It’s fascinating to me how one tiny little photograph can illicit such a response. And how stumbling upon it can alter the course of a day.
I stared at the face of my little boy. His curly hair in a riot all around his head. The brilliant smile on his face. The Transformer toy clutched tightly in his outstretched hand matching the orange cake decorated with the Transformer symbol. The familiar background of the kitchen in the house I used to share with my monster. My son was turning 5 as shown by the number shaped candle sitting on the cake.
I remember nothing of this.
I stared at that cake willing even a small memory to come back. But nothing exists. I recall nothing of that birthday party. Nothing of that cake. Nothing of who was or was not present. Not even an inkling.
I texted the picture to my mother stating “I have absolutely zero recollection of this cake.” Then later that day, I called her about it. The first thing she said to me was, “I’m not surprised at all.” Then went to fill me in on who was present and why she wasn’t. That it was for his 5th birthday. That it was roughly two months before I would leave my monster. That it was during a time where I was mostly lost to them.
To survive my home and all that had transpired, I had become a master of dissociation.
dis·so·ci·a·tion – /diˌsōSHēˈāSH(ə)n,diˌsōsēˈāSH(ə)n/
verb – The act of being disconnected from the here and now. A persons disconnect from their surroundings which can stop the trauma memories and lower fear, anxiety and shame. Dissociation can happen during the trauma or later on when thinking about or being reminded of the trauma or when experiencing continuous trauma.
That last year with my monster, after the great sadness and before I found the courage to leave found me in a perpetual state of war with myself. I could see what he was but still could not wrap my mind around it. I could sense an ending of some sort was coming but had no clue what it was going to look like. I could feel the chaos of all the horrible things happening weighing down on me but could not figure out which thing was killing me the most. And so I disconnected. It was too much to handle. Too much to hold. Too overwhelming.
Disassociation is the bodies way of protecting the mind when in trauma. Those that go to war, who lose a child, who suffer at the hands of others, who witness a tragedy, and so on all experience this on some level. It’s a beautiful thing and yet…
How many beautiful memories will never return to me? How many photos will I see and not be able to recall a single moment of it? I know my disassociated mind protected me from some horrific happenings but at what cost? With the loss of the negative also came the loss of the positive.
My son’s 5th birthday will forever be lost to me along with countless other memories I don’t even know to mourn because I cannot remember them. So I’ll kiss my precious babies face on this picture and tuck it away. And maybe I’ll shed a tear for all the losses. I’ll let myself sit in this emotion for awhile longer. And then today at 3:00, I’ll pick my now 9 year old up from school and wrap my arms around him and thank God that every birthday here on out can be remembered.