How many surgical procedures have you had that you don’t remember? I’m not asking if you don’t remember the surgery itself, I’m asking if you don’t remember the fact that you had a surgery at all. I was sitting with my best friend last week and our discussion lead to her reminding me about a surgical procedure that I had about ten years ago. I had a surgery when I was 41 years old THAT I DO NOT REMEMBER. Nothing. I don’t remember who, where, when or why! I put the worry in the back of my brain with the plan to discuss with my therapist.
I know I have buried childhood memories – I barely remember anything from childhood. And some of what I remember never actually happened. But, to forget something so thoroughly that happened as an adult?
After my discussion with my therapist, here is what I’m understanding: in my mind I have a vault and it’s surrounded by soldiers. Events that were too painful for me to handle as a child went into that vault, never to return. That makes sense, right? Now, even as an adult, if an event happens that forces a memory in my vault to rattle or attempt to escape, my little soldiers just scoop up the new event and throw it in the vault too. For some reason, this particular procedure triggered an old event and my body went into protective mode.
Okay, that’s all making sense. Now I have to struggle with wondering what else is in that vault? Do I need to open it or keep it closed? Nothing in my life at this point should be put into a vault – I experience no trauma, I have lots of support and strategies to deal my struggles and history. But, how can I stop that? The soldiers don’t ask for my permission. I don’t even know it happens until someone mentions an event I no longer remember.
In the book Healing the Fragmented Selves of Trauma Survivors, it’s explained like this: “This research thus confirmed another characteristic of traumatic memory: even if it could not be deliberately retrieved and verbalized, it could be activated by triggers (i.e., stimuli in some direct or indirect way connected to traumatic events), even decades after the events were over.”
It’s funny, isn’t it, that when I see it in writing, I feel normal? Not necessarily emotionally healthy - but rather, I can’t be so odd since there is an entire book about me (or people who struggle like me).
I need to find the right way – with therapist help – to thank the soldiers, honor their importance in keeping me alive AND tell them they can stand down now.
A quick side note about Healing the Fragmented Selves – it’s been very helpful not only to me but to my husband in understanding how and why I operate the way I do. If you work with, or live with anyone who has suffered trauma, I highly recommend this book for you all.
Healing the Fragmented Selves of Trauma Survivors by Janina Fisher.
I also recommend The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk, MD.
In April 2012 I had a mental breakdown. The real thing. I have about 36 hours that I don’t remember....