The Struggle To Remember

Dec 21st, 2010 | By | Category: All Posts, Guest Blog

by Patty Hite

Last night I received a phone call from the leasing agent in Ohio who told us that we’re approved to lease her house. As much as I love the beaches and sunny days of Florida, this just never felt like home. My husband made Florida home but I have always felt like this was a temporary visit. So Ohio, here we come.

Ohio was my childhood home. I was born and raised there. Ohio is the place I was sexually abused and where I caught my dad in bed with my sister.

I have very few good memories in my life—especially from my childhood. I remember every act of abuse I suffered throughout my life. I can tell you how I felt, what I was doing, what my abuser did, but I can’t remember many good times. It was so traumatic for me to see my dad in bed with my sister that I succumbed to dissociation frequently. I can’t help but think that I escaped to my happy place—a dissociated place in my mind—most of my life.

My children remind me of times in their lives and I can’t remember them. I’ve looked at photo albums and I can tell you what picture is on what page, but I can’t remember what was happening or where we were when those pictures were taken. I remember being in the hospital when they were born, happy times, but few adventures during their young lives.

I’ve lived a stressful adult life and I’ve found that stress was a trigger to depart from my surroundings. When I was overwhelmed by neglect from my husband, stressed over lack of finances, or worried about cooking a good meal, I escaped. It was second nature to me. Trying to decide what to buy at the store or getting to the gas station before I ran out of gas triggered me into dissociation. I realized a few years ago that I was in a dissociated state of mind more than I was out of it. It hurts to know that because of that, I forgot the good times—precious times that I should have had, especially concerning my children’s early years.

The last time I was in Ohio was about eight years ago. Going there brought back little girl Patty. I drove by the home where we lived when my mom discovered my dad was having sex with my sister. I felt sad when I saw the two story house—no great, overwhelming feelings—just sadness. I drove by my grade school and saw the playground. It was the after-school hang-out and where they held daily activities for the neighborhood kids during the summer. Memories came flooding back of learning to play chess and four square bounce, and of the swings and the field where I played kick ball.

One day, I saw a sign that pointed to a park. The name wasn’t familiar, but I wanted a break from driving and thought I would take some time and walk around. There was a path that led to a small bridge that crossed over a little creek. I stood in the middle of that bridge and saw a small but beautiful waterfall. Suddenly, I had an overwhelming feeling that I had been there before and tears started rolling down my cheeks. Before long, I was crying uncontrollably and had to find a bench to sit on.

After a few minutes an older woman sat beside me and asked if I was okay. I told her that these were tears of joy and that I had been searching for something good from my childhood and I finally found it. She patted my shoulder and left, but I sat there for hours as the memories of my childhood came flooding back. Good memories. Happy and joyful memories. This park and the bridge and the waterfall was my happy place. This was the place I went in my mind when I was being beaten and raped by my ex-husband. This was my safe place. This was my escape. Welcome home, Patty Jane.

I asked my sister, who lives in Ohio, about that park. She told me we used to take a bus there. Mom would bring food and we’d spend the whole day. It was before I saw my dad with my sister. Things changed in the house after that. Mom started to work and couldn’t spend much time with us. Their marriage was strained. I think I started dissociating then and it became an everyday thing for me.

Finding that happy place and realizing it was a real place from my childhood was wonderful and traumatic at the same time. I always pictured it as a focus point when I was being abused, but to realize that it was a real place—wow! But to know that I couldn’t consciously remember such a happy, real life place was sad. I had thought it was a fantasy. I had no idea it was a real place. Just thought it was my imagination.

I have spent most of my life searching for my abused childhood, recapturing the memories of my sexual and physical abuse and reliving the false memories that were instilled in my head. But I want to remember the good times.

I need to find the little girl who soaked in the mist that sprang up from the waterfall. I need to find the little girl who learned to play chess and felt the breeze in her hair while on the swings at the school playground. I need to find the memories of holding my children in my arms and I need to experience the good times that they tell me about.

When I discovered the “real” happy place at that park, it was the beginning of a balance in my soul. It was no longer one-sided. Yes, the memories of my abuse outweigh the good memories, but it was a start.

Before healing, everything is unbalanced—our emotions, our relationships, our memories, giving and taking, asking and helping, our boundaries and limits. The more we heal, the more we become balanced. I think it is just as important to remember the good times in our lives, even as few as we may have, as it is to remember the bad times. If we focus only on the bad times, I think our views can become dark. We see enemies everywhere we look, and we expect bad times to overtake us, even if we are having good times. Balance. I think that is where I am headed. I feel it the more I find anything good about my past and remember it. It’s like the pieces are coming together.

As a survivor of emotional, physical and sexual abuse, Patty Hite has been tenaciously pursuing her healing for over thirty years. She’s a passionate advocate for all survivors and dedicates her life to inspiring emotional wholeness in others. As a former victim of spousal abuse, she’s delighted to find true love with her husband of ­­­­five years. She’s blessed with four children and six grandchildren.

