Just thinking – Memory

Common sense tells me that we remember visually. If someone asks us to think of athK8MQTTZ9 happy moment in childhood, we immediately see the image inside our mind, which helps make a connection with the story and then the feelings. I’m sure this is the same for everyone.

When I started therapy, I remember having a conversation with my sister about psychotherapy unlocking things in our unconscious and how, as far as I knew, I had no hidden memories, or false ones, for that matter. How very wrong I was.

I remember childhood with average consistency, but not so much on a daily basis, rather a collection of different images, with either traumatic or happy connotations, and these somehow make up the bigger picture. I am aware that the bad somehow overwhelms any good and I wonder if part of my therapy is also about remembering the good and trying to bring some things into balance.

I have a consistent recollection from around 3-4yrs old up until just before my 9th birthday. They were the worst years at home. Not only was I living within an abusive environment, I also endured years of sexual abuse by our neighbour. You might think this would be a good time to dissociate, but dissociation doesn’t appear to have happened until the abuse ended. That seems a little odd.

One day I found mum wrapping ornaments in newspaper. She said we were moving, “to have a fresh start in a new home.” I said, “Will you and dad stop smacking us now?” I can still see the look of shame on her face. Maybe the penny dropped, I don’t know, but that was the last time they ever used physical violence to any humiliating extreme.

The first weeks in our new home are quite clear, but in my mind, I never did get to my 9th birthday. The next time I am able to recall anything solid, is a few weeks before my 12th birthday, exactly two-years. When I try to think about this period, the visual in my mind is blackness.

th43ZJN5J0What troubles me the most is, prior to this two-year black out, I remember something dreadful happening. You could say it is a ‘hidden memory’, but rather than it being a memory of one single experience, it is a collection of little events that I remember spanning the few weeks leading up to our move.

This “memory” is so bad that if it were true, it’s hardly surprising I blacked out for two years. If it’s a “false memory,” it’s been causing anxiety, unnecessarily.

I read a post today by our blogging-chum, Amber, who made me wonder if we can really trust some of our early memories. You can read about it here

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43 thoughts on “Just thinking – Memory

  1. Priceless Joy

    That is very interesting. You can remember something terrible happened and then just blackness for two years. I think it would be perfectly natural to question whether it is a real memory or not. Personally, it seems to me if you only remember -nothing- for two years after this event then it was probably real. Probably. Yet I wonder, if it is real or not, if you “sort of” remember it and it is in your subconcious that it still needs to be dealt with as if it was real. Maybe if it is “real” your subconcious mind cannot claim it to be real as a way to protect you. Does any of this make sense? I guess what I am trying to say, in a nutshell, is treat it as though it is “real enough” that it needs to be dealt with in therapy.

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    1. Cat Post author

      Hi Joy… Yes, your comment does make a lot of sense, well, as far as my knowledge goes, anyway. What one theory seems to be is that it is not so much what you can or cannot remember, but how it makes you feel. So, I think the theory would be to treat the memory as if it were real, even if it’s not. That sounds confusing, because it is! But, I think that’s the crux of your comment, which I appreciate so much, thank you!

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  2. therabbitholez

    Both posts are very interesting, how many times do you think “did that actually happen”, because it is so fragmented, it’s akin to looking into a kalidascope, watching the shapes shifting, but difficult to make sense of it.

    A black out of two years is a huge gap, and what glimpses you are experiencing most likely to be real, I think this where therapists have to be very careful not to unintentionally suggest a memory that could be false, but there will be times when something is required to coax it out bit by bit again very tricky.

    I also noticed with myself when I had the last breakdown, now over two years on I have problems with my memory especially with the order of events leading up to and during and having to learn to trust my thoughts again.

    I did find that during two tries at therapy I found often there were things I didn’t want to talk about, it was a mental shut down even though I did open up about some things, others without really knowing what they were, I steered clear from, brings to mind a quote:

    The mind is a wonderful servant, but a terrible master -Robin S Sharma

    Thank you for sharing this enlightening post.

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    1. Cat Post author

      I like your kaleidoscope analogy. That is what childhood memories feel like to me.

      I think the T’s are on thin ice when it comes to recollecting this sort of memory. As you said, they can easily influence what is already very vulnerable.

      When you said about experiencing a mental shut down following depression, do you mean that you just did not wish to recall the memory in therapy or was it that you were consciously refusing to go there?

      I liked the Sharma quote. Thank you for your feedback 🙂

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      1. therabbitholez

        I was quite stubborn during thereapy and was very clear on what i wanted to talk about, and if a raw nerve was touched I just wouldn’t go there.

