Beating Fear with a Stick, Eating Disorders/Healing, Guest Posts, Vulnerability

About Knowing What I Don’t Remember.

August 26, 2014

By Kit Rempala

I’ve never been “normal” – if that word means anything at all. I see and speak to dead people. On occasion I read people’s minds and have prophetic dreams. Souls and emotions are as tactile to me as the fur on my cat’s back. I hear messages in nature, be they from water or fire or wind or earth or the moon in the sky or the rustling of leaves. I feel everything.

So, to sum things up: I’m pretty darned good at believing in things I don’t see, things I’ve never seen, and things that can’t be seen. Sometimes, I worry I’m too good at believing.

I never believed I’d been sexually abused until my therapist asked me. I thought I’d answer “no” and the session would move on. But instead she asked me another question, one I’d never expected: “Are you sure?”

What did that mean, am I “sure?” How could I not be? How could I not know? How could anyone not know?

But apparently abuse is the case for a lot of people who end up with eating disorders. That’s what I was there for: anorexia nervosa, the disease I’d combatted for most of my adolescence and do until this day (I’m twenty-two years old now). And I’ve heard before that plenty of times, these parasites known as eating disorders stem from sexual abuse during childhood. I’d just never considered it until now.

I suppose it would make sense, if it were true. It would explain my steadfast denial of my own femininity, how it was easier to whittle my body away to nothing than to make sense of its foreignness come puberty, how I’d rather call myself genderless than a woman, why dating men felt anything but comfortable…

But I had no “proof.” Funny, that someone as involved in the esoteric as me would dismiss something without formal or empirical proof. But it was true: I had none. There were no memories, no specific instances, no ghosts of images or smells or touches that burdened my mind and kept my dinner plate empty. All I knew was since the age of ten I’d been plagued with nightmares of being raped by a faceless man, I detested sex of any kind, and I had an intense and inexplicable fear of male family members.

I suppose this amounted to a fair deal of emotional evidence, but nothing more. For a long time I feared it wasn’t enough – like I had no way of justifying my suspicion. I felt guilt and shame for even wondering if it could be true, as though it were an insult to those who had to live with true, uncontestable memories of abuse every day. But try as I might to ignore it, I couldn’t help but connect those scattered dots of suspicion. And the more I connected, the more I began to believe it.

The more I began to believe it, the more my hatred grew – not for my potential abuser, but for my therapist. I knew it was unfair. I knew it was her job. But I couldn’t help but think, “How could she do this to me? How could she force me to knock on that door when I had no way of opening it?” I felt betrayed. I felt abandoned. She had pushed me into the cave of a monster I’d never considered existed and left me alone to wrestle it. I was scared to talk about it with my family, and I couldn’t accuse anyone of something so heinous without the self-assurance of it being true…

Sometimes I wonder whether or not it would be easier to cope if I knew for sure it had happened. As horrific and backward as it sounds, there’s a sort of comfort in knowing, in certainty. In certainty you can own it, not as your fault but as a part of who you are and what you’ve overcome. You can stand up and say, “I am me, and this is a part of who I am. It happened to me, and I survived.” But where did I stand if I wasn’t even sure? Did I blame someone else, myself, or no one?

Fear of the unknown has often been labeled as the worst and truest fear there is. At least, it is for me. I’ve never feared death, because I’ve always known that it’s coming. I don’t know when, but I know it’s inevitable. I came into this life knowing someday it would end, and in that sense I’ve always known where I’m going. No matter how lost I am, I know all roads lead to that same, quiet place. In my philosophy classes at college they taught us that nobody really fears death. We don’t fear the act of dying in itself. What we fear is the uncertainty of afterlife, of not knowing where we go – if we go anywhere (I’ve spoken to spirits about the afterlife before, and so it’s not as unknown to me as to most, but that’s a horse from a different herd). And it’s true: No child fears the setting of the sun as it sinks beneath the horizon. What children fear is the darkness that follows, and the uncertainty of what monsters may await them therein.

But something they didn’t teach us in philosophy is that darkness is not the opposite of light – it is the absence of light, just as ignorance is not the opposite of knowledge but instead the absence of it. Ignorance is not as pejorative as people make it sound. The fear of my abuser lays not in memory, but in the ignorance that comes from the absence of memory – from the absence of the knowledge that begets certainty.

