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Living with a Once Repressed Memory

by Gillian Sisley 3 days ago in trauma

I was molested at 4-years-old. I didn’t remember until I was 19.

Living with a Once Repressed Memory
Photo by Eric Ward on Unsplash

Okay. Deep breath. Inhale, exhale.

Here goes nothing.

When I was in kindergarten, a classmate invited me to come behind the curtains with him. We weren’t allowed to hide behind the curtains — it was against the rules. My friend told me not to do it, because if I did I would get in trouble.

I was 4-years-old. So was he.

He promised that if I came behind the curtains with him, he would invite me over to his house. He lived in a big mansion with a room that was entirely filled with piles of gold, and another with a big rollercoaster in it.

I can still see the image my young mind conjured up from his description.

Of course, I wanted to go to his house, because it sounded amazing. What was the harm? We were just going behind the curtains. Not a big deal.

But then it became a big deal. Because I was molested behind those curtains.

Just like that, I had my first sexual experience. When I was 4-years-old.

I won’t go into too much detail (I know you don’t want to hear about that). I remember that he pulled down my tights. I remember how cold his touch was. I remember not understanding what was going on, but knowing that I wanted it to stop. Then there’s a lot of black patches where memories likely once were, but no longer remain. I’m not about to go searching for them.

The last thing I remember is pulling up my tights, feeling what was likely shame (although I didn’t know it then), and coming out from behind the curtain.

My friend was standing there, looking at me with her big, dough eyes.

She looked so worried for me.

A repressed memory peaking through the cracks.

There are several times throughout my childhood when I can recall this repressed memory resurfacing. It was always at the most random of times, when I was doing completely mundane things.

One time I was 6, in the backseat of my parent’s car driving somewhere, and another time I was 8 or 9, just cleaning my room. At those ages, I would just acknowledge it as any old childhood memory, because when I was that young I didn’t understand the gravity of what the memory truly represented.

I would acknowledge the memory, then brush it off, and it would settle back deep into my sub-conscience for another few years. I never told anyone about it, because the memory never stuck around long enough.

I realize now, following some therapy and a few self-help books, that my mind knew I wasn’t prepared to deal with the trauma quite yet.

In an act of self-preservation, my mind would bury the memory deep, deep down again until the day when I could understand and be able to cope with the magnitude of the trauma.

When I was finally old enough, the memory resurfaced at the worst possible time.

I’m in the 7th grade, trying to survive the absolute hellhole that is junior high school and pre-teen social politics. I was by no means a popular girl — I had a few “friends” from elementary school who had somehow been promoted to “popular”, and they would sometimes take pity on me and let me eat with them at lunch.

Part of me wishes they hadn’t.

I was sitting there eating my lunch and listening to the conversations around the table (I avoided saying much in case I said the wrong thing), and it was like a lightbulb just went off in my head.

Ding.

There was that memory again. Only, this time I was shocked by its presence.

Uncomfortable.

Dismayed.

Before I could even stop the words from leaving my mouth, I blurted out,

“Guys, I think I was molested as a kid.”

I was immediately met with scoffs and eye rolls. Someone at the table accused me of attention-seeking.

That resurfacing moment was associated directly with a deep sense of shame and embarrassment.

Maybe I was just making it up for attention.

The memory then repressed itself one more time, filing away with it the shame I felt once I finally opened up.

It would be 6 more years until that repressed memory resurfaced for the last and final time.

The big reveal.

I was an executive member of a Christian fellowship at my university. I was 19, in the 2nd year of my undergrad, and in the middle of a leadership meeting.

Our campus head was recounting a traumatic event from her past, and how it still affected her to that day.

My thought process looked a little something like this:

"Huh. I don’t have a traumatic event from my past like that. I wonder what —"

Ding.

I sat there frozen and in shock. 15 years of not understanding the gravity of this memory, and in a millisecond it hit me all at once like a tidal wave.

I remember my heartbeat quickening and everything going out of focus. The spot I was staring at on the floor was spinning.

One of the members of the leadership team stopped the conversation in the room and asked me what was wrong.

I just broke down.

The weight with which a repressed memory resurfaces is hard to describe. But that’s what it is; a weight, like an invisible, heavy force.

It hits you with the emotional magnitude one can only expect from a childhood trauma such as molestation.

When I tried to vocalize my story, I was accompanied by utter shame and embarrassment. As I sat there, wondering if I should tell them what I had come to realize, a small, unknown voice in my head said:

"Don’t tell them. You’re only doing this for attention. They’ll never believe you."

It was like an alien had possessed my body. I didn’t recognize the deep sense of shame and embarrassment I was overcome with. That little voice in my head sounded like a total stranger, and I have never in my life, ever, had difficulty finding the words to express myself.

It was like I was tongue-tied. Because the last time I’d opened up about being molested, it left me with notable scars.

I eventually got the story out and was met with nothing short of sincere love and absolute compassion.

The first time I shared my story, I was met with judgement and shame.

The second time, I was in the safest place I could be. And that made all the difference.

Final word.

My heart hurts for 4-year-old me.

But it hurts even more for the little boy who molested me.

Because at 4-years-old, you shouldn’t know what he did about sexual intimacy. I can’t even imagine what he must have gone through before me to have acquired the understanding he did, to do what he did.

Because we all known children imitate what they see and experience.

I really hope he’s okay.

To this day I still haven’t told my parents I was molested. I considered it, but didn’t see the value after so much time has passed. I knew it would only upset them.

While I still have trouble talking about this to others, definitely due to the shaming experience I’ve associated with my repressed memory, I believe in the importance of sharing our stories with one another.

Although writing this post is hard, I write it in hopes that it might be helpful for someone else.

If you are reading this, and my experience is one you resonate with, this is what I want you to know:

You are loved. You are worthy. You are believed. You matter. You are enough.

And you are not alone.

This article was originally published by the author on Medium.

trauma
Gillian Sisley
Gillian Sisley
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