Memory Substitution

Bamboo

New Here
I'm really only just starting to get to the point where I'm dealing with unwanted memories and getting a better understanding of my trauma.

I suppose it's a good indicator of how early on i actually am in the healing process when I realize I typed the "tr" part of that word up there and my fingers stopped typing. Just stopped on their own. Took me 30 seconds to make myself start again. I honestly didn't want to type it. Still prefer to call it "the thing". I tell myself, "It's just a word for God's sake. Don't be dramatic." Just a word and yet..... I truly struggled to type the full word. It's both fascinating and depressing to me that something like that can be so difficult. But it's almost as if typing it makes it more real. Gives it air that I know I need to, but don't want to give it. But I'm going to add it to the list of things that I'm trying to use to convince myself to stop the whole denial thing. If it wasn't real, why would what just happened, happen right?
Apologies.....sidetracked already as frequently happens with me.

So my question is about "memory substitution". My biggest battle with myself is how i blocked so much out of my memory. How there are things that I remembered but many many other things that I didn't. I'm not certain how to type this out really so i apologize in advance if it makes little sense or is a bit "rambly". I get that way.

At one point, shortly after the reality of "the thing" came to light in therapy, I had said to T that the story I had in my head, the one that I told to the one person that I even discussed that situation from my past with, was a very shortened, general and different situation/story. And once the story was told, in a very unemotional way I might add, I didn't talk about it again. The odd thing is......while it was almost 40 years ago, I'm certain that I was very general about it intentionally. So somewhere deep down I had to have known there was more to it right? It's a difficult loop in my head. Either way, THAT became my story. I had told my T that I didn't understand WHY that was the story I told. I mean, while the story was KIND OF true I guess, and I'm now quite aware of what the reality of it really was.......I couldn't get thru in my own head how I got to the story that I used. I mean, if i remembered it as what I told in my story, WHY wouldn't I remember the really bad part of it? My T has talked to me about the whole "amygdala based reactions" and the lack of memories being stored correctly ect. and all that. I've read "The Body Keeps The Score", ect. But I have just REALLY struggled with the lack of true memories up until now. Even though I've read about it. Even though I read countless post on here that are similar.....that battle in my head about not accepting it as real because there's just too many things i don't remember. The whole remembering that there was something that happened, but not having a conscious memory of it being very different than the story that i used, and how bad the thing that happened really was.....I just can't seem to make that leap yet. To accept it.

He recently told me that as I begin to stop fighting the denial so much and start allowing myself and my inner child to feel the emotions that I've locked away and forced down for so many decades, the coping mechanisms and energy I've unconsciously used to keep that vault locked won't be necessary anymore. That got me thinking and I was randomly looking up things about how that affects someone: using all of this energy to keep a lock on something you don't even realize you are keeping locked up. And I came across an article that stated there are instances where people don't just block the bad memory, but they actually create a "substitute memory" in it's place. Something that is similar but just way less traumatic to keep as a stored memory. And I wondered......is that what I did? Does that explain why I the story I've told felt real but it was only an unemotional tidbit of the actual truth. The truth for me in my head, but not really the truth. My God I hope this makes sense. I always seem to have a difficult time putting what's in my head into words that make sense.

I guess this is a very very long version of a simple question: Is this a thing that is well known? Can anyone share a similar experience? I guess my hope is that the more I read others say say "Yep, I also did that exact same thing" , the easier and easier the full acceptance of this will happen for me.
 

Renly

MyPTSD Pro
I suppose I can share something similar. I was abused as a teen by my boyfriend for 6 years. Without getting too much into the details, the sexual abuse was severe and he ended up exploiting me in the sex industry (where I was stuck for a few years even after I left him) which added to my traumas. Until I had a major breakdown about 2 years ago and got into therapy, my narrative of my time with my boyfriend was something like:

“My first boyfriend was abusive. We dated for 6 years. I eventually got a restraining order.”

And that was seriously it…that is the story I told others and the story that I believed about myself. No other relevant details even came to mind.

I had repressed most of the abuse memories which have been resurfacing throughout my therapy journey. My brain took the abuse memories and tucked them so far away from my awareness…until my brain just couldn’t contain them anymore.

The narrative of the abuse I endured with my boyfriend has grown significantly throughout therapy and trauma processing. And sometimes I sit and scratch my head and wonder how is it possible that I couldn’t remember what happened to me when it was happening (or for a decade after even)…or why I didn’t get away from him for all those years when he was doing those terrible unspeakable things to me. How is it even possible that my brain hid all this from me?!

Anyways, I am learning that our brains will do amazing things to protect us from the overwhelm that comes when we are being traumatized.

Take any of this that helps or resonates with you, and leave the rest.

Sending support your way!
 

Bamboo

New Here
And that was seriously it…that is the story I told others and the story that I believed about myself. No other relevant details even came to mind.

I had repressed most of the abuse memories which have been resurfacing throughout my therapy journey. My brain took the abuse memories and tucked them so far away from my awareness…until my brain just couldn’t contain them anymore.