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14 comments
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  1. Patty,
    I’ve struggled with remembering too. At first I didn’t remember much of anything. I just had an image based on the stories my parents told and the photographs. I thought I was a miserable child because I was unappreciate and negative. But then I started to remember why I wasn’t happy and I didn’t WANT to remember anything good. I wanted to just work on accepting that the abuse really happened to me and that my parents were responsible. Any good memories seemed like a distraction, but it also felt like I was giving credit to child abusers if I had anything good happen, so I didn’t want to think about that until later in my healing.

    But you’re right– healing brings balance and it’s been so good to recall some good things that happened to me as a child. I was dissociated so much that I didn’t feel, so it didn’t seem real. As I heal and can really connect to my feelings, I’m able to connect feelings to those good events and it’s as though I can absorb the love and nurturing from them that I was cut off from before. It’s such an odd sensation, but it’s good.

    Thanks for another great post! Love and hugs, Christina

  2. Patty; this post is a wonderful description of the dissociation that came so naturally to me too. At one point when I was attending a group, the question was asked if we could recall a good memory from our lifetime and connect to the positive feelings. I couldn’t do the exercise and felt so ashamed when I reported this to the group; the facilitator was one of the first persons to ever acknowledge what I grew up in and called it a “battlefield” where there was no safe place for a child.

    Like you – I’ve struggled with recalling the good times….its as though to do so would invalidate how horrible my life had been, all the abuse, the rapes, the demeaning and dismissing of my experiences as though I should have been able to be ok and not affected by it all.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences with dissociation; it always always helps when I can see that I’m not the only one and hear how you found your healing path.

  3. Christina,

    I always welcome your encouragement of my blogs. You are a true inspiration to me and I appreciate your trust in me, in allowing me to share my life.

    I agree with what you are saying…… “As I heal and can really connect to my feelings, I’m able to connect feelings to those good events and it’s as though I can absorb the love and nurturing from them that I was cut off from before. It’s such an odd sensation, but it’s good.”

    I’ve looked for the missing pieces and I honestly believe that connecting to the good times balances us and helps us with enjoying love and life. ((( hug))) patty

  4. Susan,

    I am so glad this blog spoke to you and was a reminder that you are not alone. And I believe that as time goes on you will be able to remember some good times. Even if they are few….. Perhaps when you were out of the battlefield. Somewhere, sometime…… I believe in healing and I’ve seen so many changes in myself as well as others. As long as we keep hope ahead of us, there will always be a rope to tie a knot in and hold on to.

    ((Patty))

  5. Hi Patty,

    I hope it does bring back the good times. I hope it doesn’t bring back many bad memories and if it does that you have the support to cope with them.

  6. Evan,

    Thank you. I think I have filtered thru all the bad times. I have always been able to remember them and I am not afraid of them any more. I know that the more I face, the more I heal and become all of who I am suppose to be. But, it’s overwhelming to find the good times, because I convinced myself that there were no good times. Now that is scary to me.

    And thank you for mentioning support. I have healthy wonderful close family members and friends and that is so important to me. I’ve had to weed thru a few before I found these, and I intend to keep them.

    thank you for your support also. Patty

  7. Patty,

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I am the same way, I remember so little from my childhood and barely remember much from my children’s early years too…they tell me stories and are asking me “remember when (this that or the other) happened mom???” and I have no idea what they are talking about, and tnen they say “you (said/did whatever) and it was really funny/good/smart/silly” and I feel sad that they made such a great memory with me, and I cant share it with them, because I dont remember being there. I can only imagine how it must feel to know your “safe place” was a real place with real memories and real positive feelings attached to it. I dont remember a place like that, well I guess the ociean might be it, scuba diving is the only time I felt safe and I was not afraid…and that seems rather amazing given that there are a myriad of dangers associated with scuba diving and the ocean and sharks and whatever, that I never was afraid of….but Im afraid of things that other people would never fear in a million years, because I have negative associations with them.

    Its really true, our journey to healing is so individual, yet its so similar too. I am amazed every day at the number of strong capable men and women I meet through this journey and search for healing and balance, we are one heck of a group of people :) Thank you Patty, Im glad you are here!

  8. Amira,

    Thank you. I know exactly how you feel with your children and I understand the hurt you must feel. I seem to remember things about my children when another parent says their child did this or that and all of a sudden I am reminded of doing the same thing with my kids. I treasure those moments when I remember. I want to believe that it’s in me and just needs to be stirred up. :-)

    Scuba diving has never been anything I wanted to do, but if it brings you peace and comfort I hope you are able to do it as much as you possibly can. It’ so important to nurture US.

