I was living a wonderful life until I ruptured a disc in my neck at age 40—by rolling over in my sleep. This was an incredible shock for a former competitive gymnast who never had a serious injury. Excruciating pain ensued, followed by neck surgery, then years of chronic pain. My life was derailed. The pain was so intense I wanted to be dead. I tried everything the doctors suggested with no resolution.
I finally gained lasting relief from the worst of the physical pain when I recalled what had happened to me in my childhood. At age 42, I had a dream that sparked my memory. My brother had molested me once when I was ten years old. My subconscious hid this trauma from my conscious mind to help me survive. To allow me to live under the same roof with someone who had violated my body and my trust. Truly shocked by my own memory, I needed confirmation.
I contacted my brother. I felt incredibly lucky that he owned up to what he did. Not only that, I later discovered that he’d been molested at summer camp before he molested me. This helped me better understand why he did what he did. It helped reduce my confusion and anger. But intense negative emotions were still deeply buried inside me, as was lingering chronic pain.
I’ve since spent the past fourteen years working through my trauma via stints of intense holistic bodywork, wrenching trauma-based psychotherapies, and endless hours of cathartic writing. I even enjoyed kickboxing for a little while, but found it a bit too taxing on my still pained neck. Through all this work, I dug into my mind and body to find deeply repressed emotions that have held me hostage: fear, anger, confusion, shame, and unworthiness, to name a few.
At twelve and a half years post-memory, I was healed enough, both physically and psychologically, that I published my memoir. I initially feared what it would do to my brother or what others would think. But keeping this secret inside my body was destroying me. I felt I couldn’t stay silent any longer, yet I was still frozen with fear. I told my brother I’d written my story and wanted to publish it. When he graciously replied, “Do what you need to do,” I felt free to take the next step and share my memoir with the world.
Another year later, and for the first time ever, we looked each other in the eye while we spoke—and cried—about the incident. We had communicated over email about it during the years I was working through my emotions and pain, but we hadn’t spoken face-to-face. Since that moment that we did, I no longer have a nebulous feeling of discomfort anytime someone mentions his name or proposes a family get-together.
My physical pain hasn’t completely gone away, but it is far less than it was. And many of my negative emotions seem to have moved from the driver’s seat to the way back of my childhood station wagon. Shame, however, is the most stubborn emotion that still holds a spot closer to the front seat. But on the positive side, I’ve also begun to conquer other anxiety-based limitations that have plagued me over the last ten years, such as panic attacks while driving. And I feel like I have an unburdened relationship with my brother again.
I appreciate that my brain generously repressed my memory so that I could live a wonderful life for 40 years. But the pain was always there—buried deep in the recesses of my subconscious—until it came screaming out as physical pain. Trauma does not go away when ignored or hidden. Only when it is acknowledged and seen can it dissipate. I’ve worked on-and-off—at times quite intensely—at quelling my demons that were planted by the few minutes of my childhood trauma. It has brought me to this place—where I’m able to speak the words I couldn’t allow myself to even know for so long, and where my relationship with my brother has mended in ways I never thought possible.
I continue to share my story because I’m motivated knowing that the more we speak, the more we all heal. And when the truth is exposed, we can then work toward the ultimate goal of prevention. We need to stop the silence, eliminate the stigma, and address this epidemic head on.
For more information about Maria Socolof, including her memoir, The Invisible Key: Unlocking the Mystery of My Chronic Pain, see