“Fractured Memory,” by Hanna Trussler, 2012
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about my early years–childhood and adolescence. As many of you know, my parents were active alcoholics, narcissists (my dad more likely covert NPD or maybe Borderline), and that I spent almost all of that time miserable and lonely due to emotional (and sometimes physical) abuse both at home and at school (because I was already trained to be a good little victim and had no self esteem or the ability to defend myself, I was bullied a lot).
The problem is, most of these early memories are fractured, hazy, or both. I remember snippets of traumatic events, but in most cases I can’t remember the entire event, or it’s spotty. Some of my memories seem more like dreams than reality and therefore I can’t remember the specifics of what happened. The same is true of my abusive marriage. I can only remember fractured pieces of that time. The two and a half decades I spent with him don’t seem like a cohesive whole, but more like a photo album with many of the photos missing. But this post isn’t about my early adult years.
I think something happened when I was 12 that was significant and a kind of turning point for me–it was when I stopped trusting anyone, I think. It was the moment when I realized how truly alone I really was and that no one cared and anyone who said they cared was probably lying. I’m not 100% sure, but I think this is when I stopped reaching out to others and began my avoidant pattern of behavior. Of course, this coincided with puberty, so maybe that had something to do with it too.
Here’s what I do remember. My parents and I had taken a two week trip to the beach. Another couple and their two children came along with us and rented the cottage next door. That couple was friends with my parents. I didn’t know my father was sleeping with the wife at the time, and my mother probably didn’t either, but I remember how jealous she was of that other woman because she was younger and blonder than she was and my father paid a lot of attention to her. Their daughter was a year older than me and was adopted. She was from India and was a close friend of mine at the time. I envied her beautiful long, glossy black hair, permanent tan, and huge soft brown eyes. Her little brother (her parent’s natural child) was an adorable little blond-headed boy of about 5 or 6. To me, they seemed like the perfect family. It may have been an illusion (for all I know, they were putting on appearances too), but to my 12 year mind, they seemed like they were in love with each other and their kids were both well loved and well-adjusted. My friend always seemed happier, more focused on a future (she eventually became a doctor) and much more emotionally stable than I was. I loved her and envied her.
My parents at the time were drinking heavily and fighting almost daily. Some of their arguments became physical, and I remember lying silently in my bed at night listening to these arguments as they escalated. I was both fascinated and terrified. What if they divorced? What if they abandoned me? What if they killed each other? What if I became an orphan? I seemed to be the cause of an awful lot of their problems (and they did fight over me a lot).
This beach vacation didn’t put a stop to their constant fighting, and one night, my father left. I don’t know where he went, but my mother and I were left alone. My mother didn’t speak to me about this and her demeanor toward me was cold, as if I was an annoyance to her. I was terrified my father was never coming back, and I remember crying myself to sleep the next night. I don’t think my mother ever came in to comfort me. She was probably getting drunk, but I don’t remember.
Desperate for someone to talk to, I pulled the father of my friend aside, and asked him if I could talk to him in private. He always seemed like a warm and sympathetic person to me, someone who loved kids. We sat down outside on a bench near the parking lot, with the sound of the waves crashing behind us on the beach, and I spilled out all my worries, all my pain, and all my fears. I talked for about an hour. He just held my hand and listened. I started to cry and he held me. He told me everything would be alright. He didn’t say he was going to talk to my parents.
He must have talked to them, because that night I was told by my mother that my father was returning to talk to me. She said he was not happy and was in fact enraged.
He came back as promised, and that’s where my memory gets all hazy and fractured. I remember snippets, like quick-flashing frames from a movie: getting beaten severely (but I was always beaten in a way that bruises didn’t show), being told I was a troublemaker and was the reason the family was falling apart. That I was nothing but a problem to them and never knew when to keep my mouth shut. I don’t remember the rest but I know there’s even more. I just can’t access it.
I also don’t know if my friend’s father had told my parents what I’d said to him because he was concerned about me and thought they might listen to him, or if he was just another participant in the abuse against me.
I realized even then my parents were drunk and probably not fully in control of what they said and did, but I think behind their alcoholism was narcissism. I think a lot of narcissists become alcoholics or addicted to drugs, and even after they become sober or clean, refuse to look any deeper into the core issues that caused them to drink or use in the first place. But that’s a subject for a later post. One thing that did occur to me, was that the only time my parents seemed to come together as a team and weren’t attacking each other, was when they joined forces to attack me. Only then were they the unified couple I dreamed of, unified in their abuse of their only child.