    Thank you for your encouraging words and I agree…….. we are one heck of a group of people. ((( hugs)) Patty

  9. I can relate to this entire post, but the fact that having witnessed your sister being raped by your father, and that causing you to essentially go over the edge with dissociation. For whatever reason, when I was young and during my abuse by my father (actually later revealed to me as step-father, but whatever), I felt like I was somehow protecting my own sister by enduring the abuse. I vowed to myself that if I ever found out he was hurting her, or any other child, I’d retaliate in some way (various fantasies of demise that I’m sure no one reading this would have a hard time relating to). As far as I know, he never did touch my sister, however, just a few years ago (and about 15 years after my own abuse had finally ended), it was revealed that he had his girlfriend’s teen daughter give him oral sex, if not more than that. Up to that point, I had not revealed my own abuse to the overall family and to the general small community I grew up in. After that point, I went into a mode that has led me to be UNABLE to NOT tell my story to the family/community. I’ve found new depths of sorrow, anger, grieving, dissociation at times…

    I’m now re-healing a lot of wounds that I thought had been healed, but the trigger of, in some sense finding him in bed with another child (since this was one of my greatest fears) has affected me greatly.

    My non-silence has also caused me to lose the very sister I was protecting all along, as she is angry at me for the way I’ve reacted to this second generation of child-rape by my stepfather (she has known about my abuse for at least 17 years)… Also, my grandparents/the stepfather’s parents cannot deal with me anymore, and the only way I can have a relationship with them (and by extension, pretty much my entire family) is to either apologize for being NON-Silent, justify myself for not forgiving and forgetting, etc. But, of course, there is no way I can explain what is happening to me when I feel rejected and despised and dirty, and what I really need is acceptance and love.

    I’ve also lost my mother who decided to (among other shady moves that I kept forgiving) try to use my abuse as a pawn in her game to blackmail the step-dad’s parents for a large sum of money (about 10 years ago). Once this incident happened, I had to cut her off for my own good.

    Thank you, Patty, for this entry. I guess I needed to vent…

  10. Lisa,

    I’m so sorry for the things you went thru. Abuse is bad enough, but when we do finally expose it, to be punished by our family is a terrible thing to go thru. I hid the truth about seeing my dad with my sister and because of that, I hid my own abuse. It was when I started talking about it, that the real turmoil started. My family is not cruel to me, but they don’t understand why I can’t forgive and forget. They remind me of how much my dad cared about us because he supported us. Blahhhhhh. Although it is hard at times, I wouldn’t change exposing what happened. Even at the cost of losing my family. If they aren’t concerned for my welfare and they won’t take up the offense of what happened to their sister, then is that really “family?” I think it’s sad, that we find more comfort in strangers, (survivors and friends who were once strangers) than to get comfort and understanding from our families.

    Thank you again for sharing, and you are free to vent anytime you want. It makes me feel better!!! ((hug)))

  11. I have been going through similar things there are points in my life that I clearly don’t remember but other people do and I try as much as I can but I have no recollection of whatsoever. In order to cope and deal with the abuse in my life and many other traumatic events I learned to disassociate myself from life itself. And the crazy thing is for years I could not figure out why I felt so angry and numb all the time, however I know why now. I do have some good memories those memories are dear to me and on occasion a song or a certain fragrance will remind me of these good memories.

    I really just wish that I could go to sleep and wake up and be a hundred million miles from all this that I am facing. Trying to find reasons to laugh or be social is getting harder these days but I keep going forward hoping to work through this and finally be able to move forward instead of being stuck in a battle that I had did not start. Though I have had some major break thrus the past two years and that is good. I am just tired and worn out over many things though that for some reason it is more difficult for me to work through.

  12. Nikki,

    I understand how you feel. It does get so tiresome at times. There has been many times when I had to take a break. No reading about abuse, no talking about it. I just needed me time. Time to reflect and find some joy. It was these times that I read novels, watched black and white movies, went for walks in the park. Anything to stop thinking about it. We need US time. We are in a battle of finding the truth, accepting that truth, getting rid of the false beliefs, finding our emotions, finding our how to use our emotions…… geeeesh. I am wore out just writing about it. lol. Take time for yourself and know that you are worth it and deserve it. Then when you feel stronger and refreshed….. get back to healing. Thanks for sharing, and I understand. You are not alone. (((hug)))

  13. Patty,

    This post was amazing, it really was just what I needed! Finding that balance has been a struggle – the good needs a little place to shine in the mire of other stuff as I heal. It’s been so strange finding those nuggets and instead of justifying them I’m trying to embrace them. There was some laughter, there were some beautiful times, there was some places of straight out joy. I want to accept them just as they are, without the dark brackets that have always seemed to diminish or isolate them.

    I’m glad you are going home, and that you found that happy place. I’m hoping one day to share my happy place, but I’m afraid it is ruined now. We’ll see – have to decide what to do about the people who are still there.

    Bright blessings and Merry Christmas!
    Shanyn

  14. Shanyn,

    Thank you so much for your encouragement. I am glad this blog spoke to you and you understand how important it is to have balance. Even the slightest joy of a good memory overshadows the bad ones. It was hard for me to believe I had any good memories but I am glad I found some.

    Thanks again, blessings and Christmas wishes to you as well, Patty

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