For years I struggled in the darkness with these monsters: peering around at family reunions to try and pin a face on the faceless man in my nightmares, gritting my teeth and bearing down during sex and praying it would be over soon, quietly excusing myself from crowded rooms where I could feel every man’s overbearing “maleness” closing in around me, wondering if my unanchored fears were the result of repression or an overactive imagination.

There have been times when I wished I knew for sure if it happened. There have been times when I wished my therapist had never even opened her mouth to ask me, “Are you sure?” Because in suspecting but not knowing I felt I was missing a part of my history, a part of who I truly am. How was I supposed to overcome a trauma I was unsure I had ever experienced? How does one cope with an event for which one has no memory and no light to shed upon it – no proof?

Throughout the years I’ve come to understand that I don’t fear the possibility “that” it happened. I don’t fear the possibility that my head ran away with my nightmares, either, and it didn’t really happen at all. I don’t fear the action. I don’t fear the invasion. I don’t fear the betrayal. I don’t even fear the man who may or may not have done it. All I fear is not knowing myself. I fear the idea that some part of me has wrapped up this memory in a neat, little parcel and placed it atop a shelf where I’ll never have to look at it. I don’t want to live in such fear that I have to subconsciously protect myself. I want to know every bit of myself. I want to love every bit of myself.

What I don’t want is to constantly have to wash myself clean of the sticky residue that leaks from that little parcel: the nightmares, the fear, the anxiety, the uncertainty. Whether the box is empty or whether there’s pain waiting inside – it’s hard to not know. Because in my opinion, light – no matter how gentle or how harsh – is always better than darkness. Knowledge is always a step higher than ignorance. So, maybe I am a little too good at believing in things I can’t see. Or maybe I’ve seen it all along, but it was myself that I didn’t believe in. Either way, the darkness is no place for me. Because I’ve been through plenty that I do remember, and despite it all I’ve crawled out of that cave smiling. And whether the worst possibility is true or not – I’ll still have overcome it. I’ll still be alive.

Kit Rempala is a collegiate philosopher-in-training, budding writer of poetry and short (non)fiction, art history enthusiast, vegan, animal and nature lover, spiritual empath, and yoga practitioner. As an eating disorder survivor, she strives to imbue whomever she can with strength, love, and awareness to combat the stigmas associated with struggles in mental health. She spends her days drinking coffee and dancing to strange music in her hometown of Villa Park, IL

Kit Rempala is a collegiate philosopher-in-training, budding writer of poetry and short (non)fiction, art history enthusiast, vegan, animal and nature lover, spiritual empath, and yoga practitioner. As an eating disorder survivor, she strives to imbue whomever she can with strength, love, and awareness to combat the stigmas associated with struggles in mental health. She spends her days drinking coffee and dancing to strange music in her hometown of Villa Park, IL

 

Jennifer Pastiloff, Beauty Hunter, is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Check out jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up: South Dakota, NYC, Dallas, Kripalu Center For Yoga & Health, Tuscany. She is also leading a Writing + The Body Retreat with Lidia Yuknavitch Jan 30-Feb 1 in Ojai (2 spots left.)

Click poster to order Simplereminders new book.

Click poster to order Simplereminders new book.

 

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11 Comments

  • Reply Paul Militaru August 26, 2014 at 9:33 am

    Beautiful !

  • Reply anita brown August 26, 2014 at 12:53 pm

    Kit, you are a wonder, an angel and a super-hero…bless your journey of self-discovery and know your gifts are many and so appreciated…<3

  • Reply Lorelai August 26, 2014 at 1:26 pm

    Thank you! Thank you for this. For putting into words what I have felt, but haven’t quite understood for many years. I, too, had someone pose this question to me. I had wondered before this (for many of the same behaviors you mentioned, but having someone ask only managed to validate my questioning, which of course would send me into the spiral that you just wrote about. I feel a bit guilty about this, but hearing that someone else has/is going through these things just as I have been, has oddly lifted a weight from my shoulders and made me feel much better. And the last paragraph was extremely powerful. Thank you!

