*Trigger Warning for SA*

Today, I was working at a different office than usual for my internship. I had a conference call in the afternoon, and the person who usually uses that office had a meeting. I was waiting for my conference call to begin when I saw a news story online about a man who had planned to kidnap children, keep them in a basement torture chamber/dungeon, sexually abuse them, and then kill them and eat them. The story also said that this man’s computer contained many images of these types of things being done to children. It sickened me. I then looked across the room and saw “The Courage to Heal” on a bookshelf.

I have wanted to read “The Courage to Heal” for quite some time, as it is one of the more controversial books in the field of psychology. The main reason it is so divisive is that it clearly supports the idea that memories can be repressed and later recovered, and it uses very broad language that some say could lead people who hadn’t been abused to believe that they were. The basic idea put forth by the authors is that even if you don’t directly remember any abuse, if you feel you may have been abused and your life shows signs that you may have been, then you were. 

Many argue that memories cannot be repressed and that it is very easy to insert false memories in someone’s mind. Studies have been done in which people are made to believe things happened to them that truly did not. The point is supposed to be that therapists and books such as “The Courage to Heal” can influence people to think they had been abused when they actually had not. In addition, many of the “memory work” done in the 1980s when this became a big phenomenon turned out to actually do more harm than good (and that remains my opinion even though other opinions of mine on this subject have changed).

I have to make a confession here: I used to not believe in repressed/recovered memories. I was very suspicious of memories coming out of nowhere after being in therapy or reading a book. We learned about the recovered memory controversy in one of my undergraduate psychology classes, and my professor did a great job of remaining neutral and just presenting both sides to us. He left us to draw our own conclusions, and draw them we did.

I decided, in the infinite wisdom of the 20-year-old undergraduate, that everyone who claimed to have recovered memories had made them up for attention or some other secondary gain. In addition, there was no such thing as Satanic Ritual Abuse (I now believe that abusive cults/rings exist in great numbers, but I do believe to call it “Satanic” is a misnomer because the actual religion of mainstream Satanism does not condone sexual abuse).

It is almost amusing to look back on my beliefs now. They were so clearly a defense against what I knew deep down to be true. I was probably at a point where things were about to be revealed to me, and this wonderful way to avoid facing my past plopped right into my lap. My adamant refusal to believe in the validity of recovered memories allowed me to shield myself from knowledge that was going to hurt tremendously. 

It is easy to dismiss all recovered memories as fiction when you have never had one yourself. It is hard to recover your own memories when you are so staunchly opposed to believing they could have happened.

Which brings me back to the news story. This man had photographs of people doing these sick things to children. This is clear evidence that these things actually happen. He was planning to do them. For me to have dismissed the existence of groups performing ritualized sexual abuse was ignorant at best, and possibly very damaging. How many people (friends, clients, etc.) wanted to tell someone about what happened to them but did not feel comfortable having that person be me because they knew I wouldn’t believe them? How many people did I cause to further question what happened to them (because those of us who have remembered the abuse years after the fact are always questioning ourselves) when I was spouting off my ignorant thoughts in class? It’s difficult to think about.

As I started actually working with people in the social services field, my willingness to entertain experiences and thoughts that differed from my own increased tremendously. I went from being a staunch opponent of the idea that people could repress and recover true memories to acknowledging that people could forget horrible things, and then to accepting that people could recover these memories later in life. And then, lo and behold, I began to have a slight feeling that something was very wrong. 

I still do not have any clear memories of the sexual abuse that I now know I survived. What I do have are frequent spells of dissociation (which I now realize I have done for most of my life), the inability to have anyone touch my back without warning, a depressingly low sex drive (with no physical reason), a history of depression dating back as far as I can remember, a brother who asked if I thought he had been sexually abused before I had ever had an inkling of my own abuse, a mother who has asked if I was abused, many blanks in my memory of my childhood, a room whose wallpaper and metal bed I cannot get out of my head, a panic attack if there is a tongue in my mouth, an almost pathological inability to rely on anyone but myself, a vague uneasy feeling after sex that makes me curl up in a ball and go to sleep for hours no matter what time it is, and vaginismus. Put the pieces together.

I am at the point where I think I am ready to know more about what happened to me. I want to know. There is something to be said for accepting that things happened and healing from them without knowing every little detail, but I just don’t see how that is possible for me. I almost feel *entitled* to my memories. It’s like, if something this bad had to happen to me, then don’t I deserve to know about it? I know that not knowing was my brain’s way of protecting me, but I don’t think I need protection anymore.

Has anyone else felt this way? Any suggestions or other thoughts?

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