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Messy Memory And My Constant Doubt

Discussion in 'Flashbacks & Dissociation' started by Leah123, Jun 4, 2013.

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  1. Leah123

    Leah123 This is Quan Yin, goddess of compassion.

    Early on in my latest round of therapy, my therapist said to me, "my, you really doubt everything you do, don't you." Well, in a way, that's true. I am decisive in work, school, and otherwise managing my life, and do well. But with raising my daughter, and dealing with my past I am plagued with doubt. It's been a long time since I dealt with the trauma of my childhood, which for a while I thought I was "over" until I had some parenting problems, finally got into therapy again (after a 15+ year gap), and now sometimes feel a little more like a collection of symptoms than a person.

    The symptom that pains me the most, though, is my doubt. Sometimes I doubt my memories of Abuse. They manifest as intrusive thoughts and somatic memories mostly, and I used to have nightmares more. They scare me near to death, and I've spent a fair amount of energy avoiding them, and avoiding the things that make me think of the unpleasant parts of my childhood, for quite a while. Of course, I also have PTSD, avoidance, outbursts, sleep issues, etc. etc.

    I wonder, how many of you ever doubt your stories? When I used to attend survivor groups, sometimes, I heard narratives of extreme abuse, satanic ritual abuse and such, and as much as I respected and liked some of the speakers, I had such a hard time believing what they said could have possibly happen. I fear to offend anyone by saying that, I'm just trying to come to terms with my own doubts about the whole issue of repressed memories. When I reported my abuse, as a teenager, several years after the fact, I basically lost my family and my mother told me I had False Memory Syndrome. That and some other factors, I think, make it a lot easier for me to doubt myself and to worry that I'm confused, that I'm exaggerating, or seeing awful flashes that are just something I've got stuck in my head instead of memories.

    I have studied memory a little, and repression, and read a fair amount about PTSD and the way our brains process traumatic events. My memories fit those explanations very well but I have a terribly hard time taking what I know to heart. My therapist says it's a defense, my doubt, my denial, but... I'm at the point in my life where what I want more than anything is clarity. My flashes have started getting worse, a little more intrusive, I'm sure it's because I've been talking about the past and them in therapy, but it's really uncomfortable.

    I think part of my problem is that I expect too much from memory in the first place, that it all be as clear, complete and vivid as the present moment, and partly that the more overwhelmed I get thinking about it, the more my brain pushes back for me to be gentle, but I'm kind of relentless. Maybe I just need a vacation to 'normal.' Ha.

    Anyone else have perspective on this?
    Lost Pup and Abstract like this.
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  3. Lost Pup

    Lost Pup Active Member

    It took me a long time, for good reason, to come to peace with the way my memory worked and works. Beginning when I was extremely young, I was very dissociative and my memories, while never repressed, were fragmentary and incomplete and generally unlike my memories of non-traumatic events.

    I never really doubted my own experiences. I was lucky that I had some direct evidence. But I felt as though I could never fully claim my own identity if a part of me was still out there floating in an untethered, dissociative world. Maybe that's too abstract but basically I felt as though I could not be whole unless I was able to tame the traumatic memories and I naively thought the way to do so was to simply recall them more precisely.

    Early in my healing, I so desperately wanted to somehow pull them over into another part of my brain where they would be more clear and more narrative. I really tried to make that happen but it never worked and, instead, prolonged my suffering unnecessarily.

    During that time, I spent a lot of time in therapy talking about what had happened. My symptoms would get much worse - more avoidance, numbing, intrusive thoughts. I often felt I was getting closer to something but, in retrospect I was simply abusing myself.

    Eventually, I left the therapist I was working with and found another with a very different approach. And that made all the difference.

    I don't really care anymore about trying to change the quality of my memories. I care about being healthy and well enough in the here and now to love and be loved and make the life I want for myself. I still get flashbacks sometimes and nightmares occasionally. And, as I was about six weeks ago, bringing me here, I do remain vulnerable to getting fully triggered under extreme circumstances.

    But I did not get back many clearer memories. I guess I've come to accept that I was a very little kid who was doing the best he could to stay alive and find a way out of a dangerous situation. My way was to dissociate and, while it has left me with less clarity than I would sometimes like, I feel I have to honor that. Trying to do anything else makes me feel like I am beating up on that little boy, asking him to do something he can't handle.

