My Body Remembers

I usually don’t post a piece until after I’ve had some distance and have been able to gain clarity around the emotions. I have struggled with whether or not to post this one because I’m still in the midst of the experience. I’m still sick over it, I’m still trying to get in touch with my body and its signals. As I write this, I have a horrible cold. Maybe it’s because I caught it from my kids or maybe it’s because being sick is the only way I can let myself rest. Either way, I’ve never been as grateful for my body as I am right now, for what it knows and what it’s helping me confront. 

I’m reading a book called The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk, MD. This book has been a revelation to me and is helping me to put this experience into perspective and move another step closer to healing the whole me. All phrases in italics are quotes from this book.

 


the madness vase

“I think I have food poisoning,” I tell my husband.

“The greatest sources of our suffering are the lies we tell ourselves.”

The pain and cramping is familiar but I want to deny what’s really causing it. I know from experience that this is the way my body copes with trauma but the trauma it’s coping with happened 28 years ago. I always feel betrayed when my body does this to me but maybe it feels betrayed by me too. It’s trying to tell me something and I don’t want to listen.

“Trauma victims cannot recover until they become familiar with and befriend the sensations in their bodies.”

A few days ago, my husband said out loud what I’ve been unsure of for a long time.

“You were raped.”

The realization feels good, it feels complete. It’s almost as if I can say the words, hold their weight and move on. It’s not like I haven’t thought it before but for him to say it out loud is the validation I need but have never given myself. But my heart is racing and I feel like I can’t breathe. I feel frozen and liquid at the same time. I’m sitting with my knees curled up into my chest, a human rolly-polly bug.

“Physical self-awareness is the first step in releasing the tyranny of the past…Noticing sensations for the first time can be distressing, and it may precipitate flashbacks in which people curl up or assume defensive postures.”

We were talking about my post that was about to be published on The Sisterwives, the one about the sexual abuse I suffered when I was 11. He tells me he’s proud of me and that he now has a deeper insight into everything I survived. Of course, he knows the story. He knows all my stories but seeing it written down impacts him differently than it had before.

“Being able to feel safe with other people is probably the single most important aspect of mental health; safe connections are fundamental to meaningful and satisfying lives.”

I feel brave talking to him about it so we talk about some of the other things that happened to me. I remind him about the man who had sex with me when I was 17. That’s how I always describe it. He had sex with me. Not, I had sex with him. Not, we had sex. I’ve never been able to say it that way.

“As long as you keep secrets and suppress information, you are fundamentally at war with yourself…The critical issue is allowing yourself to know what you know.”

I’ve told my husband this story before but this time, I give it context. I tell him about how the man was dating a family member but always found reasons to get me alone when he came over. He befriended me during the most difficult time in my life. I was 17 and had recently told my family that my aunt’s husband molested me and my friend when we were 14.  It turned our worlds upside down. CPS and the police were involved and my life was out of my control.

This man became a shoulder to cry on. He told me I was smart and beautiful. He made me feel special. He’d say things like, “You’re much more mature than most 17 year olds.” I soaked up the attention and praise. I was lonely, depressed and filled with shame over what I was doing to my family. I was too naive or too filled with self-loathing to see that it was just history repeating itself. It was nearly identical to what had happened with my aunt’s husband. I was falling for it all over again.

“Many of my patients have survived trauma through tremendous courage and persistence, only to get into the same kinds of trouble over and over again. Trauma has shut down their inner compass and robbed them of the imagination they need to create something better.”

When he asked me to come to his apartment one day when his girlfriend was at work, I did.

He was my friend, as much as any 30-something man can be to a 17 year old. So, I went to his apartment and it wasn’t long before he was kissing me. When he began to take off my clothes, I froze. Like a deer in headlights. Like a bunny.

“(When) we can’t get away, we’re held down or trapped – the organism tries to preserve itself by shutting down and expending as little energy as possible. We are then in a state of freeze or collapse.”

I remember being on the bed and completely frozen, so unmoving that he began to berate me.

“What’s wrong with you? Move a little for god’s sake. What’s your problem? Did you walk in on your parents having sex or something? Are you frigid?”

I didn’t say no. I didn’t say yes. I didn’t even move. I don’t know how I could’ve made myself more unappealing but it didn’t matter to him. We wanted different things. I wanted a friend and he wanted some idealized version of Lolita. He knew my past, he knew what had happened with my aunt’s husband, he knew how devastated I was by the story coming out and by what it was doing to my family. He knew all of that and he still just wanted to have sex with me.

