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An ordinary memory sits like a photograph in a family album. It’s always available to visit by thumbing through the album. A trauma memory is not pasted in the photo album. It’s relegated to the attics of our mind to be stored in the unconscious. Dissociation happens when a trauma memory is ripped into pieces and locked in a vault without our knowing the photo was taken.

My childhood had trauma memories, those events I could remember but didn’t want to think about. They rarely intruded, but sometimes I would go to that attic in my mind to pull out a past memory and stumble across them. Like sorting through a box of photos collecting dust, my memories were jumbled together, a happy moment right next to a distressing event that was associated with it in some way.

It was the dissociated memories that shocked and then challenged me. I hadn’t known they existed. I didn’t know there was a vault that would safely store the kind of trauma memories that were so overwhelming, disempowering, and life-threatening I couldn’t manage them as a child.

Shock turned to challenge as I gathered information and embraced a healing journey with an outstanding therapist who knew the landscape of dissociated memories and childhood sexual abuse. What first felt like haunting, scary, ugly ghosts emerging from the vault of memories without my permission started to become empowering snapshots from my past.

Each time I surrendered to the memories that were bubbling up, I came away with gifts that empowered me to reshape by life in ways that thrilled me. They could show me moments that had transformed personal choices into coping reactions. These memories had information about fears that defined my days, relationships that did not honor my spirit, and feelings I didn’t understand. They had the power to shine a light on habits I couldn’t change even though they didn’t serve me.

Inviting secrets profoundly buried to protect me was a maze-like experience. When I drew this landscape of sharp corners, dead ends, and no paths, I was moving past resistance and into the arms of healing. Then I wished the secrets weren’t held so securely and deep inside because I wanted to know the treasures found in the answers they held.