My habit – borne of self preservation no doubt – is to slam a metal shutter down, shut up shop, whenever I sense my mind or emotions edging toward remembering my abuse. It’s only natural I guess. I have become expert at shifting focus, blocking out some things, moving at speed toward others.
Only recently have I accepted that this urge in itself perpetuates damage. It keeps secrets. It tells no one. It suffers in silence.
The difficulty with allowing these memories to surface, to speak them, is that it can feel like I’m giving in. Giving in to the bleak reality that like it or not abuse has etched itself across my life, my day to day living. I’m so angry about this, angry on behalf of my child self who could not get angry: GO AWAY! I want it all to go away.
But try as I might, my triggers – my reminders – cut straight through whatever defences I have raised. And always have done. Regardless of what I want or hope for, they find their way in, just as my abuser did. They are with me daily.
And it turns out that they will never go away. It turns out that healing does not banish memories. Healing means that we learn to speak without risking our lives, without the implosion that silence brings. It’s not a fair trade, these daily reminders. Living with them is hard, and a cruelty. And none of it is our fault.
From my memoir Learning to Survive:
Because of you, it is years until I can bear the sound of one, or the feel of polyester.
There are many things like this: flaky skin, a backrub.
Some types of brown shoes. Checked shirts with white backgrounds. Thin cotton pyjamas. The feel of beards and moustaches. Teeth yellowed by cigarettes. Slightly pudgy fingers.
Sleeping in the dark.
Any soft caress, from anyone.
Any romantic kindness. Any kiss on the lips.
Any sign of desire. Any sigh.
Most of the time now I brace myself; most things surge and fade. Except for the dark: that panic never goes away.