“Being able to move and do something to protect oneself is a critical factor in determining whether or not a horrible experience will leave long-lasting scars…Immobilization is the root of most traumas…Your heart rate slows, your breathing becomes shallow, and, zombielike, you lose touch with yourself and your surroundings.”

Later, when he found out that my aunt’s husband had been sentenced to prison, he called to threaten me.

“I WILL NOT go to prison like him. You will tell NO ONE what happened between us. If you do, you will be VERY, VERY sorry.”

I assured him I wouldn’t tell.

What would I have to gain? Telling about my aunt’s husband had been a nightmare. I had no intention of going through anything like that again.

I hung up the phone with him and called the therapist I had been seeing. I told her that I needed to be checked into someplace and that I was a danger to myself. Hell, I was a danger to everyone who came near me. She arranged for me to spend 2 weeks in a psychiatric facility.

“When the alarm bell of the emotional brain keeps signaling that you are in danger, no amount of insight will silence it.”

I tell this story to my husband and he replies, “You were raped.”

It’s hard for me to stand up with my fist in the air and say, “Yes! You’re right, dammit.” I don’t know if other people would see it that way. I don’t feel any comfort in giving it a label.

“We may think we can control our grief, our terror, or our shame by remaining silent, but naming offers the possibility of a different kind of control.”

I do know that my body won’t let me ignore it. I’m literally sick to my gut. I’d love nothing more than to lay down and sleep for days. My body is telling me that if I try to downplay this revelation, it will make me remember.

So I will listen. I will write. I will tell.

“We have discovered that helping victims of trauma find the words to describe what has happened to them is profoundly meaningful, but usually it is not enough. The act of telling the story doesn’t necessarily alter the automatic and physical hormonal responses of bodies that remain hypervigilant, prepared to be assaulted or violated at any time. For real change to take place, the body needs to learn that the danger has passed and to live in the reality of the present.”

58 Comments on “My Body Remembers

  1. Thank you for your courage. “The act of telling the story doesn’t necessarily alter the automatic and physical hormonal responses of bodies that remain hypervigilant, prepared to be assaulted or violated at any time.” The body tells us so much – about past traumas and our present environment and potential danger. Women, especially, need to learn how to listen to it.

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    • I guess the key is learning to distinguish between true, present danger and feelings of danger assaulting us from the past. You wrote something in one of your memoir posts that resonated with me. “It was not as easy as moving across the country or the world. No matter where I went, those specters tagged along with me, dragging me down. I had to extract their claws, one by one.” I’m so glad I stumbled upon that post because it helps me visualize the act of physically removing what is holding me down, allowing me to be here in the present. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts!

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  2. Thanks for writing this. I am so glad you have supporti know this will help other sufferers deal.

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  3. What a great post; thank you for writing and sharing this. It is very helpful to read this and to know that someone else had this kind of experience. Mine is very similar, except there was never any involvement of CPS, because I didn’t tell. But I was repeatedly raped because my boundaries were so violated that I became incapable of defending them, or even recognizing that I deserved to have any. Then I berated myself for years for what I saw as my “complicity.” I’m just starting to work on not blaming myself for all of it. It takes a long time to change thinking patterns!

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    • It does indeed. Logically, I know that I’m not to blame but emotionally it’s so much more complicated than that. I’ve never met someone who was victimized who doesn’t still struggle with those thinking patterns from time to time. What you say about not being able to recognize boundaries is so true. Healthy boundaries come naturally for some people but I still have to think it through. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences!

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  5. I can’t thank you enough for this post. I can’t explain what’s going on for me right now in my body, or in my mind for that matter. And yes, sex happened to me and I have been dealing with this godawful reality that I want to deny. I am trying to figure it out in my head and that’s the only way I know how. My body is telling me but I don’t trust it and I keep questioning instead of just listening. When I was a kid/teen I always had stomach aches. Like terrible awful stomach aches and I thought I would die. Not too long ago in therapy my T pulled close to me and I don’t know what happened. But my tummy began to rumble and flip and flop and I felt sick and headachy and I had this bizarre thought but it was a truth but I remained silent. And it’s awful but I’m safe but I’m scared. And I’ve too had a cold for a few days and I am so triggered by not feeling well and didn’t know why and my stomach ached last night and I thought I might die and something bad happened to me a long time ago and I can’t really say it out loud because I only feel it and I can’t think. And thank you.

