Updated 03:24 pm EDT, September 1, 2023

Published 03:01 am EDT, August 6, 2023

Photo Credits

Model: Romina Bogado
Photography: Flávio Iryoda

Can You Trust Your Memories When They Turn Into Dreams?

By Virginia Mayer

Believing a false memory, like any dream, is way too risky.

By Virginia Mayer

Updated 03:24 pm EDT, September 1, 2023

Published 03:01 am EDT, August 6, 2023

Photo Credits

Model: Romina Bogado
Photography: Flávio Iryoda

I have very few memories from my early childhood. I spent the first six years of my life between New Jersey and the Carolinas and only have three clear memories: I remember my room’s thick, dark orange rug and rainbow-colored, tube-shaped ice cream my mom used to buy for me and how I hid with it behind her car seat while she drove back home so no one would ask me to share. I also remember playing in the backyard with a new doll that resembled me, which a close family member who was visiting had gifted me. I remember sitting on the grass, playing with them and the doll. Nothing else.

Photo Credits

Model: Romina Bogado
Photography: Flávio Iryoda

Fast forward to a couple of years later. We were living in Bogotá, Colombia, and I only remember two things: Hiding in my uncle’s room and playing doctor with a cousin I had a crush on. And the day we left the country, when I was getting on the plane, I dropped my brand-new, pink, rainbow Care Bear in a puddle.

From there on, since we moved to Uruguay, I have a lot more memories. I remember studying for school with my mom. I went to an Italian school that had Uruguayan and Italian academic programs, meaning everything was double. I had a lot of trouble remembering things, so my mom used to make me dance around a table while memorizing the names of rivers, mountains, and seas. And how she used to make up song lyrics with everything, I had to remember, which was the only way I could manage. Regardless, as soon as I finished the test at school, I’d forget everything. Everything. I now know the brain of people with ADHD -like myself- tends to do that.

I had pretty much uneventful teenage years, except for an accident I had between 9 and 12 years old. I have written about this many times because it actually changed my life and still affects me to this day. I even dedicated a chapter of “Polaroids” -my first novel- to it.

In a nutshell: I was playing Tag with some friends in a children’s park, so I climbed a metal structure and jumped backward without looking… Well, I landed open-legged on a bench and cut my vagina with a sort of short metal bar. I had stitches put in without anesthesia while being held back by three nurses and my mom and screaming like a pig at the slaughterhouse. I will mention the trauma it caused but won’t get into it because that would be an entirely different column. The point is that the stitches had to be removed; they wouldn’t come off on their own. And the doctor who did it added to the trauma.

Just last week, I went to the doctor for a routine pap test (as my mom had cervical cancer) and couldn’t stop crying during the process and around three hours after it.

Photo Credits

Model: Romina Bogado
Photography: Flávio Iryoda

For many years, I assumed many of my troubles were due to that accident since I never had any kind of therapy for it. Today I can say my parents did the best they could; I forgave them and loved them madly. Tough, that wasn’t the case before. I guess it’s just all about growing up, right? Anyway, I’ve had depression and anxiety on and off throughout my life, and one day I decided to investigate online, which, even though we all know is not a good idea, we do it anyway.

You see, up until over a year ago, I was very, very promiscuous. I lost count of how many (mostly) men and women I had sex with. I know I kissed more than 100 mouths before losing my virginity, though (I had a list and once published a story about them all). I’ve struggled with an addiction to sugar since I was a teenager, my body weight has always been a yo-yo, and I’ve been dealing with overweight since then. I never tried to kill myself, but I did think about it. I always had trouble making and keeping friends because I never felt loved as I loved them. I never felt I fit any group of people and didn’t believe my crushes when they told me they loved me. For a long time, I was terrified of having sex and couldn’t fathom being penetrated; I thought I was damaged.

Google told me all of my troubles had something in common: (Among other things), those could be the symptoms of someone who was sexually abused as a child. I know, I know, this could be a stretch, I thought so myself. Though something else happened, that reinforced that theory. I wasn’t supposed to know this, but I found out the family member I mentioned at the beginning of this story is a pedophile, and we know of at least two cases where they were sexually inappropriate with two girls. They had to move from one of their homes because the father of one of the girls threatened to kill them if they didn’t leave. Now, why do I not identify them? This is why:

When I found out about this sinister detail, I started to wonder whether they had sexually abused me as well. To this day, when they see me, they still tell me I look exactly as I did when I was a little girl… And I CRINGE. I wanted to remember if something had happened to me and if they had hurt me in any way. So, I told my therapist about it all and inquired about hypnosis. She said we could do it. She said I could probably remember it happened but added that the memory could also be created by my brain, meaning I could remember something that never happened.

That’s when I learned there’s something called False Memories. The folks at “Science, The Wire” explain that memory is malleable and how remembering is a reconstructive, dynamic process that draws on many sources of information. This means it brings together a lot of facts and reconstructs events instead of recalling them all as they occurred. I did some more digging and found an article by “Big Think” that claims that in psychology, false memory is a phenomenon where someone recalls something that did not happen or recalls it differently from the way it happened. It’s also called Memory Distortion, and we’re all susceptible to it because it’s how the brain stores memories efficiently.

Photo Credits

Model: Romina Bogado
Photography: Flávio Iryoda

We’ve all seen it in most True Crime documentaries when witnesses to crimes claim they saw something that’s later on proved was suggested to them. Even false childhood memories can be difficult to separate from what did take place, particularly when said “memories” are painful.

I decided I wasn’t going to pursue that option because there’s no way I want to remember an event as traumatic as that possibility if there’s a chance it could be made up by my brain. So, I asked my best friend if he’d drive me to this family member’s home because I decided to ask them directly. However, my friend suddenly died, and there’s really no one else I’d ask for something as uncomfortable and sinister as that.

Believing a false memory, like any dream, is way too risky and the reason why I won’t identify this family member. You can’t just force a dream into becoming a reality; it doesn’t work that way. I guess if the dream entails becoming a better person, you could make it come true by changing your habits, etc. That isn’t the case when the dream is about sexual abuse during childhood. This family member is already ruined by what they did, but that doesn’t mean I can just add up another crime because Google told me so.

I wish I could say I’m going to put all my energy into dreaming better dreams, but with as much weed as I smoke, I don’t actually remember my dreams… I made peace with the fact that I’ll never know whether I was sexually abused or not, and maybe I’ll try to smoke less to dream again.

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