Meandering Michele’s Mind: Should We Erase Traumatic Memory?
Thursday, July 9th, 2009 • Uncategorized •
I keep reading about a drug (which shall remain nameless!) being tested for its ability to eradicate memory. So many of the articles are cheerleading this discovery. Whoo-hoo!, they proclaim, Now we might really heal PTSD!
But I wonder if completely eradicating our memory of events is the way to go. Our entire identities are built on the cumulative effect of experience. Who we are and who we become evolves from our interpretation of events and the assimilation of those perceptions. After trauma is that always a positive, healthy thing? No. Shouldn’t we be the ones to choose and make the necessary changes? Yes. Isn’t that part of healing? Absolutely.
I have a lot of questions about the idea of erasing memory. For example, What happens if we erase a memory? Does that mean we’ve become changed? I’m completely unable to understand how that’s possible. Changed in that I can’t remember the most enormous event in my life, sure. But erase the event so that I cannot recall it or its details and my personality – shaped by that event – still holds habits. I am still me, now I just can’t remember the reasons I am me.
Or, does the erasure of the defining traumatic moment usher in a whole new me? Is that possible? After trauma we change but it’s not all at once. PTSD warps us gradually over a period of time. Can removing memory in a sort of Abracadabra way turn us from a tiger into a dove without the gradual transformation most changes require?
Another thing that worries me is this: My subconscious, imprinted by trauma, still holds the effects of terror. Often we can’t remember details but we feel the experience. However, after Drug X, in addition to walking around feeling like there’s something wrong, I would have the added discomfort of not being able to remember what it is. This doesn’t sound healing; it sounds confusing. It sounds creepy, like I’m in the same body but I’ve had some sort of memory lobotomy.
What bothers me most of all is the idea of such a sudden change in identity. Trauma does that and its an aberration. Identity is meant to evolve slowly, by degrees of concepts and agreements with the self, knowledge of our likes, dislikes, desires and our understanding of our place in the world. If a defining memory disappears, how am I to know, understand or recognize myself without it if nothing else has been put in its place?
Before treatment I was X; then I’m Y but there’s no bridge between the two. There’s a big gap between the how and the why of who I am. What kind of foundation is that for me to move forward? How do I go into the future not remembering my past? Everyone else who knows me remembers but I don’t? How, exactly, does that work??
Finally, aren’t there things we learn from our traumas that are, in fact, helpful? Things that inform us about the world and ourselves and how to guide our way through it? What happens to those lessons if the memory evaporates? What happens to everything we’ve learned over the years since our trauma if suddenly the idea of the trauma no longer exists?
Are you with me on this or am I totally in left field?
Sure, we’d all exchange memory for trauma, but we can’t change history. Facts are facts. Events have occurred. We have been changed. But the changes came about organically, as a result of our thoughts and experiences. It seems to me undoing those effects should happen exactly the same way in order to keep the integrity of the process. We must remain aware as we heal. We must own our healing. If someone simply injects a drug aren’t we just the powerless victim all over again?