Friday, March 4, 2016

Insights Into Memory

I'm often intrigued and perplexed and in awe of this most misunderstood part of our brain and body.  We all have a memory, but in many different bodies, it works better for some and not so good for others.  Often our memory starts out better when we are young and diminishes with time.  I stand in awe of what it does and where it fails.

In my own life, my memory has been my greatest advocate and my strongest adversary.  It has been there for me, but it at times is a haunting force that I would best flee.  There are times that it has brought the most beautiful moments up in my life while forcing me to face those times which were pure horror and torture.

Traumatic Memories

In Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk's book, The Body Keeps The Score, I still remember him stating that the mind remembers too much and too little at the same time.  This is especially true in the face of a traumatic past.  [insert book picture]

I've seen people forget the horrible abuse and torture they inflicted upon others, acting as if it never happened.  At the same time, the traumatized victim that was the recipient, is haunted every day of their life, desperately trying to get their memory to forget.  How can a memory work one way for someone in these shoes and yet, totally different for someone else?

Memory And Conversion Disorder

When I was paralyzed by a Conversion Disorder, I reached the point where I could barely remember my name.  Most things in my life were a blur, including the trauma that I had been through.  It was easier for my mind and memory to forget all that had happened in hopes of keeping me alive, then to confront the ugly truth that lied beyond the fog.

I know as I get older, my memory is sometimes fuzzy at best and other times, it is like an encyclopedia.  There are the little things that I forget.  There are the more recent things that sometimes are hard to grasp.  Often, it feels like I need a complete defrag as one would do with a computer.  If only I could find that button to push.

Alive Inside

I remember seeing another documentary called "Alive Inside".  In this program, they show that people with various conditions including memory issues would come alive when music from their past was played.  I experimented with a trauma survivor and behold, it does work.  An almost comatose person started coming alive the minute I played one of their favorite songs.


On Nova (PBS), I saw a documentary called Memory Hackers.  I was gulping up the information that they displayed because I believe the more we come to understand our mind and memory, the more we can evolve and grow and heal our mind body connections. 

Top 5 Things From Memory Hackers

The top five things I got from the Memory Hackers program was as follows.
  1. Memory is not what we thought it was.  It isn't something we store one time and it remains that way until we die.  It can be changed every time it is recalled.
  2. Telling the memory repeatedly can often allow us to alter and mold it into something it is not.  It gives an opportunity of rewriting parts of the memory as we tell it and store it away.
  3. We all have parts of our memories it seems that we would like to forget or stop from controlling our every day life through phobias.  While there are ethical implications, there are real ways being tested in a laboratory to do this.
  4. If someone has a great memory, it does not necessarily mean they are the smartest person around as evidenced by the HSAM section.
  5. Various parts of a memory are stored in different sections of our brain which include all our senses, experiences, and emotions that were going on at the time.  

Hippocampus And Memory

The hippocampus is vital in bringing all these parts back together.   It is almost like the conductor and while it attempts to bring things at the right moment, memory is not always linear. 

There are far too many times that I have had emotions come up without the full memory, or a sensation that has happened and yet there is no emotion.  There are times a story arises, but there are no senses, emotions, or other experiences that I can put together to make sense of it.

I still remember the nightmares that lasted many years of being afraid of the color purple.  It seems strange and odd to most that the color purple would bring out terrifying horrors of anxiety, anger, and depression.  It was not until Thanksgiving of 1997 that the color purple finally came into full view and I saw the memory for what it was.

Oprah Male Survivor Show

When I went to the Oprah taping of the 200 Male Survivor show, it was an emotional experience.  Hearing others tell their stories immediately connected to those experiences in my own life.  I was a wrung out mess of tears by the time I left and in many ways, I felt so out of it.

Normally, you will not hear me telling my story over and over.  I have longed in many ways to forget these things even though I know that sharing my story may help others.  I've always been cautious in telling the memories repeatedly, because I felt that things could be altered as my mind tried to make sense of what was going on.  With this Nova program on Memory Hackers, I can see that my gut instinct was right.

Unified Therapy - Dr. Paul Canali

In Unified Therapy, we often bring a person to the edge of those moments where the memory is alive.  We do it through the felt sense or what some call interoception.  This is the act of feeling something deep within our body without becoming lost in it.  It helps empower us while bringing about awareness and through that awareness, we can begin to change it and alter it.  Often when we have been through traumatic moments in our life, our memory suffers because our brain shuts down feeling, so that we can survive.  Through turning the felt sense back on, we begin to discover and connect our mind and body together.


I so wish I could wave a magic wand and erase all the bad memories.  Even though I know it is possible in the research lab, I question if the body truly forgets too, or if there is some residual part of the body that will continue to poison the mind.  Only, in this case, the poison of the bad memory has nowhere to go.  It just fills the empty void.  It is my biggest concern because I've seen how my own body responded to memories that I could not recall easily.

I don't have all the answers and I know most don't.  It is wonderful to see different parts of our scientific, medical, and alternative healing worlds coming together to better understand our memory.  It is the continued focus on how our memory functions that will bring greater truths of healing and empowerment for individuals.

In this day and age of MRI scans, we can no longer sit by and embrace the paradigms of old with respect to memory.  We are living in a new day and age, and the advancement for our civilization and human body is in the mind.  I've seen this in my own life and I am excited by the possibilities of discovery for what lies ahead.

Blog Post And Images (c) 2/17/16 by Don Shetterly

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