We like to think of memory as a camera, capturing snapshots perfectly from our lives.

And we assume that if something big happens, we’ll remember it — like replaying a video tape.

But just because you can’t remember, doesn’t mean something didn’t happen.

Sometimes we cut traumatic experiences from our memory as a way of coping. It’s too painful to return to. 

For a long time, I only remembered my childhood as long blank periods. I knew something bad had happened. But it had been erased from my mind, like that film tape of memory wiped clean. Still, I felt those memories’ negative impacts in my life.

How did I start to remember? A counselor of mine introduced an exercise called “pictures on the wall.” This is related to what some psychologists call “flashbulb memories” — those visual snapshots your brain takes in times of distress. 

He encouraged me to move through the pictures in my head, going back in time. I eventually made my way to childhood, but some memories were still blacked out. 

That was ok. I wasn’t ready to remember some things yet, but soon they came to me. When I was ready to process them, I did.

I challenge you to walk through your gallery.

Start with an image in your mind and take the time to process it. This is probably difficult, so it’s ok to have a counselor to walk you through this — yes, even if you’re a guy! Recognize your strength and value in those moments. You made it through that, and it’s in no way your fault.

Through doing “pictures on the wall,” I recovered specific childhood memories from a complete blank. I ended up with 15 pages of remembered material that was so specific, I had to write it down. I realized that these blank spaces came from the time I experienced sexual abuse as a kid.

What parts of your life do you have trouble remembering, and what was happening during that time? 

By Matt Burton