Saturday, February 7, 2015

I don't try to forget. I simply remember no more.

Some word pairs just seem to go together. Cream and sugar. Laverne and Shirley. Forgive and forget. We hear them used together so often that we think they are forever inextricably linked to one another.

Forgive and forget...

We've all heard it. Someone respected by us and well-meaning has said you'll just need to forgive and forget that happened. The phrase is thrown around as if it were a magic dagger- by forgiving and forgetting our problems will be over. All will be right with the world. And if, like me, you have grown up in church we can just turn that up a notch by including the qualifier

...just as God has forgiven and forgotten your sin.

In my case, that means only one thing. God has forgotten more about me that He has ever known. 

Trying to forget trauma is like trying to forget you have on only one shoe. Or like trying to forget you can see. It does not come naturally. Anyone who has been through any kind of trauma has more than memories of the event. The basic physiological response of fear means we had a heightened sense of awareness at the time of the trauma. Our memories are more than just pictures in our minds; all of our senses are attached. Rather than seeing images with our mind's eye, we have deeply planted land mines in our heads with triggers like common smells, sounds, and touches. You don't forget the smell of moldy wood or the feel of carpet on your back; sometimes I have flashbacks. 

LIE- I must forgive and forget. 

Seriously, when did we start thinking that was a good idea? Memories serve a purpose. I burned my hand on the stove because I turned the wrong knob...I remember now to look at the knobs more carefully. (True story. My husband did/does the same thing). All of us could make lists a mile long of lessons we've learned that we will never, and should never, forget. So why do we think we should forget being assaulted in some way?

My moment of truth came while sitting in a Beth Moore bible study...
when she said something so provocative I thought surely she was going to be struck dead by a lightening bolt right there on the TV screen. She said that God does not forget our sin...

Let me stop right there for a second. What is forgetting? What does it mean? isn't it the opposite of remember? Here is a list of definitions for the word forget copied from

  1. to omit or neglect unintentionally:
  2. to leave behind unintentionally; neglect to take:
  3. to fail to think of; take no note of.
  4. to omit mentioning; leave unnoticed
  5. to neglect willfully; disregard or slight.
  6. to cease or omit to think of something..
  7. to cease or fail to remember; be unable to recall:

When I look at these definitions, I immediately see that there are basically two types of forgetting. The first is a complete inaction (#1-3). If you are guilty of this type of forgetting you are unaware that you are doing it. It is only when this forgetting becomes a forget of action (4-7)  that you even know that you've done it. In other words, you only know you have forgotten something when you remember it. 

So what does it mean to remember (according to
  1. to recall to the mind by an act or effort of memory; think of again:
  2. to retain in the memory; keep in mind; remain aware of:
  3. to have (something) come into the mind again:
  4. to bear (a person) in mind as deserving a gift, reward, or fee:
  5. to give a tip, donation, or gift to:
  6. to mention (a person) to another as sending kindly greetings:
  7. to perform (a programmed activity)at a later time according to a preset schedule
On the surface, these definitions can be divided into two categories. Mental remembrances (1-3) and physical remembrances (4-7). In all of the physical remembrance definitions, the mental memory causes an action to take place. But how accurate is that really? Looking at the first three definitions of remember, why do we keep something in memory? I remember phone numbers so I can call someone. I remember I need milk so that I will buy it. I remember a friend's birthday and I send a message to her. I remember a lovely dinner with my husband and I smile. I remember being raped......

Are remembering and forgetting truly opposites?

Back to Beth Moore's explanation. In order to understand "remember no more" we must look at how God remembers. Whenever you find the phrase "God remembered..." in the bible, you will see Him take an action. And you do not find a verse that says God forgets our sins. It says he removes them from us and remembers them no more. (There is a nice explanation of the original Hebrew words for remember and forget here, if you are interested).

So I no longer try to forget. I simply choose to not remember. 

I forgave the rapes. I still struggle with forgiving my mother (and that is because she forgot me, in that she willfully neglected me, she disregarded and slighted me. She ceased to think of me and refused to help me overcome being a two-time rape victim). But the good news is: I no longer judge my own healing on whether or not I forget any of their actions. I haven't, and I won't, forget what happened to me. But I can choose to not act upon them again; or at least I choose how I act upon them. If I act upon a memory of assault or abuse now, I choose to act in ways that do not lead to self harm. 

My memories of assault were painfully twisted with my self-image and self-esteem. In my youth I acted upon my memories by being promiscuous or getting drunk. I attempted to replace the negative feelings of being unseen (by my mother) and worthless (by the rapists) by getting lots of attention and being numbed for a time. It took a lot of time, and even more pain, for me to relearn feelings and emotions, and to properly assign a value to myself.  I had to look at not only the trauma I endured, but the pain I caused others by the ways I remembered; not only did I have to forgive others, I needed to seek forgiveness and make amends. 

I chose to not remember for many, many years. Now that my children are grown, and I've had the mental energy to go through healing and reach forgiveness, I remember again. I choose now to remember by being a voice, an advocate, a hand to hold. I choose to remember by seeking justice. I choose to remember by being active and proactive in my family and community. I choose to remember by giving attention to the young women I love, that they may not find themselves in the same pit I was in. 

Forgiving is hard. Forgetting is impossible. But the way I remember gives me control. 

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