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    • It’s not “all in your head”. This book has been tremendous in helping me see how my body responds to traumatic memories. We can’t control these sensations if we don’t understand why they’re happening. I never understood why I felt ashamed every time I got sick, even if it was a common cold. Now I understand what’s being triggered physically and emotionally. There are a lot of techniques to help victims of trauma understand their physiology and there are therapists who specialize in this kind of work. There’s hope, there really is. ❤

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      • My heart hurts with you as I read these trauma histories — I am one of you as well. How can a child think with an adult mind? Impossible… and when trauma or guilt or any negative emotion becomes embedded in our historic energy body it does not simply go away like yesterday’s dinner. It has taken me a lifetime of struggle before I have found actual tools to release these energy blocks so I can speak and live my new truth.

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        • I thought I had enough tools but now I’m seeing that I need to approach this from another angle. I’m grateful for the realization because it gives me so much hope. These stories make my heart hurt too but reading them is another form of release. I love what you say about living your truth! Beautiful.

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  8. “My body is telling me that if I try to downplay this revelation, it will make me remember.
    So I will listen. I will write. I will tell.”

    There is so much we push so far down that we almost convince ourselves the happenings were of another, done to another. I know the heart and soul it takes to walk those steps and sit in those moments. And you’re right. The label?? It doesn’t really matter. But the act does. What was taken does. And who was lost does.

    Thankfully, you have been on a path back to yourself for some time now, beauty. And whether through spoken words or those typed on a page, you’ve unmasked your demons. Thank you for showing that it can and should be done. And that a life half-lived is no life at all.

    In sisterhood,
    Dani

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    • It’s a long, winding path Dani and one I grow weary of sometimes. But you’re right, living a life half lived is just not how I’m built. I have to ask questions and peek under rocks, even when I’m afraid of what I’ll find. Thank you for understanding me so well! xxoo

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      • Similar traumas have made us family in a way, Karen. I understand you because I’ve finally begun to understand myself. Finally ❤

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  9. Your post hit home. I too was raped at 17 mine was a stranger rape and he tried to kill me. I still deal with the repercussions daily. I have yet to write about it but I am slowly getting to it. Dancing around the real issue with posts about depression and pain. You have given me courage to pursue the past that I thought had been buried, it has not, it festers and will continue to do so until I address and admit how much that one incident affected my life. Thank you for your courage. I reblogged this on my site, hope you don’t mind.

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    • I don’t mind at all. I’m honored. I’m so sorry for what you experienced. There are so many of us yet we so often feel alone. We are stronger by sharing our stories. Much love to you Marlene!

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  10. I’m in tears and a bit shaky after reading this. Your story reminds me of one of my own. Thankfully, I was not raped, but I had a male “friend” when I was 16. He was 32. He was a family friend and just like you: “He told me I was smart and beautiful. He made me feel special. He’d say things like, “You’re much more mature than most 17 year olds.” I soaked up the attention and praise.” One night, after a a big party, he asked me to help him take out the trash. I was so naive and I admit I had a big crush on him. But I trusted him. I thought he was my friend. Once we were alone outside, in the dark, he cornered me against a wall, held me hard, and attempted to kiss me. He knew I had never been kissed. (It had been a topic of one of our many conversations.) I cried and turned my head away, as he continued to press himself against me, and his grip became harder on my arms. Through the tears, I begged him to let me go. And he did. But he was so angry. He sternly told me to wipe that look off my face and to make sure no one ever knew of this. The next day, I told my dad. My dad was furious with this predator, but also upset with me. I felt shame, humiliation, and so much guilt. I felt I “should have known better.” I felt I had “brought it on myself”. I felt I had been “asking for it”. I still carry a lot of shame over this story. It’s not one I have ever shared publicly – until now. And it’s one only a handful of friends know. Your courage in telling your story, inspired me to share mine. Thank you Karen. Your words are so powerful and healing. They remind me that I’m not alone. Lastly, I’m so sorry for the experiences you’ve had to live through. Blessings to you.

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    • Jackie, I’m so sorry you went through that. I think fear makes parents misplace blame and they don’t realize how big of an impact it leaves. I got the same mixed signals when I told about my aunt’s husband and I carried it with me for years (still do in many ways).

