There is nothing quite like the feeling of living in fear of your own memories. Not the things you can remember easily, but the events you can feel lurking like shadows on the periphery of your consciousness. It's like seeing something at the extreme edges of your peripheral vision; a teasing glimpse that plays on your awareness.
For more than twenty years now, I have blocked out memories of my childhood; memories of being sexually abused by my father. Disassociation at the time of the events, coercion from my father at the time in the form of threats and promises, and alcohol and drug dependencies from thirteen onward all were factors in the repression and denial of the events that took place over a period of at least ten years.
While it may be obvious to most people how my substance abuse ensured I could avoid dealing with realities that were unpleasant, in truth it was only was successful in masking the fact that something had happened in my childhood that I didn't want to think about. It was also an expression of the loathing I felt for myself due to those incidents.
The actual burying of the memories was caused by my sense of self-preservation, and the influence exerted by my father. You don't often stop to rationalize why you are an addict while you are in the process of becoming one; you don't wake up one morning and say, "I think I'll get addicted to drugs and alcohol." Even though the result is the same as if it were a conscious decision, that's not how it works.
First, you're in denial about being an addict so you're not going to have "decided" to become one, and second, if you remembered what had happened you would have no need for the addiction. The drugs and the booze are compensation for something that you think is missing from your life. They offer solace and comfort that you don't seem to be able to get from any other source, be it a person, belief, or endeavour.
You don't have any memories of your childhood like so many others around you seem to have. Where they can talk about things they did with their fathers, you only seem to have blanks, and can't remember anything about being alone with him. Or when you force your mind in those directions you either come up against a sense of fear, or the feeling that if you say anything you'll be betraying something.
So what happened to the memories? Have you ever noticed in times of extreme stress that you may start trying to convince yourself that whatever's going on isn't happening? As if you could believe hard enough that it's not happening, and then it won't. As adults, our rational minds are far too developed, most of the time, for that to occur. (If it does, we call it amnesia.)
In a child whose mind is not as developed and socialized, instinctual reactions are closer to the surface. The younger the child, the more they rely on instinct; a baby who is hungry yells for food until that need is met. So when faced with circumstances that are as terrifying as being raped, a child's mind will disassociate from the event in shock and fear. It doesn't want it to be happening so it isn't.
Now obviously this plays into the hands of the abuser, but most abusers aren't going to know this so they usually have some means at their disposal of preventing their victim from talking later. There are two approaches that I can remember being used on me: The "it's our little secret approach" and the threat approach. It doesn't seemed to have mattered very much to my father which one he used, as far as I can remember he used both indiscriminately, but to my mind the first one was the most damaging and effective.
It involves distorting and twisting the idea of love between a father and child. It plays on a child's desire to please their parent by insisting that all children do this for their father if they really love them. They also make it into their private, "special" relationship which if the child ever told about would prove he didn't love his father.
"It's our little secret" makes the child an accomplice to the rape, and even a willing participant. So not only do they have the implied threat that if they tell anybody their father will stop loving them, but they also know, on some level, that what's happening is wrong. Therefore they are also ashamed of their participation and won't want to talk about it or think about it.
Combined with this form of ensuring silence are, of course, direct threats about the dire consequences of telling anybody. From what I remember, this took the line of: if you tell anybody they won't believe you, they will call you a nasty little boy, and you will be sent away to reform school.
You have to remember this was in the 1960s and early 1970s when this didn't happen in good families, especially fathers raping sons. Who was going to believe me if I told them? In spite of this I do remember trying to tell twice, once to my mother and once to a teacher at school. My mother didn't believe me and said I was a nasty little boy and threatened me with all sorts of dire consequences if I ever said anything like that again.
I think the teacher believed me, but she went to the principal, who — even if he did believe it — didn't want to have anything to do with it. He most likely shut her up, because nothing ever came of it. Needless to say, all that positive reinforcement went a long way toward preventing me from either wanting to talk or even thinking about it.
Combined with the disassociation that blocked out actual specifics of the rape, leaving behind only memories of my father looming in my bedroom, by the time the abuse ended I was left with nothing but emptiness and feelings of unease that I wanted to run away from.
When I first started to recover memories it started with nightmares about my father appearing in my bedroom. Then came the flashbacks of the physical sensations of being raped. My body was remembering the things that had been inflicted upon it before my intellect. Over the past eleven years more and more memories have come back, and each time they are as disquieting an experience as they were the first time I remembered anything.
It's always the same sort of build up, the feeling that something is trying to claw its way out of the back of my mind into my awareness. There is always the accompanying sensation of unease and nervousness that comes with these memories, but sometimes there is also an undercurrent of fear.
Recently I began working with a new doctor who has been helping me deal with the resurgence of flashbacks that I began experiencing a couple of years ago. What we do is process the memory of the specific incident that the flashback depicts, so that I realize it happened in the past and isn't happening to me anymore.
But that means I have to confront the memories head on and think about them. It's the only way to ensure they won't come back in a form that causes me to relive them, to re-experience the rape. But that doesn't stop me from being scared of them. It will mean that I have to talk about the details of the event, or at least think about them.
Even though I've done this countless times already, it doesn't lessen the fear, or make it any easier. If there were any way of avoiding it I would, but the only way to destroy the power they have over me is by confronting them. I've already proved that avoidance doesn't work; twenty years of booze and drugs only put off the inevitable.
I don't go out searching for these memories. Why would I? They surface on their own. As long as there is something that I need to deal with from that time, whether an emotional or mental issue, or an inappropriate coping mechanism, this process will continue.
Anybody who insists that a person should just get over it and get on with their life has no understanding of what it's like to go through the experience of gradually recovering your past. There is nothing I would love more than to be done with these circumstances, but it's not in my control.
What enables me to get through it all, to conquer the fear, is the awareness that each time I conquer a memory, it's one less thing from my past that has power over me. It's one more step on my road to freedom. Now that's worth dealing with a little fear.
What those new-agers who talk about coming to the light don't understand is that there is quite a bit of darkness you have to go through before you can have any relief. The light can care take of itself, it's in the dark that fear lurks, and where you need to travel in order to have any peace of mind.