There’s a challenge going around Facebook at the moment to post a photo of yourself pre-puberty and one now, or 10 years apart. I thought it would be a laugh, so joined in without thinking about it. That is until I really looked at the photo I had posted and I realized I have no recollection of that photo being taken. None.
I have an eidetic memory — it’s one of my many autistic talents — but I have no memory of that photo being taken. None. Zip. Zilch. Nada.
I know I’m the one on the right-hand side of the photo. I know the girl sitting next to me is my partner from the French exchange that year. I even remember her name. I know she’s wearing my old character skirt, because I recognize the skirt. I know we’re sitting on the floor next to the sofa in front of the wall that separates the living room from the kitchen. I can’t tell you who took the photo. I can’t tell you why. I can’t even tell you why we were dressed up.
And as I stared at the photo, I realized something else. I remember every single detail about the time I spent in France on that exchange. Every single last one. But nothing of the time she spent in my home. Nothing of what we did whilst the French students were with us. It’s as if a whole section of my memory has been wiped clean by the Men in Black.
The truth is, there are huge chunks of my life missing from the ages of 8 to 23, and all of them involve life with my father. My father — the man who should have protected me, who should have loved me, but who instead used me and my mum as his own personal possessions. Because of him, there are whole months of my life that are missing. My brain — my beautifully autistic, neurodivergent brain, that picks up every single detail and locks it away for future reference — has locked away the worst of the abuse I faced.
For many, years my brain locked away the trauma of that abuse. Until it started to leak through in flashbacks and nightmares. And now, occasionally, I can grasp onto moments where the blanks are filled in. And I wish those moments weren’t what I remembered in vivid detail. Moments of abuse that no child should have to go through or witness. No parent should treat their child with violence — physically, sexually or emotionally, let alone all three. And they shouldn’t treat their spouse that way either.
It’s no wonder so many of us who have complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) from abusive childhoods have negative self-views that we need to address in order to live healthy adult lives. It’s no wonder we have such high rates of abandonment issues or become people-pleasers. There is a difficulty in trusting others because we don’t feel worthy of that trust, and we have no trust in our selves. Is it any wonder, when our brains are trying to protect us by locking away the parts of our lives that have caused us so much pain? It’s difficult enough dealing with chronic pain from fibromyalgia and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS), without having to add flashbacks and nightmares making me nauseous into the mix as well.
I wish I could remember the good parts of the visit with my French exchange partner. But I’m afraid, if I ever do, I’ll also be left dealing with memories I really don’t want to deal with.