Dealing with Painful Memories to Find Peace in the Present


“The practice of forgiveness is our most important contribution to the healing of the world.” ~Marianne Williamson

I awoke early one morning, the cries and pleas of my dreams slowly dissipating, and though I could no longer hear or see what was happening, it stayed with me as I drifted back to the real world. I knew this story; I had dreamed a memory, and the remains of it stayed with me in my body.

Like a dark cloud it made me pull my knees into my chest, and it forced salty tears from my closed eyes.  I had dreamed of a day almost two years ago.

I had dreamed of the day I was raped.

I was fifteen, and though at first I consented, I revoked that consent, but it happened anyway. That was the dream I had awoken from. The cries were mine; that voice that was begging him to stop was mine. 

It was like reliving it again, and again and again.

Memory is a funny thing. Since that day I have gone to many therapy sessions, I have made many changes in my life, I have even come as far as being able to forgive him for what he did, and myself for the choices I’d made to put me in that situation, but the memory remains.

When that emotion hits me, I feel like I did the day it happened. I revert back to the little girl I once was, and all of the progress I’ve made is somehow washed away with the tears.

I awake and I don't feel like I'm living in this body, in this world. I am stuck somehow somewhere else, in the foggy place of memory. And it's very hard to get out. I feel like it was my fault, like I am not worthy of a good life. 

I feel broken, and all I want is to be alone.

I don't always dream of him. The memories come and go, and I have learned ways to deal with it when the wall of emotion and trauma hits me. I have learned that sometimes it doesn't get easier with time and that sometimes we have to succumb to the feelings we have in order to release them. 

I heard once that by the time people are thirty, most of them have been traumatized in some way. I guess what I'm learning about forgiveness and memory is universal. So these are my ways of getting out of that place of pain and focusing back in the real world.

Ground Yourself

As I have said, when I have dreamed about him, I feel like I'm living the memory long after I wake up. I find myself drawn to activities such as yoga and meditation. It's my way of regaining my footing and releasing those memories of hurt.

Sometimes it's so easy to fall into the familiarity of trauma. This is when it is essential to make sure that we are grounded here and now so that we don't make the same mistakes again.

Connect with People

I find that when I am re-experiencing the abuse, I embody the false belief that I am not a deserving person. Not deserving of love, of connection, of support.

I also find that when I am left alone for extended periods of time, these feelings only grow. Find people who can support you. They don't always know what to say or how to fix it, but their efforts say something very powerful to a sad soul.

Their efforts say, very quietly, “I love you,” and very often it's those three simple words that can heals many wounds.

Forgive Yourself and Forgive Them

It took me two years to forgive the person who hurt me, and sometimes I'm not even sure if I forgive him completely. It wasn't fair and I didn't deserve what happened, but one day I realized that I was hurting myself by holding these feelings of anger in my body.

I learned to understand why he would have done it, and I discovered that it probably had nothing to do with me. He was in a lot of pain when it happened, and he wanted someone else to hurt just as much.

Forgiving myself was a little harder. It's an ongoing, never ending process. I did not deserve what happened to me. I should not have been hurt like that. But I was.

And no matter how much I lament what could have been, I am learning to understand that I handled the situation as best as I could then.  At the time that was good enough.

Most importantly, I've learned that sometimes the most devastating events hold the most important lessons in life. It's pushing through the fog of pain to reach the learning that is the key to living.

Memory is a funny thing.

Some memories slip away and we can barely recall them a week later. Others hold tight, nestling in a corner of our brains, and pop out when we lest expect them. Whatever the memory good or bad, it's essential to just do our best.

Stay present, stay connected, and learn to forgive.

As a very good friend once told me, forgiveness is not saying that what they did was okay; it's just saying that we refuse to hold the pain of what they did in our hearts any longer.

Photo by Clik Maverick

About Elora Nelson

Elora Nelson is a student and a uniquely candid writer, poet, and pen pal. Her experiences in a diverse set of circumstances influence her to write what she can't say. Her words demonstrate a distinctive tone and view of the world that is conscious of life as an ever-changing journey.

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  • This post reminded me of something i had Dr. Wayne Dyer quote: “Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.” Mark Twain

  • Razwana

    Moving and incredibly candid – thank you for writing this, Elora. For me, certain memories impact me most if I let them – it’s all in our control, as difficult as that may sound. And I agree with your friend, forgiveness does not mean what he did was ok. But it’s a release for you.

    – Razwana

  • joel

    You are very courageous and brave. Thank you for sharing your story and for helping others.

