June 24, 2006


How Does One Retrieve Repressed Memories of Abuse?

For a long time, I've resisted the urge to write any kind of introduction for my book. I know it's a common problem for writers to get hung up there, editing and revising, and have difficulty progressing with the story. What I've done is skip around. I've gotten a lot written by not spending too much time in any one prescribed area.

I did, however, recently take a stab at a lead-in of sorts for my story of retrieving repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse (CSA). It's interesting how clueless I was for such a very long time.

I can tell you when the dam broke and the full force of the PTSD flood of my post-traumatic stress disorder came bursting forth (that story is for another time). But, it's harder to say when the cracks first appeared and I started being conscious of the repressed memories of my CSA.

It definitely was not as early on as high school, although the sexual assaults had ended some seven or eight years prior. No, in high school I thought I was a virgin. I told my boyfriends I wanted to stay that way.

The truth was, I wasn't so much waiting for my true love as I was simply petrified with fear of sex. I had my first real boyfriend at age 15. That's when I got my first real kiss. It felt like I had melted. That first kiss was so romantic. I loved the kiss, but I wanted nothing to do with going any further.

Later, there was another boy who was quite stimulating to my hormone-charged teenage self. But, my excitement frightened me. His excitement frightened me even more.

We got terribly close to "going all the way" once. I stopped it at the last possible moment. In a total panic, I managed to squeak out, "Let's not do anything too heavy." I couldn't bring myself to utter the word, "sex." At that point in time, the only clothing that remained on my body was my mint green bikini panties.

It's still amazing to me that this young man stopped. He didn't even call me a tease. I'll be forever grateful to him for that. Once he went off to college, I assume he began an active sex life. He left me behind in high school and left me alone with my chastity.

I lost many boyfriends during those high school years because I wouldn't "put out." I never went to the prom. In many ways, I didn't care. My fear was too great a hurdle for me to clear for any boy. I didn't know why I was so afraid, really. The fear was a powerful force that I was not willing to examine at the time.

I still had no clue about my CSA survivor status as I entered college. I remained chaste and got excellent grades during my freshman year.

During my sophomore year, I joined a sorority and my social life expanded. That's when I met the first love of my life. I was crazy in love and did not question the inevitability that we would have sex.

I still think of this lost love often. I believe I would remain drawn to him if I met up with him again today.

While I loved this young man and gave my body freely to him, I don't have many memories of our sex life. I'm reasonably sure that we made love with the lights off and that I lay beneath him with my eyes closed.

He never complained. He never committed either. I guess you could say that he broke my heart. When he broke off our relationship to date others, I was devastated.

Prior to the break-up, after we had just made love, I told him, "I love you." I got no response. Though he wouldn't commit, wouldn't say he loved me and wanted to date others, I was slow to give up on the relationship. I was desperately in love and couldn't let go. My sorority's spring formal dance was coming up and I begged the guy who had dumped me to go with me anyway. I guess I didn't want to miss the prom again. He did not take me to his fraternity's spring dance; he took someone else. Yet, I happily took him to my formal and, of course, we had sex after the dancing.

During this period of my dissociated devastation, I swung from one end of the sex spectrum to the other. I got stoned and had casual sex with a guy I barely knew. Then I went with another fraternity guy to his spring formal "just as friends." When my "friend" wanted to have sex, I broke down in tears and explained that I couldn't participate because I was still so heart-broken over the breakup with my boyfriend. I guess, because he knew my old boyfriend, he pretended to be understanding at the time.

Later, it was a different story. There was a party at the fraternity house of my "friend." At one point, we went into his room. We'd been in there many times and I was not afraid or suspecting of anything.

We were sitting on his bed talking when suddenly he was on top of me. I said no, cried and tried to turn away. But, he pinned my arms down. I have always felt guilty because I did not scream out or struggle very hard. I think my CSA groomed me to stay quiet and realize that struggling was futile. Some days after the party, when I told my sister about the incident, she was the one who pointed out that my arms had been pinned down and I had, indeed, been raped.

