Taming Unwelcome Memories of Childhood Trauma: Present to Past and Back Again on a Donkey

 Salvo, Etna Donkey Trekking

Salvo, Etna Donkey Trekking

I’ve been traveling.  Touring the beautiful island of Sicily – land of ruins, vistas, castles, ancient churches, freshly made cheese, wine, olive oil, agriturismo, the panelle and granita.  A people incredibly aware of their history of dominations by other cultures.  Starting with the Greeks, followed by the Romans, Visigoths, Vandals, Ostrogoths, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, French, Spanish, British, Bourbons and their own Mafia.

I met a proud, vivacious, hospitable people ready to share, to teach and to give.  The melodic and physical language, each region with its own dialect.  Familiar sound and names.

What draws me and repels me from my past?

Why Sicily?  The fabric of my Brooklyn childhood was made up of the sounds of Italian being spoken all round.  Ancient women dressed in black, men standing outside of clubs, the mysterious and smelly bacalla shop, butchers, shopkeepers and grandparents of friends all speaking in a language I didn’t understand. Food that was so much tastier and abundant than at my house.

Donkey Rides on the Mountain Etna

Thursday morning we all line up for the bus to explore Mt. Etna on, of all things, a donkey!  The day was bright and we could clearly see the top of the largest active volcano in all of Europe.  No eruptions today, just some small wispy clouds in a crisp blue sky.  We meet Santo, our guide and father to Salvo – the donkey ride trek leader.  We watch as Salvo teaches with lots of gestures and some English how to get on and off the donkey safely.  He is pretty good to look at too.

We stop atop a crest and he invites us to stand in a circle and hold hands.  A new-agey thing I have done hundreds of time, yet he is not a new-agey kind of guy.  He instructs us to close our eyes, breathe in the fresh air and remember a joyous time from our childhood.

Now, wait a minute, brother!  I am in a perfect place, connected to my breath and my body and my fellow travelers.  I am experiencing paradise in this most perfect moment.  I search my memory for joyous childhood memories.  But, the memories I conjure are dark.  I fight to find a joyful one, but visions of shame, hiding and discomfort and unworthiness come to mind.  There it is.  The memory of child abuse.  Fascinated and shocked, I know there are good memories there somewhere, but like the invasion of the Visigoths, the dark dominates.

I breathe in the air of the present.  I open my eyes.  I am still in paradise with my full mental and physical capacities.  I look around and smile in wonder and curiosity.

Why?  With the work I have done and do daily on my brain – I see the memories but am no longer at their beck and call.  They don’t own me.  They are just there. Victory?

I ask myself why these memories are still able to obstruct good ones.  The answer comes to me.  They are here for you and for me. 

They remind me of the suffering of my past and that you may still be in that place of suffering.

I can be of service because I have come to know that the truth of what happened may never leave but its power over our daily lives can be made impotent.  The truth of your worthiness and beauty can heal your suffering.  The domination of the past is learned from and lessons are integrated.

These memories remind me that I have more work to do on my mind.  I have to mine for the little joys of my childhood.  Sounds and sense of summers of innocence playing with friends eating granite at Mantellone’s and panelle specials and double dutch.

They remind me that we are free, but it is not for free.  We have to work for it.  Trust me, you are worthy of love and beauty and joy.  It is your birthright.

If you are haunted by your past, let’s get to work for your freedom.  I can help.