse to occur? No person should endure abuse of any kind, but how do we begin to ask the questions we need to ask or say the things we need to say to heal, when the person who hurt us is one of the very people we’re told will protect us? Mother, father, sister, brother, cousin, aunt, uncle, grandma, grandpa, sitter, pastor, teacher, coach. These people are supposed to be safe, but so many of us have been hurt in unspeakable ways by people with these titles. In order to honor ourselves, we have to betray them and the idealistic vision others have of them, which is seemingly impossible. Many people don’t find healing until their abuser is dead. Whether it be freedom from the abuse, freedom from the fear, or freedom from the secret, I wish them untethered freedom. I wish them healing.

It took me 22 years to realize that I didn’t have to keep their secret. Despite telling my therapist, my wife, and my mom, I still protect his identity from everyone else. I’m scared of making my family look bad. I’m scared of what people will say and think. I’m scared of the questions, and the answers that I don’t have. I’m scared of being called something that I’m not. I’m scared of how he will react; that he’ll kill himself. I’m scared that people won’t see how much I actually care about reconciliation and healing for myself and my entire family.

In group last week during my time sharing, I said something about the mess I fear I’m creating in my family by sharing my experiences, to which the therapist replied:

You are not creating the mess by sharing. He created the mess by doing.

Thank you wise therapist. Her words brought tears to my eyes. I needed to hear that. The little girl needed to hear that. I am not creating the mess by sharing. He created the mess by doing. What happened to me was not my fault, but it is my responsibility to heal from. It is my responsibility to determine for myself how to move forward without the answers, knowing that he will likely never admit to what he did to me or share his side of the story, knowing that I will never know why he did this to me, knowing that I won’t ever know who opened the door, knowing that my family will likely never acknowledge the abuse I endured or the hole it left in me, and knowing that reconciliation or closure will likely never occur.

How does one begin to talk about the reality of their situation with all of this tangled together in an ugly mass? How does one ask the questions, and say the things they need to say? How do I do this when I don’t have proof of what happened to me, the duration, or who did it, other than the proof within my being that haunts me every day? Fragments of memories, never allowed to see the full picture. How do I heal without all the answers? Without all the gaps filled? Without all participants actively involved in healing? Questions. Never ending questions that I will likely never have the answers to. Keep asking, and keep moving forward I will.

Navigating the waters of undisclosed childhood sexual abuse is quite murky. I wish it didn’t feel so scary and alone. I wish it didn’t feel taboo to talk about. So here I am, using the voice that has been told time and time again to stay silent, to say we may not ever get the answers that we seek, we may not be received in the way we had hoped or intended, we may not get the support we need from everyone in our life, but we can free ourselves from the inner torment. We can and will find healing. No one can take that away from us. Healing is the gift we give ourselves.

With whatever darkness that lurks in the depths of your mind, I wish you grace with yourself. I wish you love and strength from within.

Getty image by Jorm Sangsorn

Originally published: March 3, 2022
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