    That is, I suppose, how I seem to have made peace with some very similar feelings.
    zaniara, Fully Empty, maddog and 3 others like this.
  4. Leah123

    Leah123 This is Quan Yin, goddess of compassion.

    Thank you for replying. Yes, I remember dissociation and numbness much better than some of the other things, actually, from my elementary years. And I have been working on a narrative of my life, it's been very helpful, but hasn't touched on those specific incidents that I doubt most. Part of it is that I had a ton of upheaval, early on, and was subjected to tremendous, painful doubt and consequences when I reported in my teenage years. I think it's all tied together, and I do feel like I'm making it worse for myself with my relentlessness. Something I always struggle with... my pitbull-like tendency to lock on to something and not let go.

    This has been some of my favorite work in therapy... telling my story and feeling the emotional impact of it, reclaiming it from the times I told it in my youth from such a defended, far away place.
    maddog, Lost Pup and Abstract like this.
  5. Mayday

    Mayday Guest

    I really like what you've said here, and hope I can get to that level of acceptance too some day
  6. Lost Pup

    Lost Pup Active Member

    As I was reading your post, I remembered being about 12 yo at the end of elementary school trying to write out everything that had happened each of the past six years. Even so, so young, I was really trying to have control, obsessively, over what I did and did not allow in my consciousness. Remembering that makes me profoundly sad. A 12 yo boy should be playing and exploring and finding his own feet in the world, not trying to structure his mind in such a way he can get through the day.

    I really know what you mean about how the upheaval of reporting caused its own distress and how its linked together. When I confronted my abuser and caused a huge rift in my family, eventually becoming estranged and pathologized by most of them, that trauma was both a re-living of what had happened and a new one of at least equal horror. What a mess and an injustice that, at the moment you go to do the right thing and to get help, you are met with yet more crap. I am so sorry for that.

    Pitbulls are incredible animals, btw, -- they do lock on when they need to but they are also extremely loyal and loving. Maybe there's a way to honor both sides of that part of your nature?
    Leah123, maddog and Abstract like this.
  7. Leah123

    Leah123 This is Quan Yin, goddess of compassion.

    Awww, Lost Pup, I'm so touched by what you've written. Yes,

    this is *EXACTLY* how it was for me, so painful, so unsettling.

    And your insight about the pitbull is very kind, and a much-needed reminder that things have duality, dark sides and light, and are blessing and bane.
    Abstract and Lost Pup like this.
  8. maddog

    maddog I'm a VIP

    Wow, this is a very very powerful thread for me right now. I have always experienced a somewhat confusing mix of painfully vivid memories and complete blanks or black holes from my past. My pattern has always tended to be to remember the beginning and early stages of a traumatic event and then, at some point, to dissociate (as I now know it to be) and to have no memory of how the event ended. I have come to presume that my brain reaches a stress threshold beyond which it can't continue to compute and encode events, and from there I dissociate and nothing is stored.

    I thought I had, at least in part, come to terms with that through the processing of childhood traumas that I have worked on with my T. Currently I am confronting a recent trauma which, once again, I remember in bits and pieces, followed by a huge black hole of emptiness. I have, and still do, continue to torture myself with attempts to remember what I don't remember, because sadly, aspects very critical to the outcome of the event occurred in the time I don't remember, and it has always felt dangerous and terrifying to me to not know what happened. Somehow, in my mind, remembering was the key to understanding and hence to healing, because I have always equated understanding with healing, which I now know to be wrong.

    Suffice to say that all that's been written here is a comfort to me. My therapist and I have talked and read together about traumatic memory and its various aspects and there is a perfectly plausible explanation for why I remember what I do and don't remember what I don't. Allowing myself to be at peace with that explanation is inexplicably hard, but I'm working on it, because otherwise I fear this torture could go on forever.

    Thank you for your wisdom and perspectives.

    zaniara, Kas_Can_Fly, Leah123 and 2 others like this.
  9. Lost Pup

    Lost Pup Active Member

    I'm so glad that was helpful, Leah. Reading all that you wrote here is very helpful to me, too. It is always especially meaningful to me to connect with others who've endured disbelief and those other dark parts of human nature that sometimes arise when people are confronted with sexual abuse.
    Leah123 and Abstract like this.
  10. Kas_Can_Fly

    Kas_Can_Fly A Very Complicated Onion.