  • Reply Caitlin August 26, 2014 at 2:25 pm

    Kit, I know this is a bit off the main thesis, but have you done some research into the Native American medicine person/shaman tradition? Traditionally, this spiritual person – able to “read people’s minds and have prophetic dreams,” able to communicate with the dead – was also someone who identified as genderless (the “old” Native term is berdache). It was believed that the person’s ability to cross the boundaries of gender also enabled them to cross other boundaries – in society, and in the spirit world. Let me know if you’re interested in some reading as you walk your path to self-knowledge.

  • Reply Nancy August 26, 2014 at 5:23 pm

    Thank you so much, this was so powerful and meaningful to me!! I copied and pasted part of it to think on more… the fear of not knowing myself, that is EXACTLY what i’ve been struggling to put into words as to what has been ‘itching’ at me for a long time. Beautiful writing, and thank you again for sharing a part of your soul with us! 🙂

  • Reply mamajulee August 26, 2014 at 5:45 pm

    Kit…I have had many similar experiences but don’t have an eating disorder. God talks to me and I see things other people don’t see.
    I am scared to death of men who are not gay or at least a little bit feminine. I was sexually abused by my husband and it took me 22 years to figure that out. Was I sexually abused as a child? I still don’t know. But I do know for sure that knowing something is way better than not knowing. Much love from my soul to yours!

  • Reply barbarapotter August 27, 2014 at 1:02 am

    This was truly amazing. I know what it is like to know but not know. I remember as a small child that something happened over a period of years and I do know who the person was; but, I have completely blocked out all of it except for one blurry snapshot in my mind having to do with a camera and his dark cellar. There is no way I will remember and I don’t want to. I am sure my mind took care of that for me! Coincidentally, the other day I found a tiny black and white photo of me near near a tree he is standing behind me. The picture is torn from being old and how I even have it I don’t know. I was probably 4 about 61 years ago I suppose. The look on his face is so creepy, dark, secretive. He was a neighbor, family friend, father, husband, photographer (pedophile) and my occasional babysitter. You get the picture. No pun intended. Thanks so much for sharing this.

  • Reply Alaina August 27, 2014 at 2:13 am

    This is an amazing piece. I want to thank you for having the courage to share, and in such an eye-opening way (soul-opening? I feel too much too—too much because it’s interfered with my well-being, but not too much in the sense that there aren’t also wonderful things about feeling things deeply. A recovered therapist told me once that as deep as our pain has been, that’s how capable we are of great joy).

    You worded your experience so well. Have you heard of Comfortable with Uncertainty by Pema Chödrön? The same therapist told me about that.

    “How could she force me to knock on that door when I had no way of opening it?” hits home for me and “All I fear is not knowing myself” is probably the most profound statement, in the context you put it, that I’ve heard—meaning you have answers within you, the answers I seek! Isn’t it funny how we can want answers so badly, and yet, we are the ones who provide them to others?

    I want to tell you something (if okay). I was also in eating disorder treatment, and I have abuse that I do remember, couldn’t forget. Remember almost every instance, fear, phrase, image, conversation, and shameful memory. But I was also asked by my psychiatrist if there was more, because signs pointed to earlier abuse by a family member BEFORE that horrific abuse that lasted for years.

    Anytime anyone asks me if the person in question (the family member) abused me, I break down crying. I can’t help it. “All of the signs point to it.” But you know what? He didn’t, not in that simplified way that we use to put understanding in place of things that aren’t meant to be understood. I don’t have a definite answer, but then again, having a definite answer of the other, horrid abuse makes it no less confusing and torturous. What makes it less is speaking my truth, connecting to joy, finding inner peace, and allowing the pain to be there and know it’s real no matter what form it shows itself in.

    I learned more from time than trying to figure out. You are wonderful for posting this, and a beautifully insightful writer/philosopher/person.

  • Reply Lauren August 27, 2014 at 5:40 pm

    Wow! I relate so incredibly strongly to this. I’ve never read an article I feel this way about. It was very well written. I want to add you on facebook haha.

    🙂

  • Reply Renee Greiner August 31, 2014 at 11:36 am

    Honestly, I expected you to be much older, which is a compliment. I loved this very much.

    Good writing!

    Renee

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