“You can’t change the past but, with understanding, you can sometimes draw the poison out of it.”~Carlo Gebler
It never crossed my mind there could be a difference between knowing and understanding something. Now that I understand that, the depression is lifting, the light seems brighter, brain fog is clearing; yes, there is a difference between knowing and understanding.
I spent 50 years knowing I had been abused sexually, emotionally, and physically as a child, and then, too, as an adult. I ruminated on the details, the perpetrators, the scenes, and the dialogue–data stored permanently in my mind. That’s what knowledge is.
So, one wonders, or at least I did, if I know all these things, no repressed memories to unearth, then why can’t I move on? I’ve confronted some offenders via letters and phone calls, and I even wrote a memoir. Certainly, those things should empower me, lessen or eliminate the symptoms (i.e., low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, PTSD) that a victim of childhood abuse and sexual assault endure.
So how does understanding differ from knowing? Knowing is processed in the mind–that place where all the data is stored to ruminate on. Understanding takes longer to process, and it occurs in the brain. It not only needs all that “knowing” data gathered from personal experiences and education, but it needs your interest to break down, conceptualize, and analyze what you know.
In writing my memoir, like so many memoirists, I tried to make sense of my experiences and to understand them. I don’t think many of us come out the other side “healed” or feeling dramatically different (other than it’s enormously helpful to find out we aren’t alone in our experiences). I believed that writing what I know would bring understanding. I was wrong. I needed to reach much deeper, beyond the who, what when and where, and focus on what I didn’t care about when I wrote or ruminated: the Why. Why did these people commit a heinous crime against a child?
Understanding doesn’t mean to condone or forgive. It means drawing some of the poison out of the pain. The light just might shine a little brighter.
Mill dust covers the worn leather boots
At the base of the curtain
That is my bedroom door.
Lying in my metal-frame bed
I see the ghostly outline
Of my stepfather
Through its worn, flowered fabric.
It is not my imagination—
The stench of whiskey and stale tobacco
Tells me his presence is real.
He watches me
Through the long, narrow space
Between the curtain and wall
And I watch him
Through slits Of my partially closed eyes…
© 2016 mandy smith
(excerpt from memoir)