    Between denial and extreme dissociation throughout my life I had managed to not repress so that no knowledge existed of the abuse but to somehow compartmentalise it. I didn't accept what happened to another part of me as what happened to me, or that I was crazy, or so that it didn't affect me so greatly that I still had to socialise with my father in a friendly way and act like I loved him even though he repulsed me. To deny those feelings of repulsion, to not accept that they existed. So that after the abuse ended, I would be under his control whilst I thought I was free.

    The very idea of False Memory Syndrome scares the shit out of me - I've finally come to terms with at least, on some basic level, my abuse - and yet I fear this so greatly even if I know that it doesn't apply. It terrifies me that other people might use it against me, more worryingly so - if I were to use it against me I would lose all the progress I've made so far - even if it's only a small step.

    When I first told my Mum about my abuse it was only part of it. I thought there was more but was so vehemently against the idea (and memories) I categorically denied it. I was met with a level of kind support and a huge dose of scepticism - that apparently I was not supposed to have noticed. With my acknowledgement of the rest my abuse and telling my Mum, I've been met with overwhelming acceptance, yet I spend so much time in denial. It's a constant battle with myself

    I know that it happened. Yet I repeatedly find my self arguing internally that it didn't really happen and that I'm going crazy (more of course, than I am in reality). Or that it happened to somebody else. I accept this - in a similar way. I battle with the knowledge that there's more to me internally than most - whether DID or something similar or even entirely different, I just don't know. It's so difficult to understand what's right in front of us at times. It's like the answers are all there but they're written in another language, a language made by myself, they will be understood when the time comes and not a moment before.

    Internal struggle, internal battle, internal War. I just wish the fighting would stop and I'd be blessed with just a little peace.
    Lost Pup and Abstract like this.
  11. Lost Pup

    Lost Pup Active Member

    You may already know this, Kas. But if you don't:

    There is no accepted phenomenon called "False Memory Syndrome." That term was invented by a group of people in the early 1990s whose adult children claimed their parents had sexually abused them when they were younger.

    It is not recognized by any professional organization and is not included in the DSM. The FMSF pushed the concept very hard and it made its way into the mainstream, but it's pretty much bogus, even if some people have wrongly "remembered" sexual abuse that never happened.

    The term FMS is a highly political, extremely specific phrase that carries an extremely specific narrative. In that narrative, therapists and a handful of influential feminist authors were portrayed as a collective of "bad guys" who were driven by economic self-interest to convince their clients they were molested by their parents, tearing families apart in the process.

    If it had not so negatively affected the climate for adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse coming forward, it would be easy to dismiss as the silliness it so clearly represents.
  12. Leah123

    Leah123 This is Quan Yin, goddess of compassion.

    Thank you so much for sharing that incredibly important context. Lost Pup. It's something I've come to terms with in my adulthood, but as a teenager, disclosing to my mother, I was completely blindsided by the concept, and reading the literature she had on it, I did not have enough critical thinking skills at the time to see it for what it was, a biased collection of pseudoscience by individuals with huge stakes in proving their theories. That type of quackery muddies the already tainted waters of the stigma around sexual abuse and traumatic memory encoding, and I for one, deeply regret its existence.
    sun seeker, Abstract and Lost Pup like this.
  13. Lost Pup

    Lost Pup Active Member

    There are so many questionable aspects to the FMSF story that it would be hard to collect them all in one place. Among many other things: Their policy has always been that they don't screen people who come to them for support - they take anyone claiming to be falsely accused at face value. This proves they have little to no interest in ensuring they do not give false cover to actual perpetrators. Also, its a long story in its own right but an early and influential board member named Ralph Underwager was forced to resign after making extremely provocative statements to a Scandinavian pedophile magazine in the early 1990s.

    It is tragic the degree to which they have, as you said, Leah, muddied the already tainted waters. And it is especially sad given that the social and medical science around traumatic memory encoding has quietly come an extremely long way in the past two decades since they were founded and yet the FMSF nonsense still disproportionately pervades public discourse.

    Ross Cheit, a researcher at Brown University, has a great site that collects verified stories of repressed memories and has done a great job of speaking back to the FMSF: The Recovered Memory Project
    Chincho, Leah123 and maddog like this.
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