Sometimes people ask me, “How did you know that there was something you forgot?” On a conscious level, I didn’t. But something seemed wrong. I was so anxious and so sick, and no doctor could determine the cause. I also found that there were huge gaps in my childhood memories. I used to tell people in my family that I didn’t remember my childhood. I specifically told my father that I had no memories of ever living with him. He just shrugged it off, changing the subject very quickly. Now I understand why.
My first memory came in November of 2009. It was a rape by a friend of my father. I was 9 years old. Over time, I was able to remember everything about it. I remembered the house where I was staying that night. I remembered his wife trying to calm me down afterward. I remembered being picked up by my parents later that night. I remembered attempting to tell my mother, and how horrible I felt when she didn’t help me. I remembered the severe pain of a urinary tract infection, and I remembered being taken to the doctor by a friend’s mother. I remembered that the doctor called the police. What I don’t remember is how my parents’ squirmed their way out of that one. I was probably not present for that discussion.
That first memory didn’t make a lot of sense to me. I had so many questions. Why was I at this neighbor’s house? Why did he do this to me? Why did my mother refuse to help me? Why didn’t my parents try to prosecute this guy for what he did to me? Since then, I have had hundreds of memories. The first memories just added to the confusion. Was I the most unlucky girl on the face of the earth? How could I have been randomly raped by so many people? I kept coming back to the same devastating belief system: that somehow this was my fault.
But after a period of time, the memories started to fill in the puzzle pieces, and answer the questions about how my past fit together. I now understand that my father and his friends used to trade their children under the guise of a babysitting cooperative. This is why I always seemed to be sleeping in random unfamiliar houses when I was raped. Sometimes, I was sold to pay for services like babysitting or swim lessons. Sometimes, I was sold to random groups of men as party entertainment, so that my father could make extra money.
The memories don’t come in chronological order or anything that seems logical at first. The memories seem to come in thematic groups that are triggered by a shift in my own perception. When I was ready to trust myself, I recovered my first memories. When I was confident enough to let go of the perfect family image I had created, I remembered the memories that linked my parents to the rapes. When I started to understand my relationship to money, I retrieved memories that tied these activities to trafficking. Most importantly, when I was ready to stop blaming myself, I recovered the memories showing the perpetrators’ constant attempts to make it my fault. I am not fooling myself. I don’t believe I have recovered every memory. I know there are more to come. But where I used to dread them, I now invite them. I like having the additional information about my past. I particularly like the healing that comes with it.
As I write this post about my own repressed memories, I understand the controversy surrounding them. There are plenty of people that fervently believe they are not real. There is an entire organization devoted to the promotion of “False Memory Syndrome”. Therapists have been blamed and even sued for coercing memories out of clients. I do not understand the mentality of the passionate “False Memory Syndrome” advocates. It reminds me of those who claim we should not believe women when they claim they have been raped because 2% are lying. Why would we withhold justice for thousands of women because 2% are lying?
I understand that it may be scary. If we admit that repressed memories are real, then we have to admit that there may be something we don’t remember. It takes a strong person to admit that there may be something about their own life that they don’t understand. Open-mindedness takes courage. Courage brings healing. And more than anything, we need healing.