Traumatic Memory and Sexual Abuse- The Body Remembers

a month ago
Sally Edelstein Collage
This article was written by a member of the SheKnows Community. It has not been edited, vetted or reviewed by our editorial staff, and any opinions expressed herein are the writer’s own.

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I am very pleased to be part of a provocative national exhibit entitled “A Series of Fragments of Moments” opening in San Francisco on Saturday, November 11, 2017. I will be speaking at the artists panel at 6PM discussing my new work on traumatic memory, Remembering What Was Forgotten-Traumatic Memory. Art by Sally Edelstein 19″ x 15″ collage of appropriated images

Remembering What Was Forgotten-Traumatic Memory, PTSD and Childhood Sexual abuse

My memory leads a double life of knowing and not knowing at the very  same time. It is a constant, exhausting  battle. This is a story about  memory gone awry; about traumatic memory and its effect on memory  functions  and post traumatic stress disorder.

I was sexually abused as a child by a family member. Here’s why I didn’t remember.

Among friends, I am the go to person when it comes to history and trivia, priding myself on my steel trap of a memory.

How then can someone “forget” an event as traumatic as childhood sexual abuse?

Simply put, trauma affects a variety of memory functions and dissociation is one such disruption.

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Memory  has to do with recording, storage and recall of information perceived  from the internal and external environment. Dissociation is an effective  defense walling off what cannot be tolerated  and storage and retrieval  of memory is affected as the actual memory goes into the deep freeze.  Detail “Remembering What Was Forgotten-Traumatic Memory, PTSD and Childhood Sexual Abuse” collage by Sally Edelstein

Childhood sexual abuse can create negative disturbances of memory  such as dissociation and PTSD leading to problems in basic memory  encoding, storage, and retrieval.

Being abused by a trusted family member is the perfect opportunity  for the victim to create information blockage. Memory blocking is not to  avoid suffering, but because not knowing about abuse by a parent is  necessary for survival.

But the body remembers.

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Detail “Remembering What Was Forgotten-Traumatic Memory, PTSD and Childhood Sexual Abuse” collage by Sally Edelstein

With PTSD, traumatic memories become dissociated, fragmented,  free-floating in time. They pounce into the present unbidden in the form  of flashbacks, nightmares intrusive thoughts and images you cannot  control.

I search my memory bank for a coherent, narrative filled with nuance and detail but that is not how traumatic memory is.

Those who expect a linear and logical account, seem to think of  memory as akin to a Netflix stream; click on a title and sit back for a  streaming documentary, a clear-cut representation of what transpired as  though a camera had been there filming the whole time. That sadly is far  from the reality.

I am missing the explicit narrative of information necessary to make sense of the distressing body sensations and images.

Memories of the trauma tend to be predominantly experienced as  fragments of the sensory components of the event as visual images,  olfactory, auditory, body sensations, out of context feelings and  intense waves of feeling.

Implicit and Explicit Memory

For people with PTSD, traumatic events are remembered differently than non traumatic events.

They are not actually remembered in the normal narrative sense.  Usually memory implies the relegation of an event into one’s history. “I remember when.” Where explicit memory depends on language, implicit memory bypasses it. Implicit memory is non verbal, unconscious, somatic. I have no words.

Dissociation and Fragmentary Nature of Traumatic Memories

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Sally Edelstein Collage Detail “Remembering What Was Forgotten-Traumatic Memory, PTSD and Childhood Sexual Abuse” collage by Sally Edelstein

Children and adults who have been abused cope by using a variety of psychological mechanisms.

One effective way to cope with overwhelming trauma is dissociation,  the  immediate blanking out of reality so that memories are not stored  in the first place, not in a narrative, coherent way. Dissociation is an  effective defense walling off what cannot be accommodated and actual  memory goes into the deep freeze.

Memory in The Absence of Memory

In dissociation elements of the experience are not integrated into a  whole but stored in memory as isolated fragments, sensory perceptions,  intrusive images, behavior and body sensations.

With PTSD I am missing the explicit narrative of information  necessary to make sense of the distressing body sensations and images.

I am a storyteller without a story with a beginning, middle, and end.

But I now have an opportunity to tell my story.

A Series of Fragments of Moments

I am very pleased to be part of a provocative national exhibit entitled “A Series of Fragments of Moments” opening in San Francisco on Saturday November 11, 2017.  I will be  speaking at the artists panel  at 6PM discussing my new work on  traumatic memory, and I invite all my Bay Area peeps to attend.

Projects Gallery at Arc Gallery & Studios

1246 Folsom Street, San Francisco  

RECEPTION: Saturday, November 11th, 6-9PM

Exhibition runs November 11—December 9 , 2017, visit website for hours http://www.arc-sf.com/contact..html

Please Join Us:

A preview reception to meet the artists and an artists’ talk  beginning at 6PM will be on Saturday, November 11, with the regular  reception from 7-9PM The artists will discuss their works and their  artistic practice, with an opportunity for Q&A from the audience.  Curated and presented by Karen Gutfreund, activist, curator, artist.

This exhibition includes the work of the following artists: Shannon  Amidon, Sherri Cornett,  Katelyn Dorroh, Sally Edelstein, Karen  Gutfreund, Penny McElroy, Michelle Nye, Priscilla Otani, Sibylle Peretti  courtesy of the Seager Gray Gallery and David Weinberg

 © Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream, 2017. Unauthorized  use and/or duplication of this material without express and written  permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.  Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is  given to Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream with  appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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