I now know that this period of my life was not nearly as damaging and tortuous as my childhood. Yet it was quite traumatic for me. During this time I became pregnant. I came very close to telling my old boyfriend of my condition. I had him on the phone once but couldn't reveal my secret. I did not know who the father of the child was. I didn't tell my ex because I still loved him and I didn't want to trap him with a child who may not have been his. I decided to get an abortion instead. This added to my trauma.

I never reported the rape. I didn't speak of it again for another decade.

I think I then made the subconscious decision to stick like glue to any man who would finally admit to loving me. That man became my first husband. He was only physically abusive toward me once. It was when we were separated, before our divorce. In a fit of anger, he grabbed me by the arm and threw me to the floor.

During our brief marriage, my mate did many odd things that made me uncomfortable. What drove me crazy was his habit of following me around our small apartment. He often spied on me while I was in the shower. One time, I was coming out of the bathroom after showering wearing only a towel. I was ambushed by my ex who jumped out at me and snatched my towel away. He pushed me onto the bed and snapped a Polaroid picture of me sprawled there naked with a deer-in-the-headlights expression on my face.

During my young adult years following college, my self-esteem was critically low. Hell, I think it had been at this critical depth since about the time I was in junior high. Yet, by the time of my divorce, something started to shift in my mind. A tiny spark of self-confidence told me I had rights and deserved better. I never used the term "abuse." Although I was taking steps to that effect, I never thought or stated, "Nobody will ever abuse me again."

One of those essential steps was quitting my first big job that I thought was leading to a successful career. I had been working at an advertising agency where one of the higher-ups sexually harassed me time and again. I did not sleep my way to the top, but worked hard and got promoted there three times. Despite the promotions and the agency paying my way toward a Master's degree, I decided to leave.

Maybe I just got fed up; within a year, I quit my job in the sexual harassment environment and got divorced. I never did finish my Master's, but I never allowed anyone to ever abuse me again, either.

Copyright 2006 by Marj McCabe. All Rights Reserved.

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Marj you truly have come a long way and I do hope you know that!

Thanks for sharing such an insightful piece of writing. I identify with so much of it.

Take care xx
Thanks, SD, that means a lot to me.
Its amazing when one goes through abuse early on how rape is not recognised when it happens. I related with a lot of your story. Your ex sounds like my ex. I too had an abortion. Our pasts are very similar I think. You are helping a lot of people by telling your story. Thank you for sharing. You are very courageous in doing so.
Mysti: I think we would be absolutely floored to discover the true number of people who have pasts so similar to ours. I'm glad I'm part of a blogging community where I really feel validated and supported. It gives me courage. Thank you for being part of that.
Great piece of writing, Marj... I definately relate to so much of it. I, too, am having trouble w/getting my writing started. It just kind of stares at me, waiting for me to tell the truth, and I freeze with not knowing where to start because there is SO much I need to say... and then I just get overwhelmed and run away from it.

I don't know if I'll be continuing my blogging - check your email (I'm going to respond right now)... I desperately need your advice.
Marj, my heart goes out to you for what you went through. What happens in childhood doesn't stay in childhood. The damage done early can definitely make us vulnerable to later exploitation.
dont know what to say except thanks for writing some of this out:)
Its amazing when one goes through abuse early on how rape is not recognised when it happens.

Mysti, this comment really struck home with me. How right you are! Thank you for saying this, it's very validating. I'm tempted to write an article on this myself, may I have your permission to quote this comment directly?
You are the only person I have ever heard, beside myself, say "I though I was a virgin" Wow, doesn't the mind do what ever it takes to protect the child.

I'm also blown away that your X and mine were so much a like. I'm glad you didn't stay as long as I did. That was a wasted 18 years!

