There are holes in my story.
And the investigative reporter in me desperately wants to know the truth.
I’ve asked all the possible people, plied for information, but I still have some pretty major questions about what happened back then.
Because I have a strong memory, I remember everything from about four years old on. I even have some very early memories around two years old. But there is a gap in my memory from 2-4. You could argue most people don’t have memories at those ages, so why am I thinking there’s more to my story? Because in asking for details, I’ve uncovered some pretty glaring inconsistencies (hence, the investigative reporter in me).
Often times, children who experience trauma will lose the memory. And that empty period of time is not always recovered. Perhaps that’s what happened to me. Or maybe there’s nothing to uncover, and the questions will have to remain unanswered.
So what do you do when you cannot uncover an important part of your story? How do you go on? Here are five ways I’ve learned in coping with it.
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One. Keep investigating.
If something niggles you and it doesn’t seem quite right, keep at it. Ask more and more people connected to you. But be forewarned. Most people don’t want to talk about the past. Once when one relative was just about to tell me something, the person backpedaled quickly, started crying, and said, “Why do you need to know this? Can’t you let the past be the past?” It frustrated me.
I’m the kind of person who needs to know all the things. Not because I’m a snoop, but because in order to heal, I feel like I need the full picture to fully heal. In short, I need to know what I’m grieving.
That’s why I’m still trying to figure out who those brothers were who molested me. It’s part of the healing process for me. (Aside: this is not how everyone is wired, I know. Some people don’t do well with knowing everything, and they’re better off letting go and not doing further investigation).
Two. Take a Break.
If we obsessively push to know what happened back then, we’ll go a bit crazy. Sometimes it’s best to take a break. I’ve done this for long stretches of time, years sometimes, and then I can come back to the research with fresh eyes.
Three. Tell a new friend the entire story.
Those who are close to you have most likely heard about your grappling with an unknown past or a break in your memory. But a fresh set of ears may be what you need. With cautious wisdom, ask a new friend if they’d be willing to hear your story. Share it with all the gaps and questions. Let them know what you’ve uncovered. You may find they’ll have an entirely new way of looking at your past. And their fresh perspective may help you uncover something new.
Four. Ultimately, trust God with your story.
He may have very important reasons for keeping you away from the trauma of the past. You may not be able to handle the truth, or the trauma may be too severe to unearth on earth. Best to trust God to bring healing on the other side when your heart is whole. God is a gentleman healer, and He will uncover layers of healing in due time. Not in a rush, but slowly in ways you can handle the unfolding.
I didn’t know a lot of specific details about some of my past story for several years. I’m grateful I didn’t find it all out all at once. It would have buried me, particularly when I was in a delicate emotional state.
Five. Let go when it’s interfering with your joy.
For the sake of my mental health, I’ve had to let go of knowing certain parts of my story. The questions kept circling back on themselves, and the whys would haunt me. In short, when I was in that grief cycle for too long, my joy disappeared. So I’m learning (which is hard for the investigative reporter in me) to let go of parts of my story that are too tender to touch right now. In that, I pray that God would uncover things in His perfect timing, and if He chooses to keep me in the dark about things, that my heart would find contentment in not knowing all the answers.
Maybe I’m the only one out there with this struggle. I’m writing this post to clarify my head. But if it helps just one other person realize he’s normal for wanting to know the past, then I’ll be grateful.
What about you? Do you have gaps in your story? Are there mysteries you cannot uncover? What have you done to deal with those?
thank you for this.
I struggle with the large gaps, and the wanting to know what all did happen, what he did or not. Mostly, I want closure so I can put it back away and be over this stuff from the past. But I reckon in His sovereignty, God has not granted that, and so I have to figure out how to be content without ever finding closure in this life?
Or maybe it will come someday, just not right now. It’s so hard to know. I still want all the answers too, but God does know best what I can handle…It’s hard to trust in times like that.
I agree with Grace. One does not always have to have the whole story in order to move forward. Trust the Lords timing in your journey and your journaling. If it steals your peace let it rest for now and enter into life. If anxiety rules over peace. Pursue peace.
Well said, Gretchen.
I have always known I was abused. I’ve had some memories all my life that left no question as to that fact. However, 8 years ago, memories from my past started flooding in–at an alarming rate. Horrible memories, that I couldn’t believe were true at first, but with some research, I realized they absolutely were true. My sister suffered abuse similar to me and was present during much of mine. We have been able to validate each other’s memories. If one of us has a memory, we’ll tell the other that we think we’ve remembered something and give a vague topic, and if the other one does remember, we’ll talk more about it, however, if it’s not remembered we don’t go any further. We don’t want to trigger something in the other person before they are ready for it–that could be very hurtful to the healing process. I believe God is in charge of my healing, and I’ll know what I need to know at the time I need to know it. In the meantime, I have found journaling to be tremendously helpful. It helps me organize my thoughts, have clearer insight into what happened and how it effected me, and to invite God into the process of my healing so that I can learn to see myself the way He sees me–not the way my family saw me and treated me. I know I still don’t have all my memories but one thing I’ve learned for sure, I don’t want them before their time. It can be traumatic to have to process emotions before you’re ready to feel them. I just discovered you and your blog and I’m glad I did. I look forward to reading more of your posts.
How lovely that you have a sister to tenderly bounce things off of. That’s amazing. And I agree about journaling. I think it saved my life!