        There were also areas that I just didn’t want to revisit, not that they were so terrible, but I just couldn’t face talking about it, so I just shut down completley which made it more difficult to move forward.

        Sometimes I think when we delve deeply into the past the whole idea of reliving some events and having to process it, sometimes from scratch, is harder because your now dealing with it mentally from a different understanding and trying to put the two together is a challenge.

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        1. Cat Post author

          I had to process the trauma associated with certain experiences before I could start looking at the incidents themselves. For me, it was not about trawling through each and every one of the traumatic feelings, but more about sitting with that emotion, somehow healing took place within there, somewhere! I’m still not sure where or how, but it just transpired. Now, I hope the same will happen with the hurt and anger I am currently processing. Thanks for sharing your experiences, it helps 🙂

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  3. Tournesol (Clr)

    thank you for sharing this post with us. My heart fell when I read what you asked your mum if your parents would stop hurting you. I think we all experience our childhood and deal with trauma in our own unique way. Can we depend on our memories? I think our memories are our personal interpretations of what we perceived at that time. And often mixed with what we overheard what someone may have said, if this makes sense. My father whipped me with his belt when I was still sleeping in a crib and of course I have no recollection of what he did when I was barely 2…my family repeated it over and over that I used to think I may have remembered but I never did. My sister who was 4 however, remembered and apologized for my whipping since it was she that was awake and not I. I cannot even image the fear she lived with for so long:(

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    1. Cat Post author

      Hi Cheryl… I would tend to agree about our memory being our interpretation of what we perceive at the time, but then there’s this influence from other sources that starts to confuse me because it can no longer be relied upon as a reliable memory.

      My own heart sank at the thought of such cruelty from your father and how awful for your sister to carry that responsibility. Thank you so much for your feedback 🙂

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  4. Ellen

    I will comment because I care, even if I don’t always agree. The term ‘false memory’ always has me seeing red. It’s a term that a particular interest group came up with in the nineties – they also came up with a so called syndrome – false memory syndrome. There’s no such syndrome, but they got huge amounts of press for this. It was basically a group of people who had been accused of having been perpetrators, and they denied this happened.

    Research has shown that the vast majority of memories that come to light years after the abuse are in fact true. And of course, perpetrators and families want something to hide behind, and this idea of false memory was perfect for them. Ever after, almost everyone who struggles with memories of abuse has worried about this damn false memory BS.

    I also read the post you linked to and found it quite confused, personally.

    However, that’s not to say this is relevant to what you’re saying here Cat. I think the actual memories are always true, in whatever form they are in – scrambled, sensations, bits of things. That part is not made up. I guess, if you start really reaching for explanations to put on top of those memories, that explanation may or may not be true.

    No competent therapist will suggest memories to clients, and Paul sounds competent.

    And yes, memories hurt worse once they’ve come up to be dealt with. The reason we want to deal with them is not that we love pain, but in order to put to rest the symptoms that are wrecking our lives – or maybe I’m speaking for myself here.

    I think the trick is to proceed slowly. Things that need to emerge will do so in their own time and at their own pace. Sometimes things are not clear – it doesn’t follow that they’re false.

    My two cents.

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    1. Cat Post author

      I always enjoy your two cents, Ellen. I’m not sure I entirely agree with the link and the theory does raise many questions about the reliability of memory. I do understand the theory being more about treating how the memory makes us feel, so whether it is true or “false” is immaterial. However, that doesn’t help my own process of trying to fathom accuracy or fantasy.

      The “false memory” theory must be an abusers dream come true, although I do know it can happen, but usually when there are people influencing the recollection. In our cases of exploring through therapy, I would tend to go with the truth being in our own perception. Tut… it all gets a little confusing and is obviously something I need to read more about.

      Thanks for your input 🙂

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      1. Ellen

        Yes, how it makes us feel is important. But to add to that – I want to know what really happened, because I want to know my own story – that’s important to me. I want to make sense of my life. For myself, it’s currently difficult, because my memories are so fragmented.