I don’t remember much of what happened after that beating and berating. I’m pretty sure our vacation ended at that point. I might have been sent to stay with relatives for a week or two, or left with a babysitter, so they didn’t have to deal with me. I feel like something important got blacked out, but I can’t remember what it was. But it was around this time that I stopped being able to confide in anyone at all. I remember one of the nuns who taught me in 8th grade, a woman who seemed to favor me for some reason, once called me aside and asked me if I was abused at home. I thought to myself, how can she tell? Of course I told her I wasn’t, that everything was fine. But nothing was fine in my life anymore. I think my emotional growth stopped that summer. At age 12. But it might have stopped even earlier than that. How in the name of God was I ever supposed to grow into a happy successful adult, able to form healthy attachments to others, when I never grew beyond the age of 12?
The next summer I was sent to sleep-away camp for the entire summer, and while I did enjoy it for the most part, I couldn’t help but feel that it was a rejection, a way for my parents to get rid of ‘the problem child’ so they didn’t have to deal with my “issues.”
Wow. Suddenly I feel like crying. The pain is getting real.
I’m asking the little girl who still lives somewhere inside me to tell me everything she knows.
Hanna, It sounds like you ARE remembering more though. You will probably begin to remember even more in the not so distant future. I know that’s how it worked with me. I had a lot of PTSD and it was in therapy(after a couple of decades of it), that one day I started remembering the past and telling my therapist about it. Before then, I only spoke of the present. It was like I was beginning to ‘wake-up.’ First I said, out the blue, “Things have progressed.” It was like I hadn’t noticed the changes in the world for decades until one day. I realized things were indeed different and more advanced. Then I started talking about co-workers I used to like, and HS classmates, things like that. And then I began to connect the dots and make sense of things. It might happen that way for you too. I sense that you are on your way. One thing that kept happening to me as a kid was when I was out with my family or my narc mo, I would always somehow get lost. Lost in the store, lost at the beach etc. It kept happening and I would be told that I wandered, I believed it too, my fault. No way, narc mo was hoping I’d get lost and stay lost!
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Thanks for the encouragement. I think the fact I’m thinking so much more about these things means I’m also remembering more and maybe will start to connect the dots soon. BTW, Hanna is the name of the artist of the painting I used for the post, but no worries! Thanks for your thoughtful comments.
Wow that’s pretty heavy stuff. Protective mechanism. You’ll remember when you’re ready I’m sure. Sorry my comment is fragmented. Things like this leave me stunned with a lot of nothing to say. I hope you’ll be OK when it comes to you.
This also reminded me that I was wondering and questioning something along the same lines. Not a specific memory like you write about here, but the fact that if I’m aware of some fragmented memories, what others are there?
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Your mind is probably protecting you from the things you can’t remember until you’re ready to remember…
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Your story is giving me the same feeling I get when I look down from the edge of something VERY HIGH UP.
I also feel like I’ve been punched in the solar plexus and had all the air slammed out of me.
I have a few stories of my own like yours. Fractured. Never before thought of them that way.
I think I’ll ask my own “little girl who still lives somewhere inside me to tell me everything she knows.”
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I used to think there was something wrong with my memory, like I was brain damaged or something. It’s not that at all, but sometimes it feels that way.
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Sounds like a terrible memory to remember. No wonder you’ve blocked some of it out. ❤ I've had repressed memories hit me; it's not fun. All I can say is do your best to remember it's not happening to you now.
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I am almost 42 and lately I have been wondering if its just my memory loss due to age or.. if I also have blocked some things out… I also see things as snippets and dream like and also TOTALLY forgotten or like “another person” so that now I only “intellectually know” I had frequent beatings growing up.. but I cant really recall… but one or two!!! if I think REALLY hard I can come up with 5 incidents and there were hundreds…… it was a way of life as I recall..intellectually…
my father was also an alcoholic..but my mother was a co -enabler victim type narc… she PLAYED victim and further abused her own children so I was never able to see her as a TRUE victim.. for she wasn’t trembling in fear the way I was and she even used that against me….
considering she knew his abusive VIOLENT drunken rages I thought how DARE SHE USE HIM to “discipline me” when I was in trouble for a minor thing.. or even if not minor (such as cutting class) still I felt forever betrayed by her… that she couldn’t WAIT for him to get home from work to tell him hat I had done KNOWING he’d beat me….then later on play victim… about the abusive household… like she had the RIGHT to differentiate when it was a drunken violent beating and a “discipline for bad behavior” we as the children KNOW its all the same! drunk is drunk..
when I see this world full of violence killing beheadings,rape,pedophiles and much much more
and me … this teenage girl… whose biggest crime was cutting a class at school or stealing a lipgloss… I am PROUD of myself… and they should have been too..
anyway that’s another story
but their warped sense of justice is astounding.