Thanks for sharing and all the hard work you did on the carnival. I'm proud of you!
I want to respond to each of you individually, AND confirm the 2nd ed. blog carnival submissions I'm already getting, AND do the meme I got tagged on (I DO actually like memes and the way they can connect people). But I've been home with a sick kid and we're off to the doctor (hope he doesn't have strep). For now, just let me say that I am truly moved by all of you. I'm so touched at the compassion, validation, support and encouragement you all give me and I see you giving each other. I'm honored to know all of you through blogging. Thanks for being YOU!
Hello Marj

From what I have learned from my wife, also CSA and MPD/DID, these realization come at sometimes strange times and suddenly the lightbulb over your head goes on!! All I can say is how sorry i am that you were put through such things as Keepers and I send you hugs, especially for that little girl inside who did no wrong.

Peace and blessings

John W and keepers
Dear Marj,
I admire the courage you have always shown, as we grow, learn, survive the struggles in life. We experience and deal with so much at different times. At times it feels like I can not do this, it is too painful. Marj, your memory will come when it is ready too, if you push yourself sometimes it blocks more. I truly hope you will find the answers your looking for, only when the body, soul are ready to know what it has been repressing for all the years! Take care and be kind to yourself, Marj, just give it time. All the best, in my prayers, thoughts.
Uugghh! My son has strep and I'm under the weather, too. I hate being sick in the summer. I'm behind on more complete communications with everyone. I'll catch up when I feel better, promise! Thanks for your comments!
Thank you for talking about this. I think many people believe that "repressed memories" don't really exist, that someone who claims to remember abuse long after it happened must by lying. Again, thank you.
Brewerburns: You're quite welcome and thank you for visiting.
How courageous of you to share your story with us. I, too, shared my true story about my abuse and for me it was great therapy. Able to open up, let it out, and realize that we all can survive and move on. We only become stronger when we conquer abuse of any kind. I read an article called "Body Memories" in which was a great read. If I can find it, I will share it with you. I was told that I could have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder due to my abuse. I, now have Fibromyalgia amongst other chronic pains and illnesses, but I go on. Thanks again for a great story and sharing your story with us.
Beachwriter: Thanks for your support. I think you are also quite brave. I've been actively dealing with PTSD for about five years now. I don't like labels, but, on the other hand, it helps to know what you're dealing with. I struggled with IBS for years, which I'm convinced is related to my abuse. I started working with body memories about two years ago or so. That seemed to really help with my physical symptoms. I hope you find relief for yours. I'd be interested in the book, thanks! I'm tagging you with a meme, by the way. I'll e-mail you because Blogger is giving me fits today.
Hi Marj

I found your blog through Moof. I've only just begun to blog about the 10 years of sexual abuse I endured. I only "told" when it became clear my uncle was going to do it to my baby sister (who was born when I was 13). My family fell apart as my divorced parents blamed each other for not noticing.

I too got pregnant. I was 13. I had an abortion (my choice). It was a terrifying experince.

As for my uncle, he got three months in prison for it all (he also abused a cousin and a neighbour's child). He had been abused by his father when he was a child.

When I had my first child three years ago, I had SEXUALLY ABUSED stamped on my notes that I had to carry around.

On the post-natal ward a male midwife forced me into painful breastfeeding positions that I protest about. But then I zoned out and was mauled. Within 12 hours of giving birth I was bleeding profusely from my breasts. I was so traumatised, I couldn't breastfeed after that. I felt ruined.

I am only just beginning to realise that, sadly, it is the abuse that made breastfeeding difficult.

My blog has gone round the blogging community in the UK. I've had women slate my failure to breastfeed regardless (although i did, admittedly, cite that it was the pain that made me stop - but I guess I meant physical and mental pain). I've had some vitrolic comments for pro-lifers about my abortion.

Like you, I don't seek to excuse or justify through my blog. I am still trying to work it out myself and if I can share with others, it will help.