        Glad I didn’t offend. 🙂

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  5. kd

    Cat,
    I agree with what Ellen has stated. For example, when I was between the ages of six and nine, my older brothers molested me. I was re-traumatized as a young adult when I had anal surgery to repair a fistula. I sat and cried when the doctor inserted the instrument and I felt that horrible feeling of when I was a little girl. I couldn’t understand why I was trembling so because I couldn’t “remember” the actual incidents…just bits and pieces that didn’t make sense. I knew bad things happened during the nighttime as a child and my memories were unclear. Years later, as an adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I approached one of my brothers and he confirmed everything. He clarified why I felt the feelings I did. They would insert objects in my behind while they thought I was sleeping. Through EMDR, my memories are clearer and I have now been able to “disconnect” from those feelings and move forward. What you feel is real. Sorry this is graphic…I wanted you to know that just because something surfaces later in life, or you don’t remember it for years, doesn’t mean it never happened. You are truly amazing for all you have been through and you are a fighter. I hear it when I read your posts.
    Thank you for sharing your blogs,
    -kd

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    1. Cat Post author

      That’s a very traumatic thing to happen, KD, but good that your brother was able to be honest. Those emotional flashbacks are often the worse because we don’t really know what’s happening or why.

      Thank you for your encouraging words

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  6. cardamone5

    Wow! So much suffering recounted here, including your own. I am so sorry for how you were treated, and proud of how you stood up to your mom. I am trying to figure out your timeline (I don’t know why this is important to me, but I am an overorganizer so maybe chalk it up to that.) When did you survive the murder attempt? I am sorry if this causes you anxiety, and you don’t have to respond. Actually, I have my comments turned off so I will revisit to see if there is a response.

    I am glad you have a good therapist and that you are able to articulate your progress/pain/frustration here because no matter how it feels writing it, ultimately, it does help.

    Love,
    E

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    1. Cat Post author

      Ha! If you can figure out my timeline, I’d also like to know! 🙂 The attempted murder happened 22 yrs ago, but I didn’t suffer PTSD until 7 years later, which was triggered by something relating to that case, a delayed reaction, I believe. It causes me little anxiety, if any at all. It sounds more horrifying to other people because I am desensitised, I guess.

      Thanks, Elizabeth 🙂 Don’t you like comments on?

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  7. Glynis Jolly

    Memories are odd. What I remember, my brother doesn’t. What I remember happening is remembered differently by my mother. Are they memories or just thoughts we’ve had? No matter what they are, they shape who we are.

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    1. Cat Post author

      Hi Glynis… Maybe they are a mixture of memory and thought. This reminds me of my childhood friend, Simon, who perceived the sexual abuse differently to me and I know my sister and I have inconsistent recollections. These ‘true’ or ‘false’ memories do shape us and that is behind the theory of treating how the memory makes someone feel, rather than the details remembered or blacked out….mmm…confused? Join the club!

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  8. Andi

    I read your post and the post you linked to. I think that it’s very dangerous to start analyzing the validity of our own memories. Sure, there have been extremely rare instances of iatrogenic trauma memories, but in reality legit trauma is UNDER-reported,if anything.

    No memories are perfect. That’s true for good and bad memories. Of course they change shape and mold as we gain context and awareness about various aspects of our world, but that doesn’t make them fake or untrustworthy. Most of my trauma memories are in pieces. To put together a narrative story to share with my therapist, I generally have to essentially create an amalgamation of those pieces into what makes the most logical sense.

    So I can put “sofa” + “lace dress” + “easter” + “shiny shoes” + “pain in body” + “scary male relative” together and get “abuse”. Is it a perfect recreation of what happened? Absolutely not. But is it a lie?

    No, it’s not. It’s just as real as the soup I remember eating for lunch today.

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    1. Cat Post author

      Thank you for reading both posts. I was wondering what you might think and appreciate the feedback.

      I would tend to agree about it being dangerous to analyse our memories, particularly the accuracy. My own childhood memories are similar to yours, in bits and pieces, but I do think I can trust most of them because they fit the timeline and I do have other people to validate that they really did happen. There is only one thing – I THINK – I remember that cannot possibly be true, although I do imagine parts of it are, but the rest is maybe down to my vivid imagination (I hope!). It does make me wonder what I should do about the two-year gap when there is no memory. Do I dig deeper, or maybe that time is best left cloaked in mystery. Mmm… food for thought 🙂 Thanks again!

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      1. Andi

        This happened to me last year – I had a memory come up that just seemed too impossible to be real. Too awful. To unbelievable. I pushed it away and down and refused to acknowledge it. And then a child alter got triggered in session and essentially re-enacted the memory in front of Zooey. That’s when I started to realize that it wasn’t made up.

        That’s not to say our imaginations don’t play a role in memory creation and recovery. But having a slightly altered or “embellished” memory doesn’t make it false or a lie, you know?

