Sexual abuse repressed memories

How Do You Know If Your Memories of Sexual Abuse Are Real?By Christina Enevoldsen

When I was sued by my parents for exposing the sexual abuse that was perpetrated on me by my father, my lawyer asked me a question: “How do you if know your memories of sexual abuse are real?”

He was defending me against charges of defamation of character and intentional infliction of emotional distress so that was a fair question.

Though I was solid in my history by then, that’s a question I asked myself frequently as I faced my past.

I didn’t always remember my abuse—at least not consciously. I repressed most of it until I was an adult. When the memories returned, they felt like dreams. It was like seeing them through a wall of water or heavy mist.

Even though I forgot most of my abuse, there were a few things that I never forgot. I didn’t define them as sexually abusive until I learned the true definition of sexual abuse.

I had minimized them by just calling them, “strange” and “hurtful”:

When I was about eight or nine years old, I was playing dress up with my mom’s things as my parents were entertaining guests. I put on my mom’s black half slip and wore it as a dress. I accessorized it with her shoes and pearls. I felt pretty and wanted to show everyone. I was too afraid of rejection to present myself to the adults so I passed by them on the way to the front patio, hoping they would see me.

As I was going outside, my dad joked to the guests that I would make a good call girl. Everyone laughed. I felt a strange mixture of pride and shame. Somehow, I knew that my dad approved of me “making a good call girl” but I also knew there was a badness attached to it.

Another part of my sexual abuse that I always remembered but tried not to think about was that my dad liked to watch me masturbate. He’d get a glazed look in his eyes when he was sexually aroused. I remember feeling uncomfortable about it, but my dad really liked it and he gave me his approval.

When I was married to my first husband, he told me that he’d been sexually abused by his parents. I was devastated as though it had happened to me. Soon after that, I began to remember that I had been sexually abused. It was more than just a suspicion; I knew.

For years, I couldn’t remember anything specific. I knew that it was my dad who had abused me, but also thought I might have been abused by others. I had the feeling of being passed around.

Many years passed without too much thought of abuse. I divorced my husband for emotional and financial abuse and discovered that he had molested our 19 year-old daughter almost all of her childhood. She decided that telling me and a few other people was as far as she was comfortable with so the issue was buried again.

The Memories Resurfaced

Five years later, I was happily and safely remarried when everything changed. My daughter called me one night to tell me she was ready to report her father for sexually abusing her.

Sexual abuse was again in the forefront of my mind. While doing my best to support her, I started having graphic flashbacks and dreams. The flashbacks, nightmares and other memories revealed that my father not only abused me himself, but also traded me to other men. He took me to sex parties where young children were exchanged. My dad sent me to the neighbor’s house, where the neighbor raped me with a pool cue in his basement.

I also started seeing my childhood memories in a different light. Being “Daddy’s little girl” took on a whole different meaning. All along, I thought I had no memories of my abuse, but it slowly occurred to me that what I thought of as normal Father/Daughter activities were, in reality, acts of sexual abuse.

Struggles With Denial

It was hard to accept those things as real, but they kept coming up. All of them seemed to have a common theme of betrayal and violation. As hard as it was to accept, it was hard to deny that they fit all that I’d felt my whole life and the ways I thought and behaved.

When the memories started coming up, I wanted to dismiss them but I also desperately wanted to break through the fog. I was afraid of what I was seeing but I was more afraid of not knowing. I hated believing something might be there, yet not be able to see it clearly or at all.

I’d accept my memories as valid one day and deny them the next. But there was something about them that felt true and I couldn’t shake the relief I felt that there were answers to my strange behaviors and feelings.

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