      When I told my husband what happened, he asked me to imagine the young daughter of friends of ours at 17. The he asked, “Would it be ok if a man did that to her?” I had to admit that under no circumstances would it ever be ok and that of course it wouldn’t be her fault. Then, I had to give myself the same grace, the same compassion and the same understanding. Men who do that to teenage girls know exactly what they’re doing. We weren’t to blame. Thank you, Jackie, for sharing your story and for your blessings. We’re not alone.

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  11. “I do know that my body won’t let me ignore it.” Karen that line stuck with me. Actually, this whole post has stuck in my brain since I read it two days ago. I’m in the midst of exactly what you describe here. I’m falling apart all over the place and my body is rejecting my avoidance of what it is trying to tell me. I’m just scared. I’m tired of this whole fucking process. I’ve been here before and I know I’ll get through it again–and be better for it. But giving in to what needs to be done sucks…no other way to put it. And I agree with what another commenter said about there never being a convenient time…that doesn’t exist. I’m going to check out the book you’re reading. It sounds like something that could really help me right now. I’m glad you didn’t wait to write this one. I know I sure needed to read this now. ~Dawn

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    • “Rejecting my avoidance of what it is trying to tell me.” That’s exactly it. I’ve been feeling my body in a way I never have before since I had this revelation and started the book. I was walking on a trail last week and I kept walking faster and faster. I finally realized that it’s because I can’t tolerate the thought of anyone sneaking up on me. I’ve always walked like that, even at the mall.

      I feel tired of the process too. I keep thinking that some other memory is going to blindside me and I’ll have to go through it all again but that feeling is part of the way we’ve been wired by trauma. In reality, we’re getting more and more resilient each time we confront these issues. Like you said, we’ve been here before and we know we’ll be better for it by getting through it. I know you’ve written about it before but the body connection is the part that’s been missing for me. I highly recommend the book. Thank you, Dawn. I needed your words today.

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      • I’m getting that book. I walk that way too…always have. I was trying to do a meditation with my therapist once and we both always go to the beach. I said I was sitting on a porch of my house and he said he was sitting in the sand listening to the people walking behind him.

        I looked at him like he was crazy. I told him there’s no way I’d ever feel safe with my eyes closed and that many people around…especially behind me. I thought it was because I’m a woman and we always have to be hyper aware.

        Now I wonder…

        Thank you thank you for being brave.

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  12. Karen – You still using words that make it seem like you’re still blaming yourself…

    “I was lonely, depressed and filled with shame over what I was doing to my family. I was too naive or too filled with self-loathing to see that it was just history repeating itself. It was nearly identical to what had happened with my aunt’s husband. I was falling for it all over again.”

    You didn’t do anything to your family except tell the truth. You weren’t “falling for it all over again” you were being victimized AGAIN. Those men were sick, pedophiles who preyed on the fact that you had been damaged and were vulnerable. They molested and raped you. They took a piece of your soul and that was wrong and not fair.

    And who the hell cares how anyone else sees it? It’s how YOU see it (or should I say feel it) that matters. YOU…just YOU…no one else. You matter.

    I know that intellectually you know all of this because so do I…in my head. We have to figure out how to convince our hearts. I’ll help you convince yours and you can help me convince mine.

    Sherry

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    • This is the closest my heart has been to being convinced in 28 years. It’s so hard to go from blaming myself to not, to thinking this was a secret I’d take to my grave to posting it. In many ways he was the worst because he knew the shame I felt at the time over telling and he used me anyway. It took me being telling every single detail to my husband for me to see it for what it is and I’m done believe the lies I told myself. I’m just so done with the lies. Thank you, Sherry, for being here.

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  13. I did the same thing after one of the times I was date raped- yes, ONE of the times. I never admitted I was in fact, raped, to myself or anyone else for that matter until I posted “Jeans” a few weeks ago. It was a relief to say it!
    It takes a lot of courage to admit it. Take all the time you need to recover and who cares whether you caught your children’s cold or not- take care of you! 🙂

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    • I’m so amazed at how much harder to face this has been than the things that happened when I was a kid. Thank you for your kind words and encouragement!

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  14. I’d love to have 5 minutes with that guy. Then again, what would that prove. I never understood rape and the men who rape. But I do understand the wreckage they leave, through stories like yours. Thank you for sharing this, and as Mish said, you are uniquely qualified to help others with this. And you are doing that here.

