I don’t remember the first time I remembered. I can’t recall where I was, or what I was doing. I just know that somewhere along the way I started to have brief flashes. Flashes of feelings that I wasn’t sure were my own. It would start with a sound, or a scent, and it would only last a second.
At some point, I don’t know where or when, the seconds began to string themselves together into moments. Moments of memories, or…were they? Did that really happen? Was it real or was it some sort of sick dream?
Is this some long buried memory trying to rise up because now I am ready to remember? I can feel it in my body. I know it’s in there. But if I’m ready to remember, then why does it flicker and flash too quickly for my mind to grab onto?
This is the nature of post traumatic stress and post traumatic shame. It creeps up on you day by day, bit by bit. Triggered by a word, a place, a sensation. It floods your body for a moment at a time until finally, you remember. And once you remember you will begin to grieve the time of not remembering. You will wish that you could forget again, and return to the time of not knowing. But once those strings of memory connect and present themselves as fully formed events, once they are awoken, you cannot forget. The time of repression and denial is over.
You may want to move through and work through these memories, and believe me, it takes work, but at the same time, you will be grieving and wishing for that simpler time of not knowing. And like all grief, it will come upon you in waves, and recede only temporarily. And you will move through the stages, in no particular order. You will question the truth. Your old denial will morph into self doubt. Over and over again you will not trust your own mind to be telling you the truth. As the flickering memories begin to burn steady and bright you will reexperience the trauma, in your body, in your mind, in your heart. You will feel guilt, and shame. You will cry. You will lash out against others, and lash in against yourself. You will wrestle with demons you didn’t know existed inside of your head.
And then one day, you will exhale, and release the shame. You will begin to think clearly about these memories, perhaps write about them, or talk about them. Some people might not believe you. They will question your memory, your experiences, your truth. They may look at you differently, seeing you as strong and brave, or as weak or broken. But no matter what they think, you will become lighter. With each stroke of the pen, click of the keyboard, each breath behind each word, each step forward, you will release the stigma, and you will shed the weight of the world that you were carrying on your previously shame-filled shoulders.
Once you remember the truth, accept the truth, and expose the truth, you will be able to move forward, in your truth. But you’re not done. You might think you’re done. But then with a sound, or a smell or a sensation, you will remember again. You will feel it again. You will grieve the not-remembering time again. You may cry again, lash out in anger again, crawl into a deep dark place again. For a time. For months, or weeks or days. Until those moments of darkness become less and less. Until the sounds, scents and sensations no longer have meaning. Until you come back to your truth again. And then you will take another step forward, in your truth.
This is the work of recovering from trauma. From shame. This is the work that our country, and our world is doing right now. We are working through trauma. With extra time on our hands because of Covid-19, and all of the information in the world at our fingertips, we have begun to uncover things. Day by day. Bit by bit. Flashes on the screen. Moments of clarity, beginning to string together. We are starting to see things more clearly. Learning about things we were never taught in school. Questioning everything.
Did those things really happen? Can this be real? Is it some sort of sick fiction?
Or is this some buried collective memory trying to rise up, now that we are ready to remember? We can feel it in our collective body. We know it’s in there. But if we’re ready to remember, why does it flicker and flash too quickly for our collective hearts and minds to grab onto?
This has happened before. We uncovered the truth, exposed the truth, accepted the truth. We marched forward together, in our truth. They thought we were done. But we weren’t done. Some of us continued the march, but many of us crawled back into our deep dark places. Dulled and lulled by ordinary life. For a time. For weeks, or months, or years. But a light is once again shining into those dark places. The time of repression and denial is over. We are waking up again, and coming out of hiding. We are ready to deal with our misplaced feelings of guilt and shame. We have come back to our truth again. And we will march forward together, again. In our truth.
What a time.