Yes, this us exactly what I meant. Thank you so much for responding with this. I sometimes think it would be easier to believe my fractured memories is they had ALL been gone. But because there something there ....even if it was a much much more "acceptable/comfortable" version....I have really struggled with understanding why I didn't remember the full horrible version. It helps to know someone understands what I mean and has experienced it as well so thank so much for that Renly.

How is it even possible that my brain hid all this from me?!
This continues to be my biggest hurdle so far.
 
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arfie

MyPTSD Pro
good luck finding the exact story. humanity is endlessly creative, especially when it comes to repression and denial, but i find more than enough similarities in my peer support network to help get past that freak-a-zoid feeling. it truly does help to know i am not alone with ^it^. to the best of my knowledge, this little psycho tick is not well known outside of psychobabble circles, but the practice is common throughout human civilization. ask any 40 year old or older young-at-heart disciple. yes, dear, that dye job makes you look 10 years younger.

my mother gave me a superb example on why NOT to use the substitute memory approach to dealing with trauma. tv was her world (and the morbid obesity to compliment the approach. i had serious doubt that she could accurately remember her real name by the time i was in high school.

i was more fond of the "forgive and forget" approach. i reached my 18th birthday with full trauma induced amnesia. i could recite stories of my childhood without actually remembering, much less feeling the pain. as my healing progressed and i began to remember and feel, i quickly discovered i hadn't forgiven a single bit of ^it^, not even my own transgressions. who needs to forgive what we can convince ourselves we have forgotten? don't you dare notice the heavily armed guards on the ramparts of the fort where i stored those unloved memories.

i, too, have discovered much better use for the time, focus and energy that i once invested in keeping those memories blocked. it is quite liberating. an ugly truth is far simpler to manage than a pretty lie.
 

coraxxx

Policy Enforcement
I call that the seamless tightening. I spent years and years storing grievances and remembering things to myself that I found out were manufactions of something not only incomplete, but actually entirely missing. It's as if there was a giant amnesiac hole but all I could, and still can do, is to look around it in the details and counting the flowers while not realising I'm sleepwalking next to a cliff. The whole is big but somehow in my memory I couldn't see the seam before being faced with material evidence. The evidence in itself hasn't anything bad on it, but it just did blast my timeline to flames.

I still do not know what the heck has happened. All I have are suspicions and bits of things that are really awful.

I filled it with nonsense and placeholders. Not alternative facts. More like diverted truths. Placeholder beliefs. And I insist on the word belief because it's something you believe without having proof, somehow. It just is, and you don't notice how weird it is until something points at it. Then it doesn't seem as seamless anymore. Then the gap is giant. Then the gap really bleeds, but it doesn't mean its contents are unlocked.

I still don't know. I just thought I was complete, by many aspects I have an extraordinary memory that is almost photographical; but even good memory can be rewritten, and avoidance of thoughts and dissociation can make you walk just past it for decades without noticing it.
 

prynne

MyPTSD Pro
I have had similar experiences. For years, I believed that my childhood was completely normal and safe. Nothing bad going on here! But I was severely depressed and suicidal by 13 years old, for seemingly no reason. I would have daily "panic attacks" where I believed that a man was coming to get me, had complete control over me, and was physically and sexually abusing me. No memories of trauma. No family history of mental illness. It just didn't make any sense. I was held in a psych ward for months at 13 y/o bc my psychiatrist did not believe me when I said I wasn't being abused and had never been abused. I thought it was the truth.

I started to look closer at my past with therapists and things started to fall apart. Turns out I didn't have many memories at all of my childhood and the memories I did have ended abruptly and had massive gaps. I started to remember the sleepless nights of banging my head against my metal bed frame, telling myself to forget, forget, don't think about it! I was successful at forgetting, for the most part. Things came back when I started to ask questions and had proper therapeutic support.

For years, I remembered the worst night of my life as just a normal sleepover. I went over there, had some popcorn, and watched a movie. Then I went home. My brain had deleted the horrific sexual abuse in the middle, but it kept showing me the edited version of the memory almost daily. Three years ago, I would have told you that the shortened version is all that happened that night. It's all I remembered, although I couldn't escape the feeling that there was something horrible lurking that I couldn't see. I kept myself distracted 24/7 to avoid ever thinking about it.
 

Bamboo

New Here
i, too, have discovered much better use for the time, focus and energy that i once invested in keeping those memories blocked. it is quite liberating. an ugly truth is far simpler to manage than a pretty lie.
I'm truly hoping so Arfie. My T's comments were something along the lines of " The mental energy you use to maintain the locking mechanism on your vault with reduce to normal RPMs instead of constantly being in the red" for whatever reason.... That really connected with me... Which is a good thing I suppose because it gives me a little bit of hope.

