Memory is the diary we all carry about with us.
Last night I couldn’t sleep. As I lay there in deep contemplation of all that has happened in the last few years I thought about Finding Heart Horse and The Wall of Secrets and the traumas held between their covers. Many of them had been buried so deep and were so painful I couldn’t bare to think about them for years. If you are familiar with my books you know about The Wall of Secrets.
I hid my secrets, my traumas in the drawers for years. It was the only way to survive. To disassociate until I was able to deal with the immense amount of pain I knew was wrapped around each trauma. I didn’t know if that time would ever come or if I would be strong enough to push through to the other side. I did and I was.
I’ve been a practicing Buddhist for a long time and mindfulness is one of the most important practices Buddha teaches. Also, one of the most challenging.
Sati-Buddha chose this word for Mindfulness meaning “to remember”
There are two kinds of memory:
implicit: which is learning a skill and remembering automatically, like riding a bike.
Explicit: narrative memory, functions through self-awareness accessed thru thought, not body
Trauma is implicit memory. Fight or flight. It encodes itself in the mind and body.
Mindfulness is not only being aware of present but also how trauma embeds into our daily experience. Re-remembering also means bringing that which is disassociated back into the self. It’s recognizing , rejoining something into consciousness that has lurked outside our awareness.
First, I was set afire by the process of finding my birth mother. The primal wound was let out of its cage. I found myself curled up in fetal position many times howling like an injured animal. A guttural sound coming from a place i didn’t know existed. I didn’t understand then what was happening to me. The drawer that held that first trauma had been opened and one by one the rest were beckoning me to open them.
I’m sure everyone around me would tell you that I was an emotional disaster, reacting, reliving without recognizing. I also had a biological family that I so desperately wanted to fit in, yet had just met. It wasn’t until I completely crashed, partly because my mast cell disease had taken over my body and partly because I was so traumatized I was unable to function. No one recognized either, including myself. I had many labels cast in my direction trying to explain things, none fit.
Trauma isn’t held in normal memory because the feelings associated with them are unendurable. They never make it into the part of the brain that makes sense out of emotional experience.
As the Primal Wound which is our first trauma is based on the neural pathways deep in the amygdala, they operate outside the influence of conscious thought. In an instant trauma can hijack our mind, destroy our awareness. It slips us out of time, no past, no future when one is overtaken by it. It feels like it is happening now. This was Buddha’s philosophy as well. We colour our experiences thru prisms of our own mind. Unresolved trauma waits patiently for opportunity to express itself. Unfortunately, it can be enacted with little self-awareness.
As I was writing, for eight years I lived, breathed every moment of my traumas. I was now in contact with biological family that constantly reminded me of what I was not part of. The pain of hearing stories, seeing pictures knowing I was missing, had missed 50yrs of being a daughter, a sister, an aunt. For the books, I surrounded myself with visual reminders of old wall paper, pictures, furniture. I felt each moment. I smelled the smells, felt the pain. At times overwhelmingly so. I knew each drawer must be cleared out. There would be no more secrets. In order to find my authentic self, my freedom I had to walk, crawl through the world of traumatic pain to get to the side where peace lived.
As the Buddha taught mindfulness he was aware as psychotherapists are today that trauma encoded in implicit memory could become objects of meditation.
Mindfulness creates a container for our pain. By moving our ego’s to a neutral place of observation we can heal. As I wrote, I collected my dissociative elements and brought them back into self. It’s a very humbling experience but one of relief and healing. As I now hold my traumas in my awareness I can move forward in peace.
Write it out. Even if its for no one but yourself it’s transformative and healing. Come on. Pick up that pen, tap those keys. You can do it.