        As far as the gap time….this is hard. I’m not going on any expeditions to find what I’m missing. I figure that there’s some sort of reason and order to how, why, and when I recover memories. I trust that order and I guess I’m just going to wait until the time comes that I’m “ready” to know. Might be next week, might be never.

        You’re welcome 🙂

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  9. mandy smith

    I followed a TV program of a woman who had several years of a childhood “lost.” Like yours, just blacked out–no idea what happened. In the end, through researching the people and activities that were going on in her life during 12-15 yrs old, it brought back traumatic sexual abuse memories with her father–whom she loved to death. It was really awful. that was when I believed in repressed memories. It took a special therapist for her to find out. I can see why it makes you feel anxiety, Cat. Wouldn’t it anybody? Is this something you talk to Paul about?

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    1. Cat Post author

      That programme sounds so interesting, we don’t get that sort of stuff in stiff-lip-Britain! Without a doubt, I believe in supressed memories, although I do understand this could have catastrophic consequences if it were not true. I think it’s true what Andi said in her comment about it being dangerous to start trying to analyse the validity of our memories, even the hidden ones, but then it must be equally dangerous to accept them all as complete truth. It seems to be a very thin line.

      I watched a programme last week on CBS reality channel about a young girl who entered a treatment programme for anorexia, which her parents paid for privately. Shortly after her admission, she started to remember terrible sexual abuse by her father and what followed was a heart breaking story, which tore the family apart. In the end, it turned out the Psychiatrist was hypnotising patients and seems to have been suggesting these sort of experiences because there were several lawsuits against this programme for similar situations, with some of the girls retracting their claims. Please don’t get me wrong (I could be hung here!) I wouldn’t question anyone’s memory, but out of all the girls, there must have been some true and others…well, not so true.

      As for my own… yes, I did mention to Paul about the time gap in my memory, but then he was off the following week and it doesn’t take much to distract me from a topic. As for the memory, which I hope is a false memory, I’m not too sure what to think about that… it can’t possibly be true. Sorry for my long reply. Hope you’re well, Mandy

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      1. mandy smith

        What a horrible story about those girls and the doctor hypnotizing them. I agree with you, since 1 out of 3-4 girls are sexually abused, it’s likely some had been. And many victims retract stories because of the negative attention–and fear of repercussions. We wonder why people tell survivors of abuse to just let it go and get on with life, why so many aren’t believed? When it comes to memories, I don’t like to go looking for trouble, but if its weighing so heavy that you can’t let it go, I’d say you should spend some time with Paul getting to the bottom of it. I used to deny some of the things that happened (never repressed) only because I feared repercussions. I may still face those after the book comes out. But I’m glad to have faced the truth. I hope you canresolve this, Cat, so you can ease your mind and deal with it or let it go.
        I’m fine–just crazy busy with demands of book. I just want to read blogs! Hopefully I’ll get breaks now and then to do that–but I’m always trying to check yours! Take care, Cat, keep writing.

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        1. Cat Post author

          I guess this is why it is risky to start analysing the validity of our memories and it must put people off who are considering coming out about their own SA.

          I will talk to Paul a little more about the “lost years” but I’m of the opinion to let sleeping dogs lie, unless something pops up, of course. It might help to see photographs of that period, but mum the narcissist 🙂 will not make any copies, she said, “They’re mine and no one is getting them” gggrr 👿

          I always appreciate that you’re always behind my posts, Mandy. Do you know when the book is due for release? Thank you for your feedback 🙂

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          1. mandy smith

            Aw- pictures help so much! I thought I’d remembered every last thing until I was sent a box of photos after my mom died. Wow did that ever open up more! I agree- don’t go looking for problems is you aren’t being unduly bothered! Book comes out Sept 22– crazy what goes into making that happen. It’s on Amazon 6mo before to begin introducing it. Make sure you email me your address- I want you to have a copy as my gift to you.

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  10. mockingbirddown

    Hi. Thanks for meandering through my blog. I don’t have the attention span to read al the comments before this so if I am repeating anything I apologise…

    I have complex ptsd because of abuse and a series of horrible things. Rape over a four day period, child abuse, being in a fire where I couldn’t save someone I loved.. and although I didn’t feel like I had disassociated, it came out later when faced with ordinary stress that I actually do. I have entire conversations when I am very emotional that I don’t recall at all.. and I have a temper that means I black out and come around at the end having hurt someone.. but THAT only started a good ten years after the last trauma.. so it was in there. Hidden. Because at some point I chose to replace fear with anger… and so it just manifested differently.