Today I was driving through a very nice neighborhood, and I saw a Weeping Willow tree and got all “creeped out”. I thought, “What’s wrong with me? The tree is trimmed. The house is nicely – even brightly – painted and the yard is neat. There’s nothing creepy here.” But I drove around again (I was waiting to pick up my son), and I got the same feeling when the weeping willow came into view again. I know there were weeping willow trees in my childhood, and I felt like the feeling came from that…but what it was, I may never know. So it was interesting seeing this post after that experience. Thank you, as always, Mary, for sharing.
It’s strange how we have body memories–things we simply react to without explanation. I hear you!
Like peeling layers of an onion, I have uncovered more and more of my childhood trauma. About 6 months ago, a huge layer was removed and many of the clouded memories became almost crystal clear. My frustration is this: my Mother told this information to my husband, from whom I am separated. He, in anger, revealed to me part of what she had said. My husband did ask her why she had never told me and she said she just didn’t know how. I had asked her many times!!! Because there is mental illness and family dysfunction galore (I am sure we qualify for a multiple disorder discount), I am not sure how to approach my mother. I want the rest of my story straight from her. I believe I deserve that.
Yes, definitely ask her, but do so prayerfully. How strange to get the information from your ex husband! But if she was willing to tell him, then it means she is capable of telling you.
That’s true. For the life of me I cannot understand why she told him. That and the way my husband told me were both very hurtful. One of the many who abused me was my uncle, my Mom’s brother. As my siblings and I talked with our cousins we discovered he had abused every one of us. He is deceased.
Of course I am now furious with the dead uncle. GRRRRR.
I played the piano at his funeral. The last song I played was “My Chains Are Gone (Amazing Grace).”
I have a part of my story I do not know and I fear I will never know. My mother dropped me off at her friends to baby sit me and my older brother. When she dropped us off I was speaking just fine but when she picked us up I had a developed a studder. I had to go through months of speech therapy for it, no one knows what happened in those hours I was babysat. I know the lady had a little boy who would always try to find ways to scare me. I dont know if he did something to me or what. I’m 28 years old and from time to time my older brother still brings up my studder and makes fun of me for it. I wish I could figure out what happened to me at this house
Wow. That’s scary!!!! Do you have any way to contact that babysitter? Is he/she still alive? It’s really odd that you got there without a stutter, but then left with one.
I would have to speak to my mother and ask, which at this point Id rather not do. I dont remember who it was or their names, I think it was a family we used to get together with and my mom stopped talking to them when I was still young. I was in 1st or 2nd grade I think when I had the studder. Ive thought about trying hypnosis in hopes of trying to recall the memories.
It does bug me that I was speaking fine and just randomly developed a speech problem! Like what could I have been put through at such a young age?!
Does your brother have any memory of it?
Never thought to ask him, I mean if he knew what happened why would he tease me?
I never thought to ask my dad either. A part of me is embarrassed to admit that it bugs me and tugs at a part of me. I tell myself it’s silly to want to know what happened, its just a small trivial thing to think about. If I don’t remember it must not have been that bad, but I’ve read about kids surpressing big memories to protect themselves.
It might be worth an ask if you feel led to…
Thank you for this post, Mary! Like you, I want to know what I’m grieving, or what is holding me back. I don’t have gaps in my story, but I do have a memory that I’ve struggled to make sense of. At one time I discussed it with someone (a counselor) whose input caused me to turn it into something it most likely wasn’t. At one time I made up my mind to let go of the version of the story he helped me create and accept that, because I was so young, I may never know what really happened and don’t need to. But knowing my story got warped and manipulated by someone else disturbs me, so every once in a while I feel the need to make sense of it, as well as other things this person warped and manipulated.
This is way it’s so important to discuss our past with the right person. Experience has taught me that some counselors can’t even be trusted with our stories. My new rule is, if the person (whether a friend or a therapist) can’t listen to our version of the story without questioning it (“Are you sure that’s what happened?” “Is it possible that he . . .?”) he/she probably shouldn’t be trusted with it. I am now asking God to help me make sense of what needs making sense of and have peace with what remains unresolved. I want to resolve just enough of the past to live well in the present.
Wow, this is a really good point. I’m so sorry a counselor warped your story. That would make things very confusing.
And, feel free to call me and tell me your story. I’ll just listen, I promise.
Thank you, Mary! I just might take you up on that sometime!
There are things I don’t remember clearly…although I know they can’t be nearly as traumatic as what you suffered. I get mad sometimes at myself because I should recall more. But I have a strange situation currently. I feel like God wants me to write my story…only I don’t know where to start. I’m not sure why God wants it in a book. And I really don’t feel like I remember enough details to make it so.
Beyond that I grew up in a verbally abusive home, and then there was an incident where someone exposed themselves to me at a young age and I grew up fearful of what might happen next. Fear took root and only recently did I see how much control it had over my life. I guess my question to you is how do you write when you may not clearly remember things? And what about instances where you and your family can’t agree on the time frames? I’m not sure that it will ever be a published work….but I am approaching it with caution that if God asks me to that I will be able to do so.
Pretend it won’t be published, and give yourself permission to write everything down without censoring it. Even if the dates are wrong, it doesn’t really matter. That can be sorted later.
All that said, God has used my own writing process to heal me many, many times. Perhaps that’s His goal for this book?
I imagine that it will heal…if I get past my own mental block. It has already revealed things that I didn’t know were such a struggle. I just find it hard to write openly about things that were never topics open to discussion.
I hereby give you permission to write anything and everything that comes to mind…You get to have YOUR story. Don’t write scared. Don’t worry about what family members think. Just write.