I have had similar experiences. For years, I believed that my childhood was completely normal and safe. Nothing bad going on here! But I was severely depressed and suicidal by 13 years old, for seemingly no reason. I would have daily "panic attacks" where I believed that a man was coming to get me, had complete control over me, and was physically and sexually abusing me. No memories of trauma. No family history of mental illness. It just didn't make any sense. I was held in a psych ward for months at 13 y/o bc my psychiatrist did not believe me when I said I wasn't being abused and had never been abused. I thought it was the truth.

I started to look closer at my past with therapists and things started to fall apart. Turns out I didn't have many memories at all of my childhood and the memories I did have ended abruptly and had massive gaps. I started to remember the sleepless nights of banging my head against my metal bed frame, telling myself to forget, forget, don't think about it! I was successful at forgetting, for the most part. Things came back when I started to ask questions and had proper therapeutic support.

For years, I remembered the worst night of my life as just a normal sleepover. I went over there, had some popcorn, and watched a movie. Then I went home. My brain had deleted the horrific sexual abuse in the middle, but it kept showing me the edited version of the memory almost daily. Three years ago, I would have told you that the shortened version is all that happened that night. It's all I remembered, although I couldn't escape the feeling that there was something horrible lurking that I couldn't see. I kept myself distracted 24/7 to avoid ever thinking about it.
Thank you for this. I'm so sorry. 😔. But I appreciate so very much you all sharing so I know that my "grasping of straws " to make sense of this isn't overly far fetched. I can't begin to tell you how reading these shared comments from all of you have helped me start to deal with things I never thought I could deal with
 

arfie

MyPTSD Pro
I'm truly hoping so Arfie. My T's comments were something along the lines of " The mental energy you use to maintain the locking mechanism on your vault with reduce to normal RPMs instead of constantly being in the red" for whatever reason.... That really connected with me...

by whatever analogy, the math isn't difficult. less resource for use "a" leaves more resource for use "b".
healing happens, bamboo. i hope it happens to you.
 

StillPen

MyPTSD Pro
Yes, so many times yes! I have filled in gaps of memory with fantasy versions of semi-truths...As more info surfaces and I put jagged pics, flashbacks, body memories, etc together, my semi-truths I've told myself just becomes more and more illogical. I was raped at nearly 17. For many years I knew it happened, but kind of forgot about it at the same time, especially the details. Then for many years I called it 'date rape' (because I knew my rapist) nonchalantly to those I chose to tell about it. That is the story I truly believed for a long time. Then, one day, a voice inside my head said, "you can't keep calling it date rape, he never asked you out". It rocked my foundation. From that day forward I called it what it was.

So, my brain made up that story AND then my brain shattered that story. Weirdest experience ever. I could go on with traumas before and after where there were common occurrences, but I think from reading all this, you see it is part of the survival journey. It is what our brains do to us and for us to keep us present and moving forward instead of the alternative of facing exactly what happened when it happens, which would fry our circuitry and leave us mumbling to ourselves in the corner of the produce isle at the grocery store at 2am... the hard part is that once the truth does surface, we are left with a swiss cheese memory and a crap ton of emotions and distorted beliefs to work through it all.

A cunning, powerful, and baffling thing...our brain
 

Bamboo

New Here
For years, I remembered the worst night of my life as just a normal sleepover. I went over there, had some popcorn, and watched a movie. Then I went home. My brain had deleted the horrific sexual abuse in the middle, but it kept showing me the edited version of the memory almost daily. Three years ago, I would have told you that the shortened version is all that happened that night. It's all I remembered, although I couldn't escape the feeling that there was something horrible lurking that I couldn't see. I kept myself distracted 24/7 to avoid ever thinking about it.
Prynne, this fits so well for me. Though I never thought about the "story", a (self?) edited version is what it was on the rare occasion that the general subject came up. The much edited version was it. Just that, nothing more. My mind had nothing else in it but that short, emotionless version. Which in hindsight was strange enough because I'm emotional about EVERYTHING. But never when I shared that story. Andy while the true story was literally wiped from my conscious mind, it was obviously in there somewhere because like you, I too spent a majority of my life keeping myself incredibly busy and distracted 24/7. Never a still moment. Never sitting down to just rest. I am not known for relaxing in any sense of the word. I'd get out of bed running and go back to it running at night. It was only thru therapy that so much of this started coming forward. When I had no choice but to "relax" during EMDR sessions. So I never felt anything was lurking underneath. I suppose I never really gave myself time or a calm mental state to even allow that feeling to surface.

T could see it coming over the weeks. I had no idea. I just know that over time, as my therapy progressed, there was something coming up inside me. I kept going into sessions announcing that I didn't know what it was but there was something inside that I didn't like. I felt "icky". I've never been able to correctly label my feelings. Not sure why. And this was no different. But when he'd ask me, I could only come up with that one word that fit what I was feeling inside. "Icky" I'd say, "I don't know what I feel, or what the hell is wrong, but I just know it feels icky". I felt like a 5 year old using that word, but it was definitely the word that came to mind.
For weeks we'd talk and feelings would start coming to the surface. And for weeks I'd then go home and tamp it all back down deep where it belonged. 😉 I've been and honestly continue to be my own worst enemy to the healing process.
 
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