You don’t forget trauma. Ask Ford.


By Caitlin Kelly

Maybe you — as I did — spent hours last week watching the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh to the Senate Judicial Committee, to determine Kavanaugh’s fitness to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, a lifetime appointment granting him tremendous power.

As you may know, she accuses him of assaulting her sexually when she was 15 and he was 17.

The dubious think this memory is impossible.

Here’s a story from NPR addressing how and why one tends to remember traumatic events for decades after they occur:

A question on many people’s minds is, how well can anyone recall something that happened over 35 years ago?

Pretty well, say scientists, if the memory is of a traumatic event. That’s because of the key role emotions play in making and storing memories.

On any given day, our brains store or “encode” only some of the things we experience. “What we pay attention to is what’s more likely to get encoded,” says Jim Hopper, a teaching associate in psychology at Harvard University and a consultant on sexual assault and trauma….

“The stress hormones, cortisol, norepinephrine, that are released during a terrifying trauma tend to render the experience vivid and memorable, especially the central aspect, the most meaningful aspects of the experience for the victim,” says Richard McNally, a psychologist at Harvard University and the author of the book Remembering Trauma.

That’s because a high-stress state “alters the function of the hippocampus and puts it into a super-encoding mode,” says Hopper, especially early on during an event. And “the central details [of the event] get burned into their memory and they may never forget them.”

Whether it’s sexual assault victims or soldiers in combat or survivors of an earthquake, people who have experienced traumatic events tend to remember the most essential and frightening elements of the events in vivid detail for life, says McNally.

I find this dismissal of another’s memories appalling — and of course, politically expedient for Republicans.

As someone whose life changed forever at 14, thanks to a traumatic event (thankfully, not assault or abuse), I think those who  challenge early, brutal memories, even if they’re fragmented, both arrogant and unscathed.

I won’t get into every detail, but my mother had a manic episode on Christmas Eve when  I was 14. We were living in Mexico, far from friends or relatives, not that any relatives ever cared that I was an only child in the care of a mentally ill mother.

We had no phone. We’d been there maybe four months, so even schoolmates were still acquaintances.

It was basically terrifying.

That evening, driving recklessly down Mexican highways, she endangered my life and that of two other people with us before driving into a ditch at midnight on the edge of an industrial city I had never been to.

I ended up taking care of another girl my age, alone, for two weeks, before returning to Canada to live with my father — for the first time in seven years.





Image used with permission from its creator Aaron Reynolds; a card from his deck Effin’ Birds


Some moments of that evening, and what came next, are etched into my memory.

But some others?

Not at all.

I never lived with my mother again.

Nor would I ever again allow her, or anyone, to endanger me like that.



If you’ve suffered trauma, let no one try to dismiss what you already know.


If you haven’t, don’t inflict further pain on anyone by disbelieving or questioning them.

9 thoughts on “You don’t forget trauma. Ask Ford.

  1. I agree with you 100% I too, remember every detail of the the pain and fear I endured… One of my experience’s was when I was 15, I don’t remember the date or time… But I do remember the situation and it has altered how still do things in life.

  2. I really appreciate this post. I actually had a flashback when I heard Dr. Blasey Ford testify about how the sound of laughter at one’s expense sticks in, I believe the frontal cortex, so you never forget that experience. My flashback was not of a sexual assault, but instead of a time back in college when I had a seizure at a small house party (I had been diagnosed with epilepsy at 17, though have been seizure free for about 30 years now). I will never forget the laughter of the drunken girls while this was happening. I was humiliated and that one event I believe attributed to anxiety I have suffered from on and off through the years.

  3. I am sorry to hear about you and your mother. To me the mother/child relationship is everything so if I hear anyone’s being jeopardized it’s enough to reduce me to something less than useful to wipe the floor with.

    As to Ford, and I have never been “abused” therefore, possibly, talking out of a horse’s behind, the one thing I question is why NOW? Sure, sometimes better late than never – and if there is good reason to stop someone like Kavanagh from holding a pretty high position in which he has to apply ethics/morals I too might step back in time and rake up the dirt in PUBLIC. I’d do it for a “good cause” but never ever to relieve my own trauma. Ford is, clearly, an educated woman, measured, not someone to jump in feet first, so she will have weighed up carefully why to come forward. Needs must. For the greater good. No doubt.

    There is another observation I’d like to make. Alas I can’t. It wouldn’t wash well and render the above not so much obsolete as being discarded, maybe by you and some of your readers, without due consideration of what I said earlier.


    1. Kavanaugh is going to get the job anyway. It is a disgusting and utterly predictable outcome.

      I can only hope 100000s of furious women — and men — will then go to the polls in November and vote these bastards out. Their contempt for women and what we want and need is stunning.

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