25 November: Healing Trauma through Artivism

I recently wrote about the trauma of my last relationship in relation to 25 November, and how this trauma is related to 25 November and the work in our queer group on patriarchal violence beyond a cisheteronormative framework. In fact, this work has been the trigger, which has made me connect with this trauma, a trauma I didn't even know existed.

My first reaction to the trauma was to walk away from the work on patriarchal violence, since I felt it touched me too closely. But it didn't work for me. The wound of the trauma opened up more and more, and more and more healed wounds of my complex trauma opened up as well. A year ago I started naming my childhood and adolescent trauma as complex trauma, and wrote in my blog, starting with a long quote from Pete Walker, which I repeat here now: “Minimization about the debilitating consequences of a childhood rife with emotional neglect is at the core of the PTSD denial onion. Our recovery efforts are impeded until we understand how much of our suffering constellates around early emotional abandonment – around the great emptiness that springs from the dearth of parental loving interest and engagement, and around the harrowing experience of being small and powerless while growing up in a world where there is no-one who’s got your back. Many survivors never get to discover and work through the wounds that correlate with this level, because they over-assign their suffering to overt abuse and never get to the core issue of emotional abandonment. As stated above, this is especially true when they dismissively compare their trauma to those who were abused more noticeably and more dramatically. (...) Traumatic emotional neglect occurs when a child does not have a single parent or caretaker to whom she can turn in times of need or danger, and when she does not have anyone for an extended period of time who is a relatively consistent source of comfort and protection. Growing up emotionally neglected is like nearly dying of thirst just outside the fenced off fountain of a parent’s kindness and interest. Emotional neglect makes children feel worthless, unlovable and excruciatingly empty, with a hunger that gnaws deeply at the center of their being, leaving them starving for human warmth and comfort - a hunger that often morphs over time into an insatiable appetite for substances and/or addictive processes.

Reading this text again, a year and a half later, I cried again. The wound is still open.

When I started to remember some aspects of the trauma of my last relationship - 13/14 years ago - this wound quickly opened up, and, above all, doubts about sexual abuse in my childhood came back to me. The most difficult thing about complex trauma is that it is a trauma without memories, or, rather, of purely emotional memories. My body remembers sometimes, but in my mind there is a void, and I have no idea what my body remembers, what aspect of my life this emotional flashback is taking me to.

With the trauma of my last relationship, when I thought about the disgust of certain sexual practices, sometimes it was no longer clear to me if I was 40+ years old and the cock I was sucking was my partner's, or if I was maybe 10 or less years old, and the cock was someone else's. Normally, when I'm well, I'm fine with it. Normally, when I'm well, I'm okay with this uncertainty about possible sexual abuse. I'm okay with the fact that I will never have an answer to this question, and I stick with "probably not". I never get to be able to tell myself with conviction that there was no sexual abuse. Never.

With the wound wide open, I was no longer able to say "probably not", and the uncertainty became very big, very painful and unbearable.

It reminded me that I was starting to break down with exactly this question five years ago: was I a victim of childhood sexual abuse? It reminded me that I was always fascinated by novels with a child sexual abuse theme - I'm thinking of Scott Heim's Mysterious Skin, which I read in 1996 (!), or Hanya Yanagihara's A Little Life. I also remind myself that the first book I bought when I collapsed in August 2016 was Richard B. Gartner's Beyond Betrayal. Taking charge of your life after boyhood sexual abuse.

I think I then managed in therapy to learn to accept that I'm never going to have an answer. But, periodically, when I am bad, this wound opens up again, and this time it did so with great force.

To return to 25 November and the work of our queer group: we decided in an assembly weeks ago to work on patriarchal violence from a non-cis heteronormative perspective, and to do so through image theatre. A few weeks ago we had an assembly, initially with the idea of already working on the images, but in the end we only managed to make the banner and identify the key points for us to include in a leaflet: LGBTIQA+phobia as a form of patriarchal violence, patriarchal violence within our communities, and within our relationships.

I was beginning to remember more and more of the trauma of my last relationship, and initially made the decision to withdraw from the image theatre. It was very scary to think about working on our own experiences, but also to work with the body, as I am very aware that my body carries memories that my mind does not.

Finally, on 23 November, when we had a rehearsal of the image theatre planned, a fellow participant announced that for reasons of self-care she had to withdraw from the performance. I had not planned to participate and attend the rehearsal. But at the same time it was very important to me that it went ahead, for the group, but, I think, not only. There was something that had to do with my trauma that made it very important. I was starting to go round in circles about whether or not to participate in the performance, with a lot of fears initially (some had to do with other emotional issues at the same time, but these became smaller and smaller). In the evening I had decided to at least attend the rehearsal, without commitment, but it was cancelled due to rain (this is Seville).

I had a terrible night, and on 24 November I was in a state of maximum vulnerability, with the capacity to manage frustrations of a child of perhaps three or four years old. I was really in an emotional flashback, at least until perhaps the afternoon of this day. I did the design of our flyer based on one fellow member's revision of the text, and when in the afternoon another fellow member wrote that she had done another, more thorough revision (not of the content, but of the way of expressing it), I broke down and started crying in the street. It took me a while to calm down, and I made the decision to withdraw from the topic of the leaflet (which I finally revised the next day). I was on the verge of feeling unable to attend the night march that day. In the end I went, and it went well. Healing.

But the night again was brutal. I had a few episodes of very strong emotional flashbacks, fortunately brief. Thinking about the disgust of sex during my last relationship I went into a state of near panic. I cried with fear, my stomach contracted with fear, thinking about myself as a child, not about my last relationship.

On 25 November I woke up emotionally exhausted and very tired. But during the morning I managed to calm down and focus on the performance, and when I went to the rehearsal in the afternoon I was surprisingly calm. The fear was gone. We practised the performance a bit, and - in the rain - we went for a beer or a coffee. I felt ready for the performance, a bit nervous, but at the same time very calm.

The rain changed the plans for the rally, but in the end we did our performance, and with success. For me it was a very liberating experience. I think that in the end the decision to put myself fully into the performance allowed me to make sense of my trauma of my last relationship, to put it in the context of patriarchal violence, and not to see my experience as a personal failure or to connect with this toxic shame of complex trauma that tells you that you are "a bad person", "intrinsically bad", that you deserve everything bad, and that no one loves you.

I went home after having wine with friends, but I went home early, emotionally drained, but content. That night I didn't sleep well either, but it was more because of the euphoria of having participated in the performance, and managing so many contradictory emotions during the day and the previous days.

Today, three days later, I feel much calmer. I really don't know if I can again answer with "probably not" to my question about sexual abuse in my childhood, but I am calm nonetheless. I know that I have survived it, that I am no longer in danger.

The wound of the trauma of my last relationship remains open, but it is also starting to heal. I have some emotional work to do, but I am no longer consumed by this trauma. The wound was opened with the 25 November, and the wound is starting to heal with the 25 November - for having got involved in the performance, for the artivism of Disidencias del Sur.

Thank you, comrades.