... that is the question. A veteran of Vietnam was talking about his experiences in Vietnam, about coming home and about the trauma he experienced and about how others believed he should react to that trauma. The mental health professionals, the V.A., his family and his friends all wanted him to "heal". But what they meant by "heal" was to forget, to stop talking about it, to move forward as if nothing happened. But he disagrees. He doesn't want to "heal". He wants to remember.
People who have experienced violent childhood abuse, sexual abuse, rape, domestic violence or natural disasters often experience the same thing. People want them to "get over it". They remind them that the Bible says to forgive. They want them to cheer up and "get on with your life".
Family members and friends who express such sentiments mean well. But they are also expressing their own discomfort with hearing about the pain, the terror, the questioning and the grief. If you have never experienced violence that threatens your life you may not realize how it changes you - completely and forever. Not all of these changes are for the worse. Sometimes we come out on the other side stronger and wiser. When family and friends urge a survivor to "move on" or to "heal" the survivor may feel silenced or ignored. Some veterans of the current "war" in Iraq have experienced this. They come home from Iraq or Afghanistan and everyone is so happy to have them back. But no one wants to hear about what happened to them. And no one is prepared for the overwhelming emotional toll these experiences can take.
But it is important to allow trauma survivors to feel their feelings, remember what happened to them and allow them the time to make sense of it. Only then can they move on.
And healing does not mean forgetting. If your body suffers an injury, it may heal, but it leaves a scar. The body remembers the injury it incurred. So does the mind. Healing means remembering, but being able to make sense of what you remember.
As for forgiveness, the Bible does say to forgive and forgiveness can be freeing. But forgiving is not forgetting. To acknowledge that someone may have hurt you for reasons which are not entirely their fault may free you (that is for each survivor to decide for themselves). But to pretend that it can be forgotten is unrealistic. Our mind fights to remember things which cause us harm - so they can be avoided in the future. This is a very, very basic and important survival mechanism that will not be denied. This is why survivors who fight to suppress memories of their trauma during the day often find themselves reliving it in nightmares during the night. Our mind fights to bring it to our attention, no matter how hard we fight to ignore it.
"Healing" does not mean forgetting. The veteran had it right.