Many memories are hidden, like buried photos. I am starting to dig them up. It's not easy is it?

I wondered if I could link to your blog from mine and I would welcome any thoughts on what I write.

I'll continue to read here.



PS Here's the first time I wrote about the abuse http://doingitallagain.blogspot.com/2006/06/1940-my-experience-of-medical.html and when I began to rationalise my reaction as a result of my past http://doingitallagain.blogspot.com/2006/06/2040-midwife-update-she-is-not-ogre.html
Emily: Thanks for visiting my blog--so glad you stopped by. I want you to know how much credit I think you deserve for doing what you had to do in order to protect your baby sister. That took guts! I'm sorry the perp only got months in prison. Total injustice! Thanks for the permalinks. I want very much to visit your blog and take a look around. If I don't get to it today, it will be tomorrow. "See" ya then!
Thanks Marj

I will do a link - I always want to check before linking to anyone.

I am just beginning to get the bottle to write about it and just wanted to get talking to some like-minded people for a bit of community support.

Many thanks

Marj, I was truly inspired by your writing and like the many others who posted comments found many things in common. I found this post simply by typing in "retrieving repressed memories" into google. Your post is the first entry. It is truly a blessing. I too have a repressed history of sexual abuse. I have not yet been able to access those memories and continue to search for answers. I am left with phyical limitations and illnesses to compensate, but the memories just don't come. Thank you for all that you are doing. I have started my first blog, by what seems like an accident and have written the beginning of my story. It would be an honor if you would read my first entry and share your thoughts with me. I feel like I am finally finding some channels to share my story and emotions on this subject with. Thanks again.
searching for answers
Searching for Answers: I know it is hard, but I am glad you are starting to share your story. I will come and read. Take gentle care.
And now i say it again...you are an awesome woman! Thank you for everything you do for all... a definite exemplar!
I have to take a break... too much triggered but you've done a fantastic job with the Blog Carnival Against Child Abuse. CU soon...
ChildPerson: Thanks for reading this old post. It may be close to a beginning of my book some day.
Trying to live and make good decisions when so much of one's core experience has been repressed is like stumbling around blindfolded in the woods, trying to get home. A lot of people spend their whole lives in that state. Your post is clear evidence that you're not one of them. Your blindfold is gone and your eyes are open.
Wow, Rick! Thank you for saying that. It's not always easy looking at what I can see now, but I'd rather not be blind. ;)

You are always an inspiration!

Thanks, Nancy. That means a lot to me.
Thank you for this post.
I spent so much time doubting myself.
If I have learned one thing in the years of therapy it is Trust Yourself.
I told my Therapist today,
I am different this time,
I know how to Trust Myself this time.
You are great.
Vicki: Thanks so much for going back and reading some of my older posts. I think you are great, too!
A lot of my abuse I couldn't and still don't remember. I'm 27 and my last assault was almost 10yrs ago. Not only is the abuse a fog but so is most of my everyday life from being a child. I didn't start remembering as much until these past few years. There had always been this one incident that I always remembered, but everything else was a blur. Blogs and stories and comments like these help so much in the journey of healing. Especially to feel that I'm not alone. I started my own blog last year coming out about this. I just started a new one that's more anonymous so that I could be more honest. I wasn't transparent and honest about a lot of things because I was scared of what the people I knew reading it would think. http://therealsquirrelfantom.blogspot.com/ Thanks so much again. Even to those who leave comments, it really helps a lot.
SF: Thanks for coming over to this old post and leaving a comment. I'm glad it was helpful to you. You deserve to heal and I wish you much healing and hope on your recovery journey.
interesting story, i was looking around trying to figure out a way to bring back repressed memories of my childhood. this did not help, but it was a nice read, you should consider writing a book. i hope your sex/love life has improved since the composition of this entry.

Child abuse us so common place and as a society its sweet under the rug.
For me, forgiveness of my abuser was my foundation for healing the scars of csa .
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