they can beat you ceaselessly for your entire life… and that’s ok..
but if YOU do a tiny thing.. its as if you’ve murdered someone…that’s how I was always made to feel
a straight A student… never did drugs even once or had sex…and can you imagine my father used to always threaten me with “juvee hall” as he called it
now this coming from a man who
I kid you not
HUMILIATED MY SOUL when he was called in to talk to my Principal and had no idea what grade I was in!!!!!!!
maybe he was drunk or never cared
how can I ever forget that moment? I was in 8th grade,,, I forgot if he thought 7th or 9th..but he DIDNT KNOW. and I about died on the spot before the principal mortified.
when youre so young.. and your father doesn’t know what grade you are in… well
its like living in an alternate reality,a surreal world…….I mean he LIVED with us.. it wasn’t some afar off father not in the same house… there never was a separation..he just didn’t know what grade I was in… and guess what he was there for? to sign a paper for my expulsion…..and he did. but I was orchestrating that.. I wanted to EXIT LIFE. I was so depressed….of course I blame myself for that…. school expelling me….. and my family all for it…. (they pretended to be concerned only to have something to yell at me about …my cutting classes often due to depression and anxiety)
I cut class to hang out alone
not to hang with friend and do drugs, just trying to explain my particular case so it can be seen how my family was……. I was a goodie goodie straight A student who couldn’t handle school..
the only help my mother tried was taking me to a psychologist who said “I need the rest of the family here too, this is a family problem not just hers” so my mother yanked me out of there and we never returned…. she hated being told that..
I also had instances of trying to get help and I was shut down as well. then they spent years trying to convince me im lying and crazy……
oh it was bad im telling you
phone cords were literally cut while I was on the phone and modems shut off ..any contact to outside world….if I did try to talk to ..say a man on the phone. a man id have interest in.. my brother would pick up the phone and yell into it that im a bitch or something
to embarrass me to the point id never talk to that man again and it worked
even though I SHOULD have realized that any normal man or friend of mine would see that is THEIR strange behavior and not reflective of me…I started to get stronger and have friends over.. and they would yell… and got WORSE than EVER..it was like I was on lockdown by my own brothers with my mother backing them up…
I showed my mom bruises my brother gave me she said “what did you do?”
I was being daily terrorized in my own house, I have FEAR of INSTANT FULL ON RAGE out of nowhere..and that’s what runs in my family among the males.
seems out of nowhere and instead its like they lie waiting for you to make one wrong move
such as daring to walk across the living room floor and it creaks!
oh yeah it was that bad
and in my early to LATE 20’s!!! the first half of my message was from the teen years… it just never stopped.
did any of you have this dynamic where the “MAIN” abuser dies and others tale up his spot in astounding ways and youre shocked???
my father died when I was 21…. the “main” abuser and TERRORIZER of the family… I NEVER IMAGINED after his death it was like he jumped into the bodies of my YOUNGER teen brothers and they started to act like him and WORSE(worse because they were never drunk alcoholics or on drugs! they did so intentionally with effort and systematically!)..it was like I couldn’t get away… my mother still NEEDED an abuser around.. she allowed her sons to become her husband who passed!!! I WAS SHOCKED!
your story made me feel like crying too.. brought up a lot.. I read every word and felt it all.i remember the later years as an adult with my brothers ..but the childhood I have blocked out.. the majority…
to this day I am returned to all my teen age feelings of shame and fear and inability to survive etc like im a high risk case who cant work continually and have a place/pay rent etc..the SAME thing as before..
sometimes ive had confidence and made a lot of money and was so happy and my whole demeanor changed
then an ex narc that I broke up with 9 years ago attacked me ,broke into my apartment
and reminded me of my former life
and … I quit a job ,two actually…
and my demeanor fell…. and im having ptsd everyday.
why must they always come back and suddenly attack
like my father always did.. then died
then my brothers took up his job and they did… even if I wasn’t around for years they still attacked…
like rabid dogs just waiting…
then my ex… I get my life together…. and make money and am happy for the FIRST time..
and boom he comes back to say hey.. you cant get rid of me…
I wonder what they want since it isnt love… and that’s what we wanted to give and receive..
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Sometimes I wonder if everyone’s memory is like mine, or if it’s particular to people like us who had our kinds of experiences. I don’t think it’s due to age since my memory has been like this a long time, and supposedly with age, your long-term memory actually improves.
I also feel a “died” at 12 or there was a cut off age and I just STAYED that girl and never really matured… I think about it all the time….so I also am lead to wonder if there was a particular “incident” traumatic that was a cut off for me.. or just in general… over time..i cant remember….
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