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My first memory of childhood sexual abuse blew my world into a million fragments. I was 42 and felt like everything I knew about my life was now scattered at my feet like pieces of a puzzle that needed to be put back together again.

As I clung to “Courage to Heal” like a life raft, worked with a therapist, and staggered forward on my healing journey, I realized the puzzle I was putting back together didn’t look like the picture of my past I had shared with others. I was recognizing you find the secrets deep inside when you have dissociated trauma memories.

While it’s crazy-making to have flashes of your unknown past pop up without warning, it’s just as frustrating to be ready and determined to reclaim your truth and not be able to remember by following the usual path of memories. In one of those moments, when I was feeling washed away by a river of emotion, I grabbed my pen and started drawing lines until I understood; my sexual abuse memories would not come until I was ready.

My mind had tenderly pulled them out of my awareness and stored them in a secret room to protect me during my abuse and it was continuing to protect me. This drawing helped me understand my job was not looking for the memories, but doing everything possible to feel safe, empowered, and ready for the information held deep inside.

I could invite insights, and I did, but my days were spent building the foundation for what I would learn when a memory came. I resisted feeling I was on my own by actively responding to the security of my daily routines, the few allies who believed and cared about my experience, my survivors’ group, and my awesome, excellent therapist. I read everything I could find and I wrote in my healing journal without fail. I began being consciously aware of trusting my inner wisdom about the little things so I could rely on that feeling when the deeply embedded truths came out.

I didn’t know it then, but all these choices were part of the puzzle I was putting together. Memories give us valuable insights and bring changes, but we are also finding those pieces of ourselves that can take action to support our well-being.