    And as for therapy – having been in and out of shrinks offices since I was 8 (I am 35 now)… I always vote for CBT. It worked for me in how I processed and navigated the more complex aspects of myself that at the start, I didn’t know how to ‘label’ or explain.

    I wish you well, Thanks again for stopping by.

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    1. Cat Post author

      Hi 🙂 Thanks for contributing to this very confusing subject. It sounds like you have been through your own set of trauma and it’s hardly surprising you would dissociate as a way of coping.

      The therapy programme I’m currently on is Mentalization Based Therapy, but I’ve heard a lot about CBT, it might be something I look into in the future.

      I enjoyed reading your post this morning. Thank you for stopping by to read and comment 🙂

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  11. sensuousamberville

    Whether a memory is real or not, a grouping of fragments or wisps that are more feelings than memories, they are real to the person with them, and must be treated as such. We do not have to prove them or validate them, more to learn to live with them.

    At what age are the missing years Cat? You do not have to answer or be specific either.

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    1. Cat Post author

      Hi Amber… it seems quite an emotive subject. Personally, it helps me to pick through some things, but I can appreciate why the theory might be off putting or dangerous to those struggling to recall and speak out. Of course, there are some who will take advantage of the notion of “false memories”

      From the age 9 to 11, I know certain things happened because of the timeline, but recalling specific memoires is just not there. This might not because something bad was happening to me, but it could be about the time in my life when I was struggling to cope with awareness of sexuality and gender. This was a problem and I may have dissociated, I dunno, really, but I will talk some more to Paul, but feel it’s probably best not to delve too much, unless things start to come out.

      Thank you, Amber 🙂

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      1. sensuousamberville

        Let me throw something else at you Cat. First off, as I have said, memories should be treated as real to the person with the memories. Taking this beyond the person is not advised, this is not what the therapy is for, this leads to further stress which is not always conducive to healing. The possibility that memories are false too, leads to messy court cases, and there have been a lot. I am not saying memories are false either, just that some may be, this needs to be considered as a part of healing. That an accuser can stand on the defense of claiming false memories is evil, but it does happen the other way as well. I am neutral in this, my concern is for the patient, not the abuser or the courts.

        It is not just dissociation that can cause the mind to possibly record a memory or not or perhaps fragment it. Brain chemicals are released during stress.

        So this is what I am tossing at you now, because more information can often lead to peace of mind, when you struggle to regain a memory and feel dejected that you can’t do so.

        Cortisol is a hormone that the adrenal gland will release during periods of stress, in short bursts the cortisol dissipates quickly, if the stress lasts longer the levels build up significantly. This is true with assault/abuse. Cortisol is responsible for damaging the hippocampus, a part of the brain that stores long term memory with these elevated levels, Cortisol will actually shrink the hippocampus as well as damaging exterior nodes, this interferes with the brain functions, specifically neurotransmitters activities. This impacts memory function.

        What the hippocampus does is convert short term memory to long term memory. This damage can also lead to depression in adults. This becomes somewhat circulatory, as the damaged hippocampus provides latent feedback to the gland to shut down cortisol production, thus increasing damage. Stress induced memories produce impaired memory function, recording, accuracy.

        Stress encoded memories are sometimes more difficult to retrieve because of this.

        I hasten to add though, this damage is not permanent. The memory loss/retrieval may be though. The hippocampus can heal and grow.

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        1. Cat Post author

          Wow… that all sounds like very intriguing stuff and certainly worth consideration. I think it’s best for me to just accept what is and that is nothing, if that makes sense. There’s little point in delving too deep. If something comes out while talking to Paul, great, but if it doesn’t, I won’t lose any sleep over it. My only concern is THEE memory before the lost time. It seems too ghastly to be true, it can’t be, but unfortunately, it’s not something I can talk to Paul about. Thanks, Amber, for taking so much time to talk me through this. Everything you and the others have said has really helped me decide on a way forward, even if that is ‘do nothing’ 🙂

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          1. sensuousamberville

            Sometimes nothing is good, but Cat if the memory is haunting you, directed therapy may help release this. Careful EMDR desensitizes such memories to help them stop haunting. Paul may help to direct you to someone that can help with those memories if that becomes a direction you want to travel. I want to add, memories are in the past, you are safe now…. and when I read all the comments Cat, I see you are loved too. 🙂

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  12. manyofus1980

    I am sending you hugs of support. Its hard to remember even if the memories are good, but even worse when they are traumatic. X

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