    Blessings
    Paul

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    • Get in line, Paul, get in line. My husband wanted to track the guy down. From the little we were able to find out, it appears that he’s had a painful life, which isn’t surprising. Thank you for your support and encouragement and it’s wonderful to see you here!

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Hugely impressed and inspired how you are dealing with this. Incredibly brave of you to share on here but I hope that helps others too.

    Good luck on your journey

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  16. I am currently reading the same book. It is very insightful and helpful. I also feel like we are on parallel paths, as we navigate life as wives and mothers while healing from trauma. It is so hard, and it never feels “convenient” to work through trauma. I am encouraged by your diligence and willingness to continue to confront the hurt, however, and that gives me strength to continue forward.

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    • I know what you mean about it never being convenient to work through this stuff. It’s not like we can go on a long vacation alone, confront our demons and come home healed. We still have to function within our lives while remembering some awful sh*t and figuring out how to integrate it all into the lives we have now. Bravo to you for doing that! This isn’t for the faint of heart.

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  17. oh karen…

    i’m so impressed by you, your willngness to look and dig and then to put it out there to help others…what a gift you are.

    I’m so sorry you went through this and are gong through the part of it. The thing that saves my ass sometimes about the things I’ve done or that have happened to me is in the idea that those things make me uniquely qualified to help someone else.
    I admit to sometimes wanting to slap whoever says that to me, yet i know the truth of it.

    big hugs xo

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    • There is truth in that and I don’t want to slap you at all. I don’t know if I believe everything happens for a reason but I do believe that we can be divinely inspired to find reasons for using our pain to serve. You do that and I appreciate you. Thank you and I’ll take that hug!

      Liked by 1 person

      • YES! exactly that. Don’t anyone tell me something happened for a reason, but since it did happen, I figure I have to make something of it, and service is the way i go. Much better than the old alternative of downing copious amounts of booze….

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  18. I’ve always admired your courage and strength, which comes out especially strong here. Thank you for sharing what you have. It helps.

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  19. If it helps at all, I validate you just as your husband did. There is no gray here, and I’m sorry that you, for even a nanosecond, thought there was. I am proud of the growth I read, and I am inspired by your courage. I want what you have! Thanks for the role model you are for all of us.

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    • It does help, Josie. It’s taken me 28 years to reach that conclusion. Even with all the work I’ve done to heal, I still had a blind spot with this situation, which I think is why the revelation hit me so hard. I’ve had a lot of really crappy things happen to me but my life is a miracle of love and hope that God keeps revealing to me. I have to share it. Thank you for your validation and your friendship. You inspire me too.

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  20. You are such a beautidul soul. I applaud your courage and grace here. And those of your husband, steadfastly helping you to heal.

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  21. Your voice is one of strength. I have nothing but admiration for you for finding your own way to healing, no doubt helping others along the way. You are amazing. And your story also gives me an even deeper appreciation for men like your husband, men who know what love is and how to love someone else.

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      • That is exactly how I feel about my husband every day. I have seen the statistically failed relationships and I have kicked the crap out of our relationship and he basically carried me out of the trenches on his back. A weaker man would have dropped me on my kiester and not looked back. Yet here we happily married and on the road to recovery.

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  22. Dear Karen,
    I could feel your story unfolding when we visited last week. I’m so proud of you for sharing it here, for recognizing the ugly for what it is. I always preach the gospel of Brene’ Brown and she speaks of the physical manifestation of trauma and shame. Like you always do, you have captured it perfectly here. I never knew what the tingly armpits or out-of-the-blue gut punches were or where they came from. There’s a freedom in knowing it, right?
    Not even 15 minutes ago I was driving home and your e-mail popped into my head. “Augh!” I thought, “I haven’t written back yet. As soon as I get home, I’m going to write her back.”
    And, here you are 🙂 Telling your story in a way that makes me feel less alone in my own version(s) of trauma. Some day, my friend! We’ll get together and figure this s*$^t out 🙂
    Love you!

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    • Unfolding, unfurling, opening to the wind. Thank you for being here friend! Thank you for being my sounding board and for letting me work it through. I’m here for you too as your version(s) unfold. Don’t forget that. I love you too!

      Liked by 1 person

      • “Unfolding, unfurling, opening to the wind.”
        YANK! YANK! I have had a post sitting on my dashboard for 10 days that speaks to kite strings and attachments. Hmmm…perhaps, it’s time to press ‘publish’
        I will be your sounding board any time – goodness knows that you are mine!! oxoxoxo

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