  • Someguy

    Its sorry to hear what happened to you and its great to hear that you somehow managed to cope with it…but sadly I dont know if these kind of things scar you permanently. I too have came trough something familiar…I wasnt raped but I saw my closed ones slowly pass away, slowly die in agonizing pain and moaning. It wasnt for few moments but many years, slowly, not one…but luckily one is alive, crippled but alive. It took me many years to cope with it, at start I wasnt even acknowledging the truth, because well at the moment you dont think, you do, you act. But when doctor said you are extremely lucky for him to be alive, then it hitted me like a wrecking ball. I thank him for saving him, its not his fault it hit me, it was just repressed trauma. It took me so much time to cope with it, but I think it took some permanent scars on me. But for me, those scars helped me to become a better man, I am so happy that I stayed my ground and fought to the last breath, not like anyone else from whom he needed help. I was alone, no one could help and those who could didnt, but it made me strong willed and literally burned morals on my body, to never forget how to walk my path. I hope you too found the strength within, the scar on your heart will only make you stronger. I hope this thing helped you to see what is really worth in life and what is not, it made you a strong woman, because many end up in suicides. I hope you will find the strength to accept what has happened and finally find peace with yourself.

  • Caitlin

    Elora, this piece is a true gift. Gentle, true wisdom…I needed to read this, thank you for sharing your humanity. x

  • Searching

    I cannot tell you how much I relate to your story and how brave I consider you to be. I too was raped but by a married coworker who disguised himself as a friend and I am a married woman who has carried this horrible shame and burden for 20 years without telling anyone, not even my husband, who I was married to at the time this happened, and still am married to. I feel so unworthy when my husband tells me I am a wonderful wife and I feel like such a big fraud. I also feel like if I tell him I will shatter his world ( and that of our kids) and why should we all suffer because I wasn’t strong enough to handle this situation better. I should have done things differently at the time like gone to my boss but I didn’t want to get the perpetrator in trouble because i feared him and i didn’t want to be the talk of the office so here I am, miserable, sad, and depressed 20 years later, wondering how i will get through this nightmare. Your post has given me a ray of hope. Thanks.

  • Thank you so much for your response. I am so happy my writing could touch someone to powerfully. You are an incredibly strong woman and your love for your family is very powerful and moving. I wrote this article to for people who may not have had the circumstances to tell anyone when a situation like this happens. Please don’t blame youreself, what happened to you was in no way your fault. Stay strong, stay connected, and I hope when the time is right, you have the courage and the ability to speak your truth. Sending you my love

  • Thank you so much for your reply. I believe that everyone has experienced something that has affected them in a very powerful way. I am so sorry to hear aout your loved one. I do think that my experience has bettered me as a person. Thank you for your input, strength and courage.

  • Thank you for all the responses, love and support. Knowing that I can connect and bring some sense of hope and peace is very powerful to me. <3

  • I am so glad you chose to write and publish this article. You are completely right that all adults have had some form(s) of trauma in their lives. It’s unfortunate how most “healthy” people think that, because they haven’t survived genocide or homelessness or addiction, their problems are really significant. When in truth, we all have wounds and shame that need forgiveness and healing.
    So thank you for being courageous enough to share your story.

    I wanted to also offer that I have found EFT (tapping) to be remarkably helpful in actually *changing* the experience of reliving traumatic memories. It’s been tested on Vietnam vets and all kinds of other life traumas with very helpful results. For me personally, I’ve been in a number of car accidents where I was not the driver and it made me very terrified to ride with others. Using EFT, I no longer relive my accident memories and being a passenger is something I can do with much greater peace.

    I hope that is helpful, because you totally deserve to be able to not be tormented by those memories anymore. You, and we all, deserve to be free.

  • Thank you for your support, I firmly believe that we all need too lean on each other for support if the circumstances alow it. I will defnintley look into EFT, to try to allieviate some of the dreams. Thank you again! Much Love

  • anna

    I have to say, a friend just recommended this site to me. For I have been in much pain. At age 16 this guys ten years older manipulated me into being with him. I was a nice sweet loving girl with a big heart. Stayed out of trouble and innocent. Knew not too much of adult relationships and never seen or touched the male body. Until he made me believe I was in a relationship and if I tried to beakup he would want to die and I felt so bad I stayed. I didn’t want my first time to feel that way or be that way.. I said no but this time that was not okay he yelled at me and made me feel bad. With lack of family and scared to admit it.. I was in that until last year. After a daughter, that is eleven years not one happy day fromthose moments.. except now as I try to move on.and now there are years of his shit in my head. Yeah so thanks . I’ve been trying to talk about it. Who can relate? What you wrote brings me closer to whatim looking for. Someone who understands something.your great. Thanx. I sent friend request. Maybe u can help me further. Who knows?

  • Hi anna, so sorry to hear about your story. I wouls definitley love to talk with you more, I accidently deleted your friend request because I got it before I read this, if youd be so kind as to send it again, I will definitely accept and we can talk further. Hope you have a good day. Our stories are very similar and I find it comforting to be able to share both what I have learned and to talk openly to someone who can relate. Much love

  • Elizabeth

    I’m glad I found this. Something like your experience happened to me as well. I am so happy that you have found some form of peace or at least a way to let go. I honestly dont know how. I cant bring my self to talk about it because I am still so ashamed. Its like a dark cloud that just hovers and waits for a ray of sunshine to show before blocking it and becoming a glaring reminder. I’m really lost trying to figure all my feelings out. I have feelings about my feelings and there all mixed up and all over the place. I hope one day I can finally be at peace with my memories as you seem to be.

  • My heart goes out to this lady. I think every woman fears being in that position and we all cringe just reading her story. I don’t think I could deal with this situation as well as the author – in fact, I think it would fill me with rage. I’ve always had a fear of being in a position where I was completely powerless to my situation and I feel that the author is still going through the stages of healing and it will get better. I wish her well!

  • Patti

    I too am a survivor of rape. It took me 13 years before I spoke of it to anyone. The rape was locked in my memory, as well as my body, trapping me as the 18 year old girl I was when it happened. I went to counseling, individual and group, which helped me begin to shed the guilt and shame I had carried with me. But I still carried the memory of the trauma in my body, in my muscles. I eventually found out about a myofacial release technique called unwinding and it helped me greatly on my road to healing and forgiving. And your friend is right, just because you are forgiving, does not mean what they did was ok. Forgiveness is a letting go of the control of those emotions over us.

  • Tamsyn

    Thank You for sharing this, it definitely came my way at a time when I needed it. xx

  • jw

    Thank you for sharing this.

  • coda

    Elora, I admire your strength and courage, and also clarity of your thoughts and willingness to share them. I am glad that you managed to overcome such a painful experience. Even though my trauma is incomparably smaller than yours, it is still holding a powerful grip over my life and I yet have to learn how to escape it. Your words help and I am grateful for that. Love!

  • Pingping

    Thank you for sharing your story. You are a wonderful & brave soul who has survived in the storm of life. Also, I never saw forgiveness in this light; that is, releasing the pain from yourself, freeing yourself. Now, I have a broader perspective. May you be healed and may happiness & peace find you. Hugs.

  • LittleBird

    Thanks so much for your article, Elora. It gives me hope as well. I was also raped by someone I trusted, but I was unconscious when it happened. I drank too much and passed out, and my disgusting “friend” took advantage of my comatose body. Maybe the worst thing is that it took me so long to realize and acknowledge what actually happened. I did not want to believe this happened to me and because my brain was damaged from the alcohol, I somehow managed to temporarily erase that night from my memory and even continued to be friends with that piece of shit!! 2 years later, out of the blue, my brain suddenly remembered and acknowledged what happened and I woke up one morning with tears on my cheeks and my heart pounding. I was so scared and furious, I confronted him and told him what I thought of him, but I am still not at peace. It’s exactly as you describe, “Memory is a funny thing”. I can go through long months of feeling happy and then out of the blue these painful memories come back to punch me in the stomach and make me emotionally and physically ill. Harboring feelings of anger and hate and regret is like drinking poison. “Stay present, stay connected, and learn to forgive.” Because life is too damn short to linger on the darkness. Love and light to all who have been traumatized. Thanks again, Elora.

  • Sarah

    Umm not convinced of the forgiveness thing. Forgive yourself yes but some things are unforgivable. Some people have no empathy, they wouldn’t care if you forgave them either way

  • Sarah

    I have just re read and realised it’s your whole story, thank you so much for sharing too. Peace. All the very best.

  • Connected In Love

    I relate to your stories involving alcohol and rape. I was 15 as well when I thought I wanted to lose my virginity with a boyfriend at the time. However, I suddenly came to my senses and said “no” and told him I didn’t want to do anything. He decided to go forward with it anyways. I don’t think I’ve been the same since. It was a horrible first time experience and it filled me with shame and sadness. I never felt worthy of real love after that it seemed. I appreciate your courage and story – so many of us have had these traumas and it’s good to find each other, so we can lift one another up and out of the holes we sometimes find ourselves in. Peace and light to everyone.

  • TheSea

    I know you wrote this years ago, but it came up as a top result in Google for me today, and ironically it was about 3 years ago that the sex-related trauma I still struggle with happened. I want to thank you for having written this, for it still being accessible, and for all those who have left comments. Too often only war-related PTSD gets any acceptance by society and it’s unfortunately difficult to find a path to comfortably talk about trauma connected to sex. I agree that though I have forgiven him to the extent that I understand WHY it happened I question whether I’ll ever fully let go of my frustration that he gave in to his own weaknesses. It’s not so much anger anymore that rests alongside his memory as it is deeply painful disappointment. I, too, find it harder to forgive myself. While I know that I did the best of everything I could afterward, I do not feel I did the best I could have during. After the initial verbal resistance, I pushed away my screaming mind and accepted it. In that sense, it has always seemed like I raped myself. I allowed something physically painful and mentally traumatic to occur to me until he was done. How am I supposed to forgive myself about not speaking up during something so unpleasant? I believe I could have gotten him to stop. Since he was married it is not as if he didn’t know that what he was doing was wrong. How am I supposed to be okay that I allowed my own mental/physical discomfort to silently occur and also that as a result I doubt he or anyone he